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Cristiano Ronaldo starts at center forward for Real Madrid against AS Roma

Zinedine Zidane is also deploying probably the most balanced three-man midfield Madrid has seen all season.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The lineups are in as Real Madrid prepare to host AS Roma in the second leg of their Champions League tie, and the Merengues' lineup looks as intriguing to Madrid fans as it likely looks terrifying to Roma fans.

Cristiano Ronaldo is lining up at center forward, a position he's rarely played during his career, but one that Rafa Benitez toyed with playing him at early in the season. Karim Benzema's continued injury absence forced Zinedine Zidane to bring that project back, and with Madrid holding a 2-0 lead in the tie on home soil, it's certainly worth a try.

Madrid are also using a more balanced midfield than we've usually seen from them this year, dropping an attacking midfielder in favor of adding Casemiro to the usual pivot pairing of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. That gives Modric and Kroos more freedom to get forward in support of Madrid's attacking trio, knowing that there's an actual defensive midfielder on the pitch to help cover them instead of acres of space between them and the defense.

For Roma, the lineup is more or less as was expected, with the Italians abandoning the odd striker-less system that saw them struggle going forward in the first leg in favor for getting Edin Dzeko on the pitch from the first whistle, paired up top with red-hot forward Stephan El Shaarawy. Will it be enough to let them overcome Real Madrid's lead in the hostile Santiago Bernabeu atmosphere? Maybe, maybe not, but this likely does give Roma their best chance at getting the job done, and that's all you can ask for from a lineup.

Real Madrid starting XI (4-3-3): Keylor Navas; Danilo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos; James Rodriguez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale

AS Roma starting XI (4-4-2): Wojciech Szczesny; Alessandro Florenzi, Kostas Manolas, Ervin Zukanovic, Lucas Digne; Mohamed Salah, Miralem Pjanic, Seydou Keita, Diego Perotti; Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko