Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow: Picking a Madrid XI to Beat the Russians
Real Madrid go into their second leg Champions League last 16 game against CSKA Moscow as heavy favourites. And despite CSKA Moscow grabbing a late, late equaliser at the Luzhniki stadium and the noticeable threat that is there from Moscow to grab something out of nothing when the cards are stacked against them, Jose Mourinho will go into this game confident of an easy path into the quarterfinals.
Jose Mourinho, however, is not without his injury concerns, something which he will be mindful of when selecting a team who are certain to shut out the Army Men.
CSKA Moscow have shown in the past what they're capable of, picking up a win against Inter Milan and a draw in the hostile environment of Turkey away to Trabzonspor, so Madrid will be well aware of the danger the Russians pose. The pace of Ahmed Musa, the spark that Keisuke Honda can provide and the finishing of Seydou Doumbia means there is always a possibility of an unlikely goal.
But at the Bernabeu, where the conditions are more in-tune with Madrid's game and with the attacking prowess that is available and will be on display, there can be little doubting that a strong squad will comfortably get the job done on the night.
Real Madrid's Defence
Business as usual in the Real Madrid goal, with captain Iker Casillas taking his place between the posts. Despite the disappointment of the late equaliser in the first leg, Madrid have only conceded three times in this year's competition, much of which stems from the solidity and confidence in the team's back-line and Casillas in goal.
Alvara Arbeloa will likely start at right-back due to injuries to other members of the squad who may be a little more defensively assured in that position. The Spanish international gave away possession a number of times in the first leg, and the pace and width in the Moscow side could be a cause for concern.
Sergio Ramos has excelled since permanently moving into the heart of the defence. He gives the back-line confidence with his pace and ability in dispossessing opponents, and will be integral once again to Madrid's game as they look to push high up the pitch and keep the game in the attacking half of the pitch.
Alongside Sergio Ramos, Pepe has formed an impressive centre-back pairing that gives Madrid pace and strength in the heart of their defence. A controversial figure, but still vitally important to this Madrid side.
He was impressive in the first-leg, shutting down the CSKA attackers and playing the ball out from defence. Pepe and Ramos are unlikely to offer much room for movement to the few times CSKA are likely to advance on Iker Casillas' goal, and with that, there is every possibility for another clean sheet.
The pair have only conceded once in the competition, with that goal being the equaliser from Moscow in the first leg.
Marcelo is likely to complete the unchanged defensive lineup from the weekend. A possible weak link in the defence due to his desire to join up with the attack and leave gaps in behind. With the attacking threat Moscow have shown in the first leg, it might have been more desirable from Jose Mourinho's perspective to include a more defence-minded full-back, but injuries may leave him with little choice.
Again, an excellent option to have going forward—and Real Madrid are going to be on the attack for much of the game—but the opportunity to invite CSKA into the game is there. A worry, but something that shouldn't be a huge concern.
Real Madrid's Midfield
Lassana Diarra was an unused substitute on the weekend, and a lack of match sharpness could mean he is overlooked. But the defensive side to his game will be important in a game where the opposition could be dangerous on the counterattack. His inclusion will free up others in the midfield to attack and also for him to protect Madrid's fullbacks and the spaces exposed by them.
Diarra could be seen as an important figure in a tie where his side are heavy favourites to win, but who wants to put out any potential fires before they occur.
As always, Real Madrid's attacks from back to front will go through Xabi Alonso. His passing range and the quickness of the pitch at the Bernabeu will be a huge plus for him and his team compared to the conditions in Moscow.
Through Alonso, the team will be able to counterattack at pace, moving the ball far more quickly to the forward-line and expose the weaknesses in CSKA's defence. A team who rely heavily on the speed of their attacks were countered by the artificial pitch at the Luzhniki—something which perhaps allowed CSKA the opportunity to level the score when Madrid could have put the tie to bed.
Even though Jose Mourinho has been operating with two deep-lying midfielders and four attackers, he could opt for an extra body in the midfield to prevent any threat from CSKA's counter-attacking game.
The positives of bringing Sami Khedira into the lineup is his ability to contribute defensively and offensively for the team. Excellent in dispossessing an opponent and equally comfortable in joining the attack. His presence alongside Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra will mean Madrid see the lion's share of possession and will find it much easier to contain the game in the CSKA's half of the pitch.
Real Madrid's Attack
While Jose Callejon has seen his fair share of minutes in the Champions League this season, an option to go for a 4-3-3 formation will undoubtedly mean Mesut Ozil gets the nod on the right side of the attack.
The creative outlet for Madrid further up the field, Ozil has seen his goal tally for this season come a little shorter of where he was last year. He's also seen a far more effective midfielder preferred over him in the excellent and in-form Angel Di Maria, but once again, injuries are keeping the Argentine from participating.
Ozil's ability to retain possession will be one of the keys to beating CSKA on the night—something which I expect them to do comfortably.
Cristiano Ronaldo will again line up on the left side of the attack and look to add to his two well-taken goals on the weekend against Real Betis.
It was Ronaldo who put Real Madrid in front in the first leg with a goal just before the half-hour, and once again, the pace and trickery of the Portuguese will cause a number of problems for CSKA.
Four goals and two assists so far in the competition is certainly a tally which Ronaldo will be looking to enhance at the Bernabeu. An opposition who, on paper, are heavily inferior to this Madrid side could provide enough of an opening for Ronaldo to put the tie to rest.
The injury picked up by Karim Benzema in the first leg means it's likely Gonzalo Higuain will retain his place in the side from the weekend win over Betis. Despite Benzema making an appearance late on in the much as a substitute, Mourinho might see this as a game in which the Frenchman can be rested and be afforded the opportunity to fully recover.
Higuain, however, was able to add another goal on the weekend to bring his total up to 17 for the season. A positive headache for Mourinho to have in deciding between the two strikers, as both are highly productive in front of goal and the competition remains fierce.