Real Madrid will kick-start their bid for a hat-trick of Champions League titles by hosting APOEL Nicosia at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Here, Press Association Sport examines five key talking points for the Group H opener.
Real start the quest for La Decimotercera
Europe’s dominant Champions League force remain intent on flexing their continental supremacy still further by targeting a 13th title. Real enter this term’s competition as back-to-back winners, further underscoring their hold on Europe’s elite tournament.
Real spent 12 lean years labouring to their 10th Champions League win, long dubbed La Decima and so craved by supporters. But with that monkey long since off their backs, Real expect to keep racking up the titles. And the Spanish press have already branded this year’s Champions League assault as La Decimotercera, the 13th.
Cristiano Ronaldo to the rescue for Real
Real have struggled in front of goal in grinding to two draws in three matches of a below-par opening to the new LaLiga season. To add to those concerns striker Karim Benzema suffered a hamstring injury in the weekend’s 1-1 draw with Levante.
Cristiano Ronaldo is currently serving a five-match ban for pushing the referee after being sent off in Real’s Spanish Super Cup clash with Barcelona. That ban does not extend to the Champions League, however, so Ronaldo’s presence provides a timely boost to boss Zinedine Zidane’s resources.
Can APOEL spring a surprise?
Real thumped APOEL 8-2 in the 2011/12 quarter-finals, so the Cypriot visitors will be fully aware of the might of Wednesday’s hosts. APOEL striker Mickael Pote summed up the magnitude of the trip by telling a press conference: “Playing at the Bernabeu will be a dream come true. We will definitely enjoy the occasion but we want to disturb them. Now whether or not we can do that remains to be seen.”
What formation will Real choose?
Benzema’s injury leaves Real boss Zidane weighing up his options in attack. A straight 4-4-2 would allow Real to pair the returning Ronaldo and Gareth Bale up front. A 4-3-3 could suit Bale’s needs, while the 4-4-2 option might allow more opportunities for Isco. Zidane told a press conference on Tuesday “we might go with something new” given Benzema’s injury. Whatever the boss has up his sleeve, Real will definitely be hunting goals and a return to top form.
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