Unless you're a staunch Real Madrid fan, you would be forgiven a tinge of sympathy for Leonid Slutsky and his men, as they prepare to take on the 9-time European champions in the first leg of their Round of 16 encounter.
Real Madrid have been, quite simply, phenomenal since a certain Portuguese manager took over at football's White House last year. How phenomenal? Well... they've lost just 10 games in two years. That is only marginally worse than hated rivals Barcelona, who've lost 8 games in the same period.
In addition, the Whites have won all 6 games in the group stages of this year's continental tournament, are yet to concede a goal on the road this year and are absolutely fired up by the fact that they have a monstrous 10 point lead over Barca in the league.
In typical Mourinho style however, the manager has dismissed any notion of either slowing down or taking the eye of the ball because of the lead or the relatively weaker opposition his side faces on Tuesday night.
Real Madrid will have to do without influential Argentinean winger Angel di Maria for this game. di Maria, who was out injured, made a brief comeback in the weekend's stroll-in-the-park 4-0 rout of Racing Santander, only to go back injured. In addition to him, French midfield dynamo Lass Diarra and Turkish utility man Hamit Altintop are out injured as well.
On the pitch, Mourinho has had a far more settled first 11 in his second season, with usually only two or three places up front being changed, depending on form and the game. Do not, therefore, expect too many changes at the Russian capital. Despite Raphael Varane having a good game in the weekend he is unlikely to be risked in such a high-profile encounter and Carvalho's lack of match fitness means he will not be either. Pepe and Ramos should form the centre-half pairing, with Arebola and Marcelo on the flanks.
Xabi Alonso is the unspoken and often under-recognised lynchpin of this side. He formed a solid partnership with the German Sami Khedira last year. However, injuries and a lack of form meant the latter was benched on a few occasions this year. Mourinho has no lack of options in this area and could elect to go with any one of Sahin, Coentrao, Granero or even Kaka in a slightly more withdrawn role. However, given that this is an away game and he will want a terrier-like player in there, we expect Coentrao to get the nod over Khedira.
Mesut Ozil, who seems to have recaptured the scintillating form of last season will operate on one flank, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo on the other and Karim Benzema as the designated striker. The question of who will play in the hole behind Benzema should be settled depending on who Mourinho elects to play alongside Xabi Alonso. If it is either Coentrao or Khedira (which is most likely), then Kaka should get the nod to start, since di Maria is out. However, an interesting possibility is if Mourinho chooses to start the hugely impressive Jose Callejon - who is, by the way, the team's leading scorer in the Champions League this season.
As for their opponents, CSKA will rely on the goal-scoring exploits of Seydou Doumbia, who has 5 strikes to his credit this season. Unfortunately, Slutsky has a few injury problems to deal with. The biggest loss will undoubtedly also be the most crucial... star young goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has still to recover from his knee problem. In addition, winger Mark Gonzales and playmaker Keisuke Honda are also out, meaning the hosts will be short of creativity and firepower, as well as defensive options - defenders Pavel Mamaev and Kiril Nababkin are serving one-match bans.
All of this does not point to a happy evening for CSKA Moscow.
- CSKA Moscow - Chepchugov; A. Berezutsky, V. Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Schennikov; Wembloom, Aldonin; Oliseh, Dzagoev, Musa; Doumbia
- Real Madrid - Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Coentrao; Callejon, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema