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Know your opponent: Five questions for Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid

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What was your first reaction when you saw Juventus draw Real Madrid in their long-awaited return to the Champions League semifinal? Was there a bit of nostalgia considering who Juve beat the last time they were at this stage of the best club competition there is? Maybe there was some excitement as Juve look to take down the current European champions? Or maybe there was just general nervousness because that's just what we do around here.

No matter what the reaction was, Juventus vs. Real Madrid is a classic heavyweight bout on the biggest of stages.

So when seeking out a little extra help to prep us for such an enticing encounter, the first place I turned is SB Nation's Real Madrid blog, Managing Madrid. That meant taking Lucas and his crew away from dreaming of rather well-known Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba potentially wearing their own fabled jersey one day. It was a tough task, but I think we pulled through.

(Kidding, of course, guys.)

I posed Lucas five questions, and he was nice enough to answer, So, without further adieu, here's my little chat with the home of Real Madrid on SBN, Managing Madrid. Enjoy!

BWRAO: Since you're there in Madrid covering Real in person on a regular basis, what's the vibe around the club right now? How do you think they're playing entering the first leg?

MM: The players are confident. They are obviously disappointed with Barcelona managing not to drop points during the last couple of weeks, but they like their chances at repeating the Champions League title, although they won't take anything for granted against Juve. The members also think that the Bayern-Barcelona tie can wear those two teams down for a potential Final against them, both physically and psychologically.

About the level of play right now, I think it's all good. No team was able to win at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán over the last 34 Sevilla home games and Real Madrid just accomplished that with a fairly decent performance. James in particular has been playing great lately and Kroos has regained some good form as well, so the midfield is doing well recently.

BWRAO: As you guys have reported over on Managing Madrid, it looks as though striker Karim Benzema will start Tuesday night's first leg on the bench. Do you agree with Chicharito being preferred over Benzema right now?

MM: Well, Benzema has been injured. Although he will be back for the first leg, Chicharito will likely get the nod over him just to avoid further risks. However, as soon as Benzema gets in shape, expect the Mexican to be dropped to the bench again. He's nowhere near Benzema's importance to this squad, Carlo knows that as he is a huge Benzema supporter. Furthermore, Karim and Cristiano Ronaldo have a very good chemistry going on and Cristiano always plays better with him on the pitch. According to reports, he will be a reserve this Tuesday, but expect him to start the return leg at the Bernabéu barring any setbacks.

BWRAO: Will Gareth Bale end up being a factor in either leg of the semifinal?

MM: He should be. He assisted Cristiano Ronaldo on Real's third goal against Sevilla after coming on with 20 minutes to go. Make no mistake about it: Bale's season could be improved, but it is not mediocre, either, and the team's offensive production increases with him on the pitch. It would not be crazy to think he could either score or assist against Juventus, not at all. Especially if we consider that Juventus don't have the fastest defenders to match up against him. It would be wise to pay close attention to him.

BWRAO: How different is Real Madrid's midfield without Luka Modric?

MM: Quite a lot. He's not only a unique player and probably one of the world's best midfielders if healthy. Some fans might think his physical attributes are detrimental to the team's defensive system, but the truth is Modric is a better defender than Illarramendi or Lucas Silva, who are taller and stronger. Modric's experience in the Barclays Premier League helped him a lot on this front.

And obviously, the team lacks creativity when he's not on the pitch. His passing skills are very valuable and something neither Illarra nor Silva have. Good news for Ancelotti is he has found a good replacement in Sergio Ramos, who is brave enough to try to do the same things Modric does on the pitch. Illarra and Silva are way too shy and their teammates don't trust them, but it works differently with Ramos there. He's obviously not as good as Modric for that same position, but Real Madrid's system and flow is not affected when he plays there, and that's a success.

BWRAO: If there's one area of Real Madrid's team you think Juventus can exploit, what would it be?

MM: Set pieces, no question. Real Madrid struggled a lot early in the season at defending corner-kicks because of Casillas' average aerial game. If Juventus can deploy a tall team, it would not surprise me to see Real conceding one in those plays. But again, if Ramos plays in the midfield, Ancelotti will have an extra quality defender when the ball is in the air. Other than that, Casillas is on his decline as a player and it's hard to predict how well he'll play. He's not consistent and is capable of completing good performances (Rayo some weeks ago) or really bad ones (return leg against Schalke). You just never know.