CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid – Tuesday, October 2, 20:00 BST/21:00 CEST/22:00 MSK – Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
There is a sense of theatre about Real Madrid’s arrival in Russia; CSKA Moscow will not welcome them to their stunning modern home but will upgrade surroundings to the scene of the World Cup final. They are no strangers to the Luzhniki, having hosted Champions League football there in the last decade. The Champions League’s most decorated side are themselves so accustomed to the grandest stages upon which to strut and fret their hour that there is little chance of anything less than a burgeoning capacity crowd.
One glance at the squad lists reveals a chasm in experience so wide that it seems almost inhumane to pit the transitional Armymen against the might of Los Merengues. CSKA Moscow are responsible for more under-23 player minutes in the Russian Premier League this season so far by some distance, having replaced almost their entire experienced spine with a sprinkling of unknown foreign teenagers and the cream of their own academy. Judging the names at face value, however, would be a huge mistake.
Viktor Goncharenko has partly had his hand forced by the financial strictures of a club deep in debt due to the construction of their VEB Arena home, not to mention the gutting of the playing squad in the summer. Nevertheless, he has serious pedigree at nurturing youth and maximising the potential of seemingly limited squads. Under his guidance, Fedor Chalov has burst out of the blocks this season to top the domestic scoring charts with seven goals in eight matches, as well as a natural finish to spark the comeback in the Czech Republic in game week one. With the measured transfer policy already producing a powerful team ethic, Real Madrid will need more than just stardust to out-sparkle their hosts.
There is little anyone doesn’t know about Real Madrid, and yet there is little anyone seems able to do to stop them. Manager Julen Lopetegui returns to the country where he was dramatically sacked as Spain manager just two days before this summer’s World Cup began with arguably an even more talented crop of players at his disposal. The enormous Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped chasm in the squad has been filled with the phenomenal Marco Asensio; even the arrogant confidence is there, with the latter’s no-look effort against Roma.
Cynics will say that Lopetegui has one of the simplest jobs in Europe. With the embarrassment of riches to choose from, and a relatively settled squad, the uneducated outside view is that he has to simply continue Zinedine Zidane’s good work. Whatever one’s opinion of Ronaldo’s departure, to adapt to life without his enormous presence and talent is a task that takes some considerable ability in itself. The club’s all-time top goalscorer had a unique role out wide on the left flank that was neither winger nor playmaker. Asensio is the man in pole position, but already former Real player Mariano Diaz has returned as an option. Even Brazilian teenager Vinicius Junior is finally of age and raring to go.
Without tearing up trees, Real are joint top on La Liga and top of group G after beating the next most serious rival. The sense of occasion will play into their hands to an extent, as they are more used to packed out venues of this scale, but there might just be enough of a shock with the unknown youthful verve to Goncharenko’s side. Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Gareth Bale and Isco are all out injured, meaning at least one member of the defence will be relatively untested in this competition. These might be only straws for CSKA to clutch at, but remain obstacles nonetheless.
CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid – Players to Watch
Nikola Vlasic #8 – CSKA Moscow
The man of the moment for the Armymen is undoubtedly the on-loan Croatian midfielder. It was his added time penalty that rescued a fully-deserved point away to Viktoria Plzen in the first gameweek, while he also scored an emphatic Moscow derby goal against Spartak 10 days ago. In the absence of Konstantin Kuchaev and until recently Alan Dzagoev – not to mention the departed Bibras Natkho, Pontus Wernbloom and Aleksandr Golovin – he has stepped up to fill the dynamic creative void. His incisive passes over and through opposition defences that have stood out, in particular those threaded through to in-form hitman Fedor Chalov
Luka Modric #10 – Real Madrid
Officially the best player in the world according to FIFA’s much-ridiculed The Best awards, Modric has been an understated orchestrator of Madrid’s finest triumphs for six years. With the imposing strength and artistry of Casemiro and Toni Kroos behind him, Modric’s license to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ in turn lays the platform for the predatory instincts of the front three to deadly effect. On statistics alone, Modric doesn’t stand out in most metrics; since leaving the Croatian league a decade ago, he has scored just 33 goals and recorded 68. His pace has never been impressive either. His anticipation and mastery of possession are other-worldly, however; closing him down will go a long way towards closing down Real Madrid as a whole.
CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid – Match Stats
- A last-gasp Pontus Wernbloom equaliser denied Real Madrid victory on the only previous meeting on Russian soil
- Three of CSKA’s four home games against Spanish opposition have ended as 1-1 draws, the fourth being a 3-0 win against Deportivo La Coruña.
- CSKA have only won two of their last 11 home European ties excluding qualifiers
- Real Madrid are looking to extend their run of Champions League wins to four – a record in the post-European Cup era
- Los Merengues have only won twice in 10 visits to Russia
- In their last 34 European fixtures, Real have lost just four time
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid – 1-2
CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid – Possible Lineups
Akinfeev – Fernandes, Becão, Chernov, Nababkin – Bijol, Akhmetov – Vlašić, Dzagoev, Oblyakov – Chalov
Manager: Viktor Goncharenko
Courtois – Carvajal, Nacho, Varane, Reguilon – Kroos, Modric, Casemiro – Mariano, Benzema, Asensio
Manager: Julen Lopetegui
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football, and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.