Real Madrid will attempt to end five years of Champions League disappointment starting with Lyon in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Madrid have failed to reach the quarter-finals of this competition since the 2003/04 campaign, since when they have been dumped out at the last-16 stage in successive years by Juventus, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Roma and, most recently, Liverpool.
It is a hugely disappointing record for the nine-time European champions, and one they will be desperate to avoid repeating this season, especially with the final being staged at their Bernabeu stadium.
Madrid could hardly have had a better weekend in preparation for their trip to Lyon though, where almost everything went right for them.
Not only did they beat Xerez 3-0, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice on his return from suspension, but they also got a huge helping hand from local rivals Atletico, who inflicted a first league defeat of the season on Barcelona last night.
Those results mean there are just two points separating the big two at the top of La Liga and, with Barca still to go to the Bernabeu, Madrid are now in control of their own destiny.
Another plus for Manuel Pellegrini’s side came with the news that striker Karim Benzema had recovered from a groin problem quicker than expected and he was included in a 19-man travelling squad to face his former side Lyon.
The France international, who swapped his hometown club for Madrid in a big-money move last summer, told RTL radio: “I’m fine, ready to play, be it from the start or for the last half-hour.
“I hope that I get a good reception in Lyon and I think that I’m going to have a good match. It is a historic moment for me, it’s a pleasure to return to Lyon.”
Benzema sat out the win over Xerez, where world record signing Ronaldo again took centre stage with a brace.
Ronaldo, who missed the previous two matches due to a ban, has now netted 11 goals in just 13 Primera Division games since his £80million move from Manchester United, while he is also the leading scorer in the Champions League with six more strikes.
The in-form Portugal international will be a concern for Lyon, but the French club’s coach Claude Puel told Marca: “We cannot just focus on Ronaldo, there are more players who can decide a game. Karim, Kaka, (Gonzalo) Higuain…”
Lyon have beaten Madrid on both of their previous two visits to France, but with the Spanish side bringing in 250million euros’ worth of new talent last summer, Puel knows it may not be easy to make it hat-trick of wins tomorrow.
“I think they are stronger now, both at an individual and collective level. This is not only a team of stars, they move, recover, defend, they support each other,” he added.
Lyon go into the match on the back of a mixed run of recent results.
In their last five fixtures in all competitions they have recorded two wins, two defeats and a draw.
Puel said: “We are not playing brilliant football, but we are improving. We have to be more competitive, especially against Madrid. It’s a very important game.”