Real Madrid begin their run in the Champions League knockout stages with a round of 16 tie with Italian side Atalanta on Wednesday evening.
Los Blancos have fallen flat in domestic competition this season and have failed to lead La Liga in their defence of last season’s title, sitting second behind Atletico Madrid in what has been an inconsistent campaign so far.
Criticisms of Zinedine Zidane along with the consistent doubt cast over the future of Sergio Ramos haven’t helped, but Real still managed to top their group and can now start afresh with a positive display against Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.
With injuries to their main event players plaguing their star-studded roster, here’s how Zidane’s side could line up.
Thibaut Courtois (GK) – The Belgian has had to be at his best this season with defensive injuries and inconsistencies making his job a lot more difficult.
Lucas Vasquez (RB) – Dani Carvajal is nursing a hamstring injury, so Real’s utility man will likely have to pull defensive duties once more.
Raphael Varane (CB) – Varane takes authority as the experienced and consistent head at the back with injuries rife. He managed a brace against Huesca in the league two weeks ago; perhaps he can pull it off again.
Nacho (CB) – The 31-year-old has stepped up to the task in the absence of Ramos and Eder Militao. He has the chance to impress in the first leg, with Madrid’s captain eyeing a second leg return.
Ferland Mendy (LB) – Mendy has come into form this season for Real and impressed in his 20 league appearances. The Champions League is his chance to impress on the big stage.
Casemiro (DM) – The best defensive midfielder in the world? Probably. Casemiro came up with the goods to give his side the win at the weekend and will be key in deciding the midfield battle in this one.
Toni Kroos (CM) – Five assists from his last five games, the German World Cup winner is in electric form as of late.
Luka Modric (CM) – Completing a stupendously talented midfield three is Luka Modric. Atalanta have a huge task on their hands in winning the battle over this trio.
Marco Asensio (RW) – Asensio was once considered the next big star before injuries took their toll. With Real short of options, the 25-year-old needs to make the most of an opportunity to impress on the big stage.
Mariano (ST) – No Karim Benzema and no Rodrygo means Mariano keeps his place in the side. No pressure.
Vinicius Junior (LW) – There’s been plenty of criticism regarding Vinicius’ lack of impact in the absence of Eden Hazard. He is still just 20 years old, however, and has plenty of time to develop.