New-look CSKA faces uphill battle against Real
MOSCOW - Reuters
Boasting important players such as Sekv and Pavel Mamaev, CSKA hosts a star-studded Real side, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil. AFP photosCSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky may have got his wish when the Russians were paired with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 tie.
“I don’t think anyone wants to face Barcelona because they look almost unbeatable,” Slutsky, whose team hosts the nine-time European champions in the first leg at the Luzhniki Stadium tonight, said before the December draw.
“Against other teams you may have a chance,” added the 40-year-old former amateur goalkeeper, dubbed the Russian Mourinho by local media for his analytical approach, thorough tactical preparation and attention to detail.
Nevertheless, Slutsky named the runaway La Liga leaders as huge favorites against CSKA, playing their first competitive game in almost two-and-a-half months.
To make the matters worse for the Russians, their current team has little resemblance with the one that beat Inter Milan 2-1 in their final Group B match to secure a place in the first knockout round.
Slutsky may have to hand starting roles to two debutants, Swedish midfielder Pontus Wernbloom and Nigeria striker Ahmed Musa, after they were signed during the last transfer window.
The 19-year-old Musa, who joined from Dutch side VVV-Venlo, will have big shoes to fill following the departure of Brazilian Vagner Love, their talismanic forward who left for Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo last month after spending seven seasons with the army side and scoring the club’s record 117 goals.
CSKA’s Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda and Chile winger Mark Gonzalez are also unlikely to feature in tonight’s game as they have not fully recovered from knee and hip surgery respectively.
If he plays, Musa will partner Ivory Coast’s Seydou Doumbia -- the Russian league’s top scorer with 24 goals last year -- in CSKA’s attacking formation.
The Russians have been concerned about Doumbia’s lack of match practice as the powerful striker had watched most of the action during the recent African Nations Cup from the bench.
However, CSKA’s biggest worry is the goalkeeping position with first-choice Igor Akinfeyev still out following knee surgery and experienced Vladimir Gabulov joining big spenders Anzhi Makhachkala during the winter break.
That leaves Slutsky with untested Sergei Chepchugov and 16-year-old Sergei Revyakin, both of whom have yet to play on the international arena at the senior level, to face the Spanish giants.
“Igor has been the main part of our team for many years, he’s almost indispensable, but we’ll have to find a way to overcome his absence,” the coach said.
CSKA will also miss defender Kirill Nababkin and midfielder Pavel Mamayev through suspension for the first leg.
Real missing key players
Real, who has won 27 of its last 30 matches in all competitions, also has several key players missing.
Winger Angel Di Maria, who returned from injury and scored a goal against Racing Santander on Saturday, has suffered a bruised muscle, Hamit Altıntop has a torn calf muscle while fellow midfielder Lassana Diarra is out with a back complaint.
“Now we turn to the Champions League and we must focus on the match against CSKA,” Mourinho said after his team crushed Racing 4-0.
“Everyone is pleased, we have two days to recover, and we are a happy group. We have a long journey but happiness helps make miracles. We are very motivated even though we know it will be difficult in Moscow.”
Meanwhile, Brazilian Kaka has been concerned about the weather in the Russian capital.
“The cold in Moscow is a negative factor, but it will also affect them, even if they are more used to it,” he said.
“And then the return leg is at home for us. You have to remember that this is a two-legged tie.”