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Real, the Rossoneri and Ronaldinho

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Phil Minshull | 08:30 UK time, Tuesday, 20 October 2009

There's no getting away from it, the only possible topic to address is Wednesday's Champions League encounter between Real Madrid and AC Milan.

The pair are the two most successful sides in the history of Europe's premier competition, winning the European Cup or Champions League nine and seven times respectively.

However, these are strange times for both these continental giants.

At face value, you might think that all is well at Real. After all, they lie second in La Liga and are just one point behind Spanish league leaders and bitter rivals Barcelona.

benzema.jpgReal Madrid striker Karim Benzema controls the ball

Nevertheless, giving a small insight into the sometimes perverse world of Spanish football, Los Merengues' super-critical fans and some of the local media have already got the knives out for coach Manuel Pellegrini and some of the summer superstar signings.

This despite Real rattling off six wins out of seven games in the Spanish league and netting 15 goals in their four home games, as well as another three against Olympique Marseille a few weeks ago.

"Pellegrini cannot be one more day in Madrid. If you don't understand that Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema have to play together, it is because you don't understand anything," blasted the television pundit Josep Pedrerol recently.

"He (Pellegrini) doesn't have clear ideas about how to play... even with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, Madrid don't know how to produce a spectacle," added the influential magazine Don Balon.

The crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu have picked up on the theme, with a section of them whistling at Pellegrini whenever he emerged from the dug-out during their last two home games.

Anybody who witnessed, as I did, their 4-2 win over Valladolid on Saturday will know that Real may be able to bully their way to wins over modest teams through sheer talent alone but there is still a very real sense, if you'll pardon the bad pun, that there is little strategic thought behind the way that they are playing.

Even the music at the Bernabeu is a bit off key.

New Order tracks were the quirky order of the day last season - with the Psychedelic Furs occasionally thrown in for good measure - but on Saturday the ubiquitous Nessun Dorma was being pumped through the stadium speakers.

But for some woeful goalkeeping by Valladolid's Jacobo the outcome on Saturday might have also been a rather different and potentially embarrassing for Pellegrini.

Adding to Pellegrini's problems is the fact that Karim Benzema - with all the attention on how much was spent on Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka it shouldn't be forgotten that their French fellow galactico also cost €35m - has put in a couple of truly dismal performances in Real's last two games.

When Pellegrini was asked at the post-match media conference what he had said to Benzema, the Chilean commented obliquely: "Individual analysis is done with the player." It's not difficult to read between the lines at what might have been said.

Benzema's body language as he shuffled past the assembled media on Saturday certainly confirmed that he'd been told in no uncertain terms that Real were not currently getting value for money from him.

He put on a very visible Gallic strop, refused to talk to anyone, and will probably be replaced in the starting line-up on Wednesday by Gonzalo Higuain.

However, Milan coach Leonardo de Araujo would be happy to swap jobs with the under-pressure Pellegrini.

The Rossoneri are floundering in eighth place in Serie A and face the prospect, although I am sure people will remind me that it's still early days, of failing to qualify for Europe for the first time since 1998.

It's a huge fall from grace for a team that has won the Champions League twice in the last seven years and reached the final in 2005.

Even the most optimistic Milan fans must be wondering what has gone wrong with a team that includes the talents of Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Pato and Ronaldinho. Not surprisingly, the finger is pointing fairly squarely at their Brazilian coach.

It's indicative of their woes that not a single Milan player was named among the candidates for the 2009 European Player of the Year when the 30-strong list came out on Sunday.

If Pellegrini can be reasonably certain that his job is safe until at least the winter break, Leonardo must be nervous that if Milan perform as badly as they did against Zurich, he might not be around when Real visit the Guiseppe Meazza in two weeks.

However, let's give Leonardo a bit of hope that he may hang on to his job.

ronaldinho.jpgRonaldinho scored his second goal of the season on Sunday

He'll have been cheered up by seeing Ronaldinho, who also scored from the penalty spot, providing a sublime long-distance cross to set up Pato for Milan's second goal in Sunday's 2-1 win over Roma.

If the pair can link up like that again then the often-static Real defence could be in trouble.

Perhaps Ronaldinho's recently improved form is due to the fact that Brazil coach Dunga has publicly indicated that he still might be a part of their squad going to South Africa if he can recover a little of what he had during his glory days at Barca.

Ronaldinho, of course, is no stranger to the Bernabeu and has demonstrated in the past that he can turn on the style there.

His famous goal in November 2005, when he was in a Barca jersey and covered half the length of the left flank before slotting the ball past Iker Casillas - a feat which drew a standing ovation even from the Real faithful - has been played a myriad of times on Spanish TV in recent days.

If you want a reminder of what it was like, and what damage Ronaldinho can do when he puts his mind to the task, it's not hard to find it on YouTube.


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