x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Red hot Real Madrid face the big freeze in Moscow

Cristiano Ronaldo and Co have a perfect record in this season's Champions League and have won 18 of their last 19 games ahead of their clash with CSKA in freezing temperatures.

Real Madrid's players train in Moscow ahead of their clash with CSKA.
Real Madrid's players train in Moscow ahead of their clash with CSKA.

MOSCOW // Real Madrid will aim to continue their perfect run in the Champions League tomorrow night when they face CSKA Moscow in subzero temperatures on the Luzhniki stadium's artificial pitch.

Real go into the last-16 match after winning all six of their group games in the competition, and also in fine form domestically, having won 18 of their last 19 matches to lead Barcelona by 10 points in the Spanish Primera Liga. For CSKA, the first-leg match will almost be a season-opener as the Russian league is on a winter break until mid-March.

Kaka, Marcelo and Sami Khedira all returned from injury for Real in Saturday's 4-0 rout of Racing Santander, but Angel di Maria's comeback was bittersweet after the Argentina international appeared to aggravate a right leg muscle injury, ruling him out of tonight's game.

"We need to now focus on the match against CSKA. Everyone's happy, we have two days to recover now and we're a happy group," Jose Mourinho, the Real coach, said. "We've got a long trip ahead ... but our motivation is high even though we know it won't be easy."

While it is getting warmer in the Russian capital, the temperatures are expected to range between -8°C and -10°C.

"The ball resembles a piece of plastic when it freezes," Leonid Slutsky, the CSKA coach, said. "A stone. It's painful to catch or block it. And it doesn't bounce high from the pitch."

Real's Brazilian playmaker Kaka said the cold would be a negative factor for both teams.

"We have to prepare well and play a phenomenal match," Kaka said.

The midfielder Xabi Alonso backed him.

"Now we return to a competition that is very important for us," Alonso said. "We all know what we're playing for and it's fundamental to get a good result away from home."

CSKA sold their star Brazilian playmaker Vagner Love to Flamengo during their off-season.

The home side are also without their injured first-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and the Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda.

"Much will depend on the beginning of the match," Slutsky said of his team's chances. "If we are able to be on equal terms from the very first minute, then we might have chances, otherwise it will be tough.

"CSKA has proved that we can play successfully against key teams but we have never faced such a strong test before," he said. "Even Mourinho's Inter, which won the Champions League was weaker then Real today."

Summing up things from CSKA's point of view, Slutsky added: "We have a plan for the game and will hope our opponent will not play at its best."