Real Madrid leaves the warm confines of Spain and heads to a freezing cold Russia to meet CSKA Moscow at the Stadion Luzhniki on Feb. 21 in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie in the European Champions League. Madrid is on a hot streak right now and has been for most of the season. They’ve won 18 out of their last 19 domestic games and have a 10-point lead on second-place Barcelona in the Spanish LaLiga.
Marcelo, Sami Khedira, and Kaka should all be in the line-up after playing in Madrid’s 4-0 win over Racing Santander on the weekend. However, Angel di Maria will likely miss the match due to reinjuring a muscle in his leg. Di Maria scored on the weekend, but fell near the end of the game and it looks like the Argentina international hurt his right leg, which had kept him out of action since back in December. In addition, Hamit Altintop and Lassana Diarra could be missing because of injuries, but defender Alvaro Arbeloa is expected to be back in the squad.
Manager Jose Mourinho said the team will miss Di Maria, but they have Cristiano Ronaldo to lead them in attack along with Karim Benzema. Ronaldo’s 28 league goals are tops in Spain and he has a remarkable 120 goals in 123 matches for Madrid so far in his career. Benzema scored twice on Saturday and now has 13 goals in the Spanish League this season. He also leads the club with four goals in the Champion League and he’s set up another four so far in the tournament this year.
Mourinho has warned his team about the weather in Moscow as well as the artificial pitch that they’ll be playing on. He said the temperature and pitch might be tough on his players since they’re not used to either, but they’ll have to overcome them and not use them as excuses for a poor performance.
Mourinho knows that CSKA will also be struggling because they haven’t played in the Russian Premier League since the end of November due to the league’s annual winter break. The Portuguese manager said Moscow has a strong team and is quite dangerous and needs to be respected. He said his players will have to keep their eyes on Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia, especially since Doumbia has five Champions League goals already this season.
CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky admits that his club may be rusty due to lack of action, but they should look to Zenit St Petersburg for inspiration since their fellow Russian side beat Benfica 3-2 at home in their Champions League game last week.
This should be an interesting matchup with one of Europe’s hottest teams playing in adverse conditions away from home against a team that’s been sitting around for a couple of months. In the end, Madrid should prevail and take a lead back home for the second leg of the tie.
William Hill’s latest odds show 6/1 for a Moscow win with 4/9 for a Real Madrid victory and 10/3 for a draw. Click the banner at the top to receive free bets on this match.