—– Real Madrid C.F. ???????? (@realmadriden) November 20, 2017
On paper, 12-time European champions Real are frustrating favourites versus an Apoel side that lack a win in their last 12 suits in the Champions League appropriate, as well as who are presently just fifth in the Cypriot leading trip.
What is at stake?
Somewhat surprisingly, Real are still not guaranteed a top-two finish in Group H heading into the penultimate round of matches, while even more surprising is that rock-bottom Apoel could yet progress to the last 16 themselves.
However, both those anomalies are likely to be resolved on Tuesday night, when Real might only need a draw to reach the knockout stage for a 15th successive season.
Apoel, in contrast, require an unlikely sequence of results over the next two rounds to pip Real to second place, and realistically they are now battling Borussia Dortmund – who also have two points – for third place and a Europa League spot.
What hope do Apoel have against Real?
On paper, 12-time European champions Real are overwhelming favourites against an Apoel side that are without a win in their last 12 matches in the Champions League proper, and who are currently only fifth in the Cypriot top flight.
They were also beaten 8-2 on aggregate by Real when the clubs met in the 2011/12 quarter-finals, but the Spanish giants’ poor recent form – two defeats and a draw in their last four matches in all competitions – gives Giorgos Donis’ underdogs a glimmer of hope.
Which Ronaldo will turn up?
After years of rewriting the record books, Ronaldo has found himself in the spotlight for wholly different reasons this season, with infinite column inches dedicated to his disappointing form, relationship with team-mates and long-term future at the Bernabeu.
Statistically, it has been a poor start to the domestic season for Real’s all-time record scorer, with just one goal in LaLiga, a shot-conversion record of under three per cent and, reportedly, having not made a single tackle or interception.
However, the Portugal superstar has been a different beast in Europe, scoring six times in just four games, and it is that Ronaldo which Real will hope turns up in Cyprus.
Real injury blow
Zinedine Zidane is again without record signing Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but it will be the absence of influential captain Sergio Ramos which will be keenest felt if the Spain international is sidelined for long.
Ramos suffered a broken nose in Saturday’s derby stalemate with Atletico and was not part of Real’s 20-man travelling squad to Nicosia. It remains to be seen when he can return, but his contributions both in defence and attack have been a huge part of Real’s success in recent years.
With several senior players absent, Zidane only has limited options if he wants to freshen up his side but the likes of Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Nacho Fernandez and Theo Hernandez could be drafted in.
That could give some of his star names a break heading into a daunting fixture list to end the year, but Zidane will also be wary of what another negative result could bring in terms of pressure and affect to morale – not to mention Real’s hopes of winning a third successive Champions League.