Real Madrid Vs. Lyon, 2011 UEFA Champions League Preview: José Mourinho's Chance To Prove The Special One Matters

Through three-quarters of José Mourinho's first season at the Santiago Bernabeu, it's been impossible to tell whether the club has progressed from the heights of Manuel Pellegrini's stewardship. The only point of clear improvement has been the Copa Del Rey, though the weight given to that competition renders it a footnote. Barça is still first in league, and with Los Merengues having lost 5-0 at the Nou Camp in November, Real Madrid appears to have made little meaningful progress.

On Wednesday, Mourinho has an opportunity to provide a clear example of his positive influence, and for a club that's won nine European titles, it's apropos the first sign of progress could come in UEFA Champions League. While another unjustifiably lopsided loss to Barcelona in league would make if difficult for to save face, The Special One will be able to claim a victory (if only moral) where he to lead Los Blancos past the club that eliminated them at the same stage last season.

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Manuel Pellegrini was brought to the Santiago Bernabeu after a successful tenure at Villarreal, but his inability to break Real Madrid's run of Round of 16 exits precipitated José Mourinho's move from Inter Milan. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

But Real Madrid's troubles in Champions League extend far beyond last year and Olympique Lyonnais. In each of the last six tournaments, Real Madrid has made it out of group stage, and in each of the last six tournaments, Real Madrid has been eliminated in the Round of 16, having failed to make a quarterfinal appearance since eliminating Bayern Munich in 2003-04. In that time they've been shown out by Juventus, Arsenal, Bayern, Roma and Liverpool, though last year's loss to Lyon cast the streak in a new, more depressing context. OL had been dealing with their own Round of 16 bugaboo, losing in three consecutive tournaments before being drawn against Madrid. That Lyon exercised their demons at Madrid's expense all but sealed Pellegrini's fate.

Even though Madrid got a better result at Stade Gerland this year - getting a 1-1 where they lost 1-0 last tournament - there is still this eerie feeling of opportunism surrounding Lyon, the same opportunism that led to Miralem Pjanic's late winner that the Bernabeu last season. This season that spirit could be seen in Bafetimbi Gomis's response to Karim Benzema's first leg goal, quickly quelling the idea that Mourinho's presence had moved Madrid beyond being troubled anybody but Barcelona. As a result, the match moves back to the Bernabeu tied at one.

While that puts Lyon worse off than they were for last year's return leg, there are a number of reasons to be encouraged. First, the team is largely unchanged from the squad that advanced to last year's semifinals. Second, those changes that have been made can be seen as positives, with only the expendable Jean Makoun leaving the club. Third, Lisandro López is fit again, having scored four goals in Lyon's last two matches.

Real Madrid's main scoring threat, a young Portuguese named Cristiano Ronaldo, is also returning to health, though he hasn't seen time on the pitch like López. The Merengues attacker has been sidelined since March 6 with an ankle injury but is expected to be available for Mourinho from the outset. Still, in addition to being healthy, it would help if Ronaldo were able to carry over some of his league form into Wednesday's match. While he has been a near goal-per-game scorer throughout his La Liga career with Real Madrid, Ronaldo's mustered only one goal in these last three meetings with Lyon.

Regardless, Ronaldo will be the focus of Lyon's preparations, with right back Anthony Reveillere sure to get help from Jeremy Toulalan coming from the middle, Jimmy Briand tracking back from the wing. Unlikely last year, though - when Lyon carried a lead into Madrid - Claude Puel can't merely focus on limiting his hosts. Not only did it not work a year ago (Ronaldo scoring early), but this year, it will see OL eliminated. Thanks to Benzema's goal at Stade Gerland, Lyon must score on Wednesday.

Injuries and Suspensions

Lyon will be missing a number of key players. Michel Bastos is suspended while Cris will be missing from central defense. Yoann Gourcuff is a likely miss in attack, while Aly Cissohko looks set to recover from a thigh problem and start at left back. The players likely to benefit from the absences: Briand (at right wing), Pjanic (attacking midfield), and Pape Diakathé (in defense).

Real Madrid is relatively healthy. The big miss is Gonzalo Higuain, though he's been out for a while. Kaká is also a miss, but he has not been a factor this season. Pedro Leon and Fernando Gago will also miss the match.

Likely Selection

Real Madrid, Starting XI: Casillas / Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe, Marcelo / Khedira, Alonso / Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo / Adebayor; Bench: Duzek, Albiol, Arbeloa, Diarra, Granero, Canales, Benzema

Lyon, Starting XI: Lloris / Revelliere, Diakathé, Lovren, Cissohko / Toulalan, Kallstrom / Briand, Pjanic, Lopez / Gomis; Subs: Vercoutre, Gassama, Kolodziejcak, Gonalons, Grenier, Delgado, Pied

Pick

I can't doubt José Mourinho's ability to get a 0-0, particularly when it puts hit team through. Real Madrid 0, Lyon 0.

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