Zidane eyes Real shutout at Napoli

MILAN • Real Madrid have a season-defining moment today when they defend a 3-1 Champions League first-leg lead away to Italian Serie A top scorers Napoli.

Zinedine Zidane's side travel to Italy on the back of a morale-boosting 4-1 win away to Eibar, with the coach able to rest key players.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Tony Kroos and Dani Carvajal took no part in Saturday's match in order to ensure they are in the best shape, while Gareth Bale missed out as he served the first of a two-game ban after getting sent off against Las Palmas last week.

The five are all certain to start in a game in which Real are clear favourites to qualify, but where they can ill afford any defensive errors against the top-scorers in Serie A.

Napoli have netted 62 league goals in 27 matches and know the away goal they scored at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg can be their lifeline. A 2-0 win at the San Paolo stadium would see them through to the last eight.

Real's defence has been their Achilles' heel this season, highlighted by the eight goals they have conceded in their last four matches and only two clean sheets kept in their last 13 games. Five points dropped in their last four league games owing to defensive lapses have seen them overtaken by Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

Although Zidane's side still have a game in hand, they are no longer favourites to win the league, making European success more vital.

Midfielder Casemiro claimed that Real are "almost unbeatable" if they can play like they did in Eibar.

"If we start as motivated in every game, with the quality we have, it is almost impossible for us to lose," the Brazilian told BeIN Sports.

"In football you have the chance to change the script every three days. We have changed and returned to being Real Madrid again and we will go to Napoli stronger."

Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina is familiar with Ronaldo from their time in England for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. He offered advice on stopping free kicks from the Portuguese.

"You have to be careful, and watch them all the way because you don't know until the last moment where the ball is going to go," the Spaniard said. "Ronaldo's free kicks are like a spear."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

NAPOLI V REAL MADRID

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Zidane eyes Real shutout at Napoli'. Print Edition | Subscribe