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Real Madrid vs. Atlético Madrid preview, Champions League 2015: Can battered Merengues score?

It's hard enough to score on Atlético Madrid at full strength. Real Madrid has to do it with four stars out.

No Gareth Bale, no Luka Modric, no Karim Benzema and no Marcelo. Cristiano Ronaldo is Real Madrid's best player, but he wouldn't be a Ballon d'Or contender without his partners in crime. And on Wednesday, he'll need to make some magic happen against a stingy Atlético Madrid defense without arguably his four most important teammates.

It's not clear who a 0-0 draw in the first leg benefits, but given Los Merengues' injury troubles, Diego Simeone will like his team's chances just fine. And this situation mirror's last year's semifinals, when Chelsea were happy to not get an away goal at the Vicente Calderon because they knew they could win at home. But they got blown out, and it was Atléti who advanced to the final.

The good news for Real is that any win will do, but their situation gets exceptionally sticky if they allow Atléti to score even one goal. That might be even harder than scoring without their top attackers.

Team news

The aforementioned four absentees are the only missing players for Real Madrid, with Bale the only one of the group that has any chance to play whatsoever. Carlo Ancelotti says he won't change his formation, but it's not obvious if he'll replace Benzema with Chicharito or move Ronaldo up top in order to introduce Jese. There are also questions about Toni Kroos' role. Will he stay put, or move into Modric's spot while a new player takes over the deepest midfield position?

Mario Suarez is suspended for Atlético Madrid, so Gabi and Tiago will man the midfield for Simeone. There's also a slight doubt over the fitness of Mario Mandzukic, but he is expected to play.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casilals; Fabio Coentrao, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Dani Carvajal; Isco, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Javier Hernandez, James Rodriguez

Atlético Madrid (4-4-2): Jan Oblak; Guilherme Siqueira, Diego Godin, Miranda, Juanfran; Koke, Tiago, Gabi, Arda Turan; Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic

football formations

Key Matchups

Sami Khedira vs. his non-existent form -- A healthy and in-form version of Sami Khedira has been a contributor to Real Madrid trophy wins and a World Cup victory. This version of Sami Khedira has hardly been fit all year, and hasn't played even when he is because of Luka Modric's incredible form. He'll need to be Real's best player in both transitional phases.

Arda Turan vs. Fabio Coentrao -- Similarly, Coentrao hasn't played a lot this year because Marcelo's been so good. When he has played, he hasn't looked stellar. Turan, meanwhile, is in impeccable form and has juked much better defenders out of their shoes before. Don't be shocked if Coentrao ends up on the wrong end of a few highlights.

Jan Oblak vs. Cristiano Ronaldo -- With Bale and Benzema out, Ronaldo's going to get his shots. Will they be high-quality shots? Maybe not, but a few are going to find their way to Oblak. And while the 22-year-old is one of Europe's best young keepers, he's still relatively inexperienced and is prone to the occasional howler. It'll only take a slight misstep to let a Ronaldo rocket in.

Prediction

It would have been hard to pick against Atlético Madrid in knockout play even if Real were fully fit. This seems like a Simeone special. 1-1 draw, Atléti advance.