Karim Benzema is congratulated by Pepe and Marcelo after scoring Real's second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Racing Santander. Real Madrid play CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League on February 21, 2012. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
CSKA Moscow's offseason layoff, player sales, injuries and suspensions have left them thin. Even in the cold and on a plastic pitch, Real Madrid are serious favorites.
Away trips to Russia and Ukraine are supposed to be impossibly difficult for Western European teams. Zenit St. Petersburg, even without Danny, handed Benfica their first defeat in all competitions last week at the Petrovsky Stadium. That game featured frigid temperatures, and it should be even colder in Moscow on Tuesday than it was for that game. The Petrovsky has poorly maintained grass, while the Luzhniki Stadium is artificial turf. In theory, Real Madrid should have a harder time against CSKA Moscow than Benfica had last week against Zenit.
Unfortunately for CSKA, all of their built-in advantages might be nullified by the fact that their squad is absolutely decimated at the moment. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, defensive midfielder Aleksandrs Cauna, attacking midfielders Keisuke Honda and Mark Gonzalez and striker Tomas Necid are still out injured after picking up bad injuries before and during the winter break. Last year's backup goalkeeper Vladimir Gubolov and club leading scorer Wagner Love both departed in January. Pavel Mamaev and Kirill Nababkin are both suspended.
This means CSKA will have to play some new signings and unproven players. Both Pontus Wernbloom and Ahmed Musa arrived from Holland in the winter and are likely to make competitive debuts. Kim In-Sung arrived from South Korea and will likely make the 18-man squad. Manager Leonid Slutsky will be depending on his experienced back line to protect unproven goalkeeper Sergei Chepchugov, as well as stars Seydou Doumbia and Alan Dzagoev to aid Musa going forward.
Real Madrid star Angel di Maria made his return from injury with a substitute appearance and a great goal against Racing Santander over the weekend, but will not travel to Moscow. This likely means that both Kaka and Mesut Özil will start. Sami Khedira and Alvaro Arbeloa both make the trip after recovering from injury, and both could start. Kherida seems like a near lock for the starting XI after he came off the bench against Racing, but Esteban Granero has performed well recently. Lassana Diarra is out injured.
Cristiano Ronaldo will unsurprisingly be a focus of attention for CSKA, and with a double pivot and the Berezutski brothers keeping an eye on him, he might struggle to find space. Özil will be out of position on the other wing, but will have a more favorable matchup than Ronaldo. Additionally, Alan Dzagoev isn't a terrific defensive player, and that could leave Xabi Alonso plenty of time and space on the ball to pick CSKA apart.
CSKA Moscow vs. Real Madrid
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 21, 12:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. local
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA - English), FOX Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sportsnet World (Canada), Sky Sports 2 (UK)
CSKA Moscow (4-2-3-1): Sergei Chepchugov; Georgi Schennikov, Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutski, Aleksei Bereutski; Pontus Wernbloom, Evgeni Aldonin; Ahmed Musa, Alan Dzagoev, Sekou Oliseh; Seydou Doumbia
For more on Los Merengues, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid.