Football

Tough test awaits Real

The Galacticos face an in-form Napoli side unbeaten in 18 games

ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
REAL MADRID NAPOLI

Real Madrid have mastered the art of winning without hitting top gear this season but that strategy will be severely tested in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Champions League last-16 showdown against a Napoli side who have developed their own invincible aura.

La Liga leaders Real were riding high earlier in the season as they set a Spanish record 40-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.

That run was finally snapped by Sevilla last month and now Napoli have taken up the mantle of the hardest team to beat in Europe, stringing together 18 games without defeat.

Real's scrappy 3-1 win at basement club Osasuna on Saturday displayed visible weaknesses in their rearguard as Zinedine Zidane's use of a back three bore mixed results, with goalkeeper Keylor Navas called upon numerous times to thwart the La Liga strugglers.

The return of a fit-again Dani Carvajal should see the coach revert to his favoured 4-3-3 line-up as he has an almost full-strength side at his disposal.

Gareth Bale, who has just returned to training following an ankle injury, could also feature.

Real captain Sergio Ramos said his team needed to underline their credentials tomorrow morning ahead of the return leg at Napoli's San Paolo Stadium, where a partisan crowd awaits.

"Napoli are strong opponents on a very good run and we'll try and keep a clean sheet so we can have a more comfortable trip over there," the defender said in a Facebook Live broadcast.

Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik, who returned to the squad after four months out with a knee injury for Friday's 2-0 win over strugglers Genoa but stayed on the bench, could make his comeback against Real.

MERCURIAL MERTENS

Belgium forward Dries Mertens has taken on the team's attacking responsibilities in Milik's absence, plundering 13 goals in his last 10 games and inspiring a run of seven wins and one draw in 2017, taking Napoli to third in Serie A.

An estimated 10,000 Napoli supporters, including the team's most famous player Diego Maradona, are expected to make the trip to the Spanish capital for their first competitive meeting since 1987.

In addition, Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol will face their former side for the first time.

"We're feeling the fans' support a lot. The Bernabeu is an intimidating stadium to play at but the only way to get past Real Madrid is to be brave and go there with intent," Napoli and Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina told radio station Onda Cero.

"Maradona's presence will motivate us and we hope we don't disappoint him." - REUTERS

Champions LeagueREAL MADRIDZinedine Zidane