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Graham Hunter exclusive: Find out who is Real Madrid’s most important player (Hint: It ain’t Ronaldo!)

by Graham Hunter | April 9, 2013

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European football expert Graham Hunter thinks Real Madrid will struggle without their most influential player, but they should still make the Champions League semi-finals.

Galatasaray v Real Madrid

Although there are some who, incorrectly and unfairly, judge him harshly because of his naked desire to win everything all the time and because his match-face shows every emotion in its starkest form (joy, frustration, anger, self recrimination and, yes, even arrogance) I’m a serious Cristiano Ronaldo fan.

He’s phenomenally gifted, he’s an utterly outstanding professional and off the pitch he’s both bright and articulate. There’s not a great deal more to ask for.

His goal-to-game ratio is redefining, exploding really, what we think the very best striker should be producing and were it not for Leo Messi we’d already be arguing where Ronaldo fits in the all-time pantheon.

As such, the Portuguese is Real Madrid’s most important player – at least when it comes to winning matches.

However he’s not the most important of José Mourinho’s squad when it comes to ensuring that Madrid don’t lose. That’s Xabi Alonso.

XABI ALONSO: The most important member

XABI ALONSO: Without him Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid are disjointed

Particularly when Mourinho uses his preferred formation (preferred as Madrid coach at least) of 4-2-3-1 the importance of the two organising, distributing, defending midfielders who pair in front of the back four is enormous.

Moreover, Alonso is very good there. Without him Madrid consistently look like a puppet with one of its six strings cut – in motion, possibly entertaining, but disjointed.

Order diminishes, confidence drops, decision making becomes less clinical and the tempo often decreases.

He, Sergio Ramos and, quite possibly, Pepe are all going to miss out tonight at the Türk Telecom Arena and I think it’ll cost Madrid. I doubt it will cost them progression to the semi final but it might just cost them a win on the night.

Madrid’s stats against Turkish teams aren’t ample but it’s a fact that they’ve still to win against a Turkish side, Galatasaray or Besiktas, apart from in Spain.

Diego Lopez and Rafa Varane have been standouts in recent months but with a denuded back four (likely no Arbeloa, Ramos or Pepe) and with Alonso absent I think it’s reasonable to take Galatasaray to score – and why not Didier Drogba? So, Madrid to suffer, Madrid to go through, Ronaldo to score, Drogba to score and, I have a sneaking feeling, one of Diego Lopez’s more testing nights.

Borussia Dortmund v Malaga

What of Málaga in Dortmund? Well, if you take mood to be as important an initial guide to their chances as the suspensions they suffered in the first leg then it’s decent news.

Most of the key players were rested in the 4-2 defeat at Real Sociedad at the weekend, man after man told me in the Mixed Zone last week after the 0-0 draw against the recently deposed German champions that they were 100% confident of getting a score draw at the Signal Iduna Park.

And one more little note about mood. It was very sad to hear of the death of Manuel Pellegrini’s father on Saturday. The Chilean hid the news from his players, coached the match, flew to Chile for the funeral and should be on the bench tonight. His players, and I mean this word, adore him. Their respect for him as a man and a coach is infinite. With what looks like a 30/70 chance of qualification in front of them their effort for Pellegrini will give them an extra jag.

But they’ll need it. Málaga, like Madrid, have an organising central midfielder, Manuel Iturra, and a centre-back, Weligton, suspended. Dortmund score heavily at home, should have won the first leg and have a superior squad. But  Málaga have only conceded 13 times in 27 Uefa matches and have seven clean sheets in their 12 Champions League outings this season.

IF, and I do mean IF there’s a major shock coming then I’d look to Roque Santa Cruz (a great record of wins and draws against Dortmund for Bayern Munich plus the winner at Signal Iduna back in September 2001) to nick a goal for Málaga. Referee Craig Thomson averages precisely four bookings per Champions League match and wouldn’t have a single red card in the competition had Alonso and Ramos not famously forced  orderings-off against Ajax to ‘clean’ their booking count two seasons ago.

Enjoy your football.

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