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APOEL could be just the tonic for what's been ailing Real Madrid of late

APOEL could be just the tonic for what's been ailing Real Madrid of late
From ESPN - November 20, 2017

A return to Champions League action away at APOEL Nicosia will provide welcome tonic for Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid after a goalless stalemate in the Madrid derby left the reigning Liga champions 10 points behind leaders Barcelona and six adrift of second-placed Valencia.

Madrid may be struggling domestically, but in Europe their fate remains firmly in their own hands. A 3-1 defeat by Tottenham was a setback but one counter-balanced by Borussia Dortmund's inability to claim more than two points in two meetings with the Cypriot champions: the Bundesliga side, runners-up as recently as 2012-13, are now obliged to win both their remaining matches to have any chance of progressing from the group. A Real Madrid victory in the GSP Stadium will end any lingering hopes Dortmund possess.

History is on the visitors' side. In seven games against Cypriot opposition, Madrid have never failed to win and have scored 37 times with just three conceded, and none of those away from home. Their scoring record under increasing scrutiny, it could be the perfect opportunity for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to rediscover their touch.

The Portuguese has been enjoying midweek action this season, finding the net six times in the Champions League to top the scorer's table ahead of Harry Kane. Benzema also holds fond memories from Real's only previous visit to the home of APOEL, the striker grabbing a brace in a 3-0 victory in the quarterfinals in 2011-12.

Giorgos Donis' side are no pushovers, as Zidane noted in his pre-match news conference, but the Greek tactician, in his second spell at the club, will be without keeper Boy Waterman and experienced Bulgaria international defender Zhivko Milanov on Tuesday. In their two previous European home games, APOEL have lined up in a 4-2-3-1, which played into Tottenham's hands as Mauricio Pochettino's blueprint punished their ambitious approach. Against Dortmund, Donis ensured his side were more compact but still they led for only five minutes before Sokratis Papastathopoulos cancelled out Mickael Pote's strike.

Donis may opt for the five-man defence he deployed in the return game at the Westfalenstadion, which threw up two statistics to have Real Madrid rubbing their hands together in anticipation: Dortmund racked up 30 shots during that match, with nine on target, the same number APOEL have managed at the other end in four Champions League games.

Zidane is unlikely to spring too many surprises in his team selection. Other than the enforced absence of Sergio Ramos, who suffered a fractured nose courtesy of Lucas Hernandez's boot during the derby, the same side that started in the Metropolitano will do so in Nicosia. The Real boss is still missing Keylor Navas, Gareth Bale and Mateo Kovacic but travelled to Cyprus with a 20-player squad including under-19 keeper Moha Ramos, who has been installed in recent weeks as deputy to Kiko Casilla while Luca Zidane recovers from a shoulder operation.

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