Real in rude health ahead of United tie


Soccer:Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka believes his team head into their Champions League clash with Manchester United in good form and hopes the extra day’s rest will be evident at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

The Primera Division champions trounced Sevilla 4-1 last night, Cristiano Ronaldo firing an ominous warning to his former club with a hat-trick, while  Alex Ferguson’s side play Everton this afternoon before turning their attention to the trip to the Spanish capital.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has, on several occasions, complained that the match scheduling has worked against his team. Only last weekend he pointed out the fact his side had to play at Granada on Saturday while Barcelona faced Valencia on Sunday after the arch rivals’ midweek Copa del Rey Clasico exertions.

But, ahead of the Champions League last 16 first leg, Karanka said: “Real Madrid are coming into the match in good form, and not because of (last night’s) result.

“Apart from the match against Granada, the team has been showing good things throughout January. (Against Sevilla) we played well and have given a bit of a rest to key players and the match comes at a good time for us.”

On the extra day’s rest, Karanka said: “We’ve proven it ourselves, it does show. They have a bit of a cushion (at the top of the Premier League) and I’m sure they’ll be making rotations and resting important players.”

Matches against Sevilla have proved rich pickings for Ronaldo and it was no different last night as he followed up Karim Benzema’s 18th-minute opener with goals in the 26th, 46th and 59th minutes as Madrid sauntered to victory .

That took his tally of hat-tricks for the Spanish giants to an incredible 20 before he was replaced in the 63rd minute as Mourinho opted to wrap his trump card in cotton wool ahead of Wednesday’s showdown with United.

Soon after Ronaldo’s departure Madrid were reduced to 10 men when striker Gonzalo Higuain was sent off, but Sevilla also finished a man down after losing Hedwiges Maduro to a red card with nine minutes left.

Sevilla did net a late consolation through Manu del Moral but it mattered little as Mourinho’s men, who surprisingly lost 1-0 at Granada last weekend, trimmed the gap to leaders Barca back to 13 points.

Ronaldo had netted at the wrong end in the shock defeat at Granada, and Karanka felt it was important to get back on track quickly.

“After the match against Granada and to dispel any doubts and, playing at home in our stadium, I think there was no better way to approach the match than how we started,” he said.

“It looks like it was easy if you look at the result. Sevilla have quality players and, although we were 2-0 up at the break, they could have created some danger, but the third goal at the start of the second half settled things.”

On the Granada blip, he acknowledged: “These things can happen when you’re not as switched on as last year, but this team will be winning matches until the end.”

Karanka was delighted with the form of Ronaldo heading into the midweek blockbuster with the Portugal forward’s former employers.

“He has had that admiration (from the fans) for a long time and he knows how important he is for the team,” the Madrid number two said. “It is important that a player like Cristiano is at this level.”

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