CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid: Real Madrid travel to Russia on Tuesday to face CSKA Moscow at the VEB Arena, with Julen Lopetegui’s men hoping to increase their two-point lead at the top of UEFA Champions League Group G.
Los Blancos thrashed AS Roma 3-0 in the first match of their Champions League title defence, while CSKA showed grit to come back from two goals down and snatch a 2-2 draw at Viktoria Plzen.
Real are big favourites to take maximum points and move one step closer to sealing first place in Group G, but a trip to Moscow in October is a difficult proposition for any outfit.
Many questions at the start of Real’s season turned to how Real would fare in the Champions League without Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been the competition’s top scorer for the last six seasons in succession.
Gareth Bale, Isco and Mariano Diaz scored the goals against Roma a fortnight ago to show they’ll help fill the void, although AFP’s Tom Allnutt reported neither Bale nor Isco will be present for the trip to Moscow:
The absence of captain and star centre-back Sergio Ramos will be a sore miss at the other end, which means Lopetegui could name a centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane and Nacho. Alternatively, Nacho could be retained at left-back while Jesus Vallejo comes into central defence.
Many Real fans will also be hoping this is the first opportunity to see summer arrival Vinicius Junior in Champions League action, and the 18-year-old was happy to celebrate his inclusion on the flight to Moscow:
CSKA sit third in the Russian Premier League and are six points off leaders Zenit St. Petersburg, while Real are level on points at the head of La Liga after going their last two league games without a win.
Los Merengues face a fine balancing act in rotating their squad between league and cup commitments, and Lopetegui said after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with rivals Atletico that the domestic race is tightening, via Omnisport:
Real could run the risk of seeing their European dominance of recent years slip away if they don’t take the competition’s early stages seriously enough, and CSKA will be all too happy to stage a surprise.
One area in which journalist Dermot Corrigan doesn’t believe Lopetegui should do so at all, however, is between the posts:
Thibaut Courtois has started performing more comfortably in Real’s goal after a somewhat shaky start, but last season’s No. 1, Keylor Navas, kept a clean sheet in the previous Champions League win over Roma.
CSKA are unbeaten in their last eight games and have won four of those, but Real could put an end to that unbeaten streak as the European title-holders seek a third consecutive Champions League win in Moscow.