Moscow: Spanish giants Real Madrid are coming to snow-covered Moscow primed to extend their winning streak in this year`s Champions League in Tuesday’s last 16, first leg match with CSKA.
The Red Army side will be battling an obvious lack of match practice as the Russian Premier League is currently on its winter break before it restarts on March 3 and have also endured a nightmare sequence of injuries.
Yet with evening temperatures touching minus 10 degrees Celsius or colder in snow-bound Moscow over the last few days, CSKA will also be hoping greater experience in coping with the mighty Russian winter gives them a welcome boost.
Nine-time European champions Real are clear favourites having won all six of their Group D encounters and are now hoping to continue their winning run into the knockout stages.
On Saturday Real confirmed their Spanish League domination with a morale-boosting 4-0 win over Racing to stay ahead of arch-rivals Barcelona.
Real boss Jose Mourinho said he was happy with his team`s form ahead of the CSKA clash.
"Everyone is happy, being happy works miracles and we are a group which is in good spirits. We have a lot of motivation although we know that it will be a difficult game in Moscow," said the Real coach.
Real Madrid have won their two previous visits to Russia beating Lokomotiv Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg in Champions League group stage matches and will try to remain in the ascendancy in their first ever meeting with the Red Army side.
But CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky said he was priming his players for a lively start against Real, adding the initial exchanges may determine the course of the entire match.
"I`m confident that all of my players will come into the match with top concentration," Slutsky said.
"We need to start at full confidence. We all understand that a good start may determine the entire match."
The Moscow side go into Tuesday`s clash with serious personnel problems, weakened by the absence of a set of the first-line players.
During the winter break CSKA parted company with their star Brazilian marksman Vagner Love, who returned to his native country to play for Flamengo.
Defenders Kirill Nababkin and Pavel Mamaev will miss the match at Moscow`s 80,000 capacity Luzhniki stadium after they both collected their third bookings in the last Group B match with Inter Milan.
Chilean winger Mark Gonzalez, who recently underwent hip surgery, has failed to recover completely and will not play.
Latvian Aleksandr Cauna, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the CSKA training camp in Spain, is also out while Czech forward Tomas Necid and Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda are unlikely to get a starting place.
The Red Army side have signed Swedish international midfielder Pontus Wernbloom, Nigerian midfielder Ahmed Musa and Korean midfielder Kim In-Sung during the winter break but all three rookies lack experience of high-level matches.
CSKA prepared for the Real showdown in the balmy weather of Belek, Turkey, where they met Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk in a friendly match which ended 2-2.