Mourinho hopes to end Real Madrid's Lyon jinx

AP, Monday 21 Feb 2011

Jose Mourinho will try to do what no other Real Madrid coach has managed by beating Lyon in the Champions League when the teams meet Tuesday in the first leg of the round of 16

Real Madrid

Although Mourinho's ambition is to win the Champions League as coach of three different clubs, his immediate task is beating Lyon.

The seven-time French champions have proven to be a thorn in Madrid's side recently. Lyon is unbeaten in six matches against Madrid _ winning all three of the home games _ and eliminated the Spanish club from the last 16 last year.

"I am not losing sleep over Lyon or any other team," Mourinho said after Madrid's 2-0 win over Levante on Saturday. "Ever since we drew Lyon, we have been studying and learning about them." Lyon captain Cris hailed Mourinho as big-spending Madrid's "best signing of the season," while coach Claude Puel thinks he has already improved the team's work ethic.

"Mourinho has the ability to get the best out of his players," Puel said on Monday. "They might be a bit more balanced now with industrious players in midfield." Mourinho knows he is under immense pressure to restore Madrid's European pedigree _ a task he is not taking lightly despite the gulf between the sides. Lyon reached the semifinals for the first time last season, while Madrid has won the competition a record nine times.

"It's been years since Madrid made it (to the quarterfinals), and it's because they have never beaten Lyon," he said.

Cris thinks that that Lyon's unbeaten record is a psychological plus they can fall back on.

"Of course we think about that, it's normal. There's a certain rivalry between the teams," he said. "There were some articles (written in the Spanish press) last year that did get to us a bit." Last season, Lyon's late equalizer in Madrid eliminated the Spanish club, then coached by Manuel Pellegrini.

Lyon beat Madrid at home and drew away in the 2005-06 group stages and did so again the following season when Madrid was coached by Fabio Capello, the current England coach who eventually led Madrid to the Spanish title.

Mourinho won the Champions League for the first time with FC Porto in 2004, and again with Inter Milan last year. But the odds are against him matching the treble he achieved with Inter last season.

Madrid is five points behind Barcelona in the title race and also plays the league leaders in the Copa del Rey final in April.

For Puel, even one trophy would be nice.

Now in his third season, Puel has yet to win anything. He regularly feels the wrath of the club's fans and has twice needed the public backing of president Jean-Michel Aulas.

Puel has taken Lyon further in Europe than any other coach, but is likely to be replaced if he fails to win a trophy.

Lyon has scored eight goals in the last two games to move within four points of French leader Lille.

"We're coming into form at the right time," Lyon defender Cris said.

Lyon had some bad luck when Argentina forward Lisandro Lopez injured his hamstring in training on Thursday, ruling him out of Tuesday's match.

"It's tough for us to lose him for such an important game," Puel said. "He has the ability to rally the team around him." Puel will likely put Cesar Delgado wide left and play Bafetimbi Gomis in the lone striker's role with France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff just behind him. Gourcuff scored with a volley against Nancy, but is still short of his best form.

Madrid, meanwhile, is close to full strength.

Mourinho rested midfielders Xabi Alonso and Mesut Oezil along with defender Pepe against Levante, and brought on striker Emmanuel Adebayor as a late substitute.

Mourinho must choose between Adebayor or former Lyon forward Karim Benzema as his main striker, with top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina winger Angel Di Maria on either flank.

Puel is impressed by how quickly Adebayor has settled in since his loan move in January, despite hardly featuring for Manchester City in the first part of the season.

"He is quite surprising because he's got back to his best level in no time," Puel said. "You'd think he'd been there for months. You can ask yourself why he wasn't playing more in his previous club when you see how well he's playing." But Benzema hopes his goal against Levante, and his excellent recent performance against Brazil where he scored France's winning goal, will be enough to persuade Mourinho.

"If I'm lucky enough to play I will do everything I can," Benzema said. "This match will be different to last year. Our team has changed ... I think we are going to defeat Lyon and win the Champions League."

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