Key moment as Madrid prepare for Napoli and San Paulo test
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DUSHANBE, 06.03.2017. /NIAT Khovar/. Real Madrid have a season defining moment on Tuesday night when they defend a 3-1 Champions League first leg lead away to Italian side Napoli.
Zinedine Zidane's side travel to Italy on the back of a morale boosting 4-1 win away to Eibar on Saturday in which the coach was 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 game of a two-game ban after getting sent off against Las Palmas last week.
The five are all certain to start in a game where Madrid are clear favorites to qualify, but where they cannot afford any defensive errors against the top-scoring side in Serie A.
Napoli have netted 62 league goals in 27 matches and know the away goal they scored in the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg is a lifeline that means a 2-0 win in the San Paolo stadium would see them into the last eight.
Madrid know that their defense has been their Achilles heel this season; something highlighted by the eight goals they have conceded in their last four matches and the fact they have only kept two clean sheets in their last 13 games, with both of those in front of their fans.
Five points dropped in their last four league games as a result of those defensive lapses have seen Madrid overtaken at the top of the Liga Santander table by FC Barcelona and although they still have a game in hand, they are no longer such clear favorites to win the domestic title, making European success all the more vital.
Zidane will hope the return of Carvajal and Marcelo will help stem the tide, although he is still without Rafael Varene with a muscle injury.
Meanwhile Napoli will open the gates to the San Paolo Stadium over 5 hours before kick-off and the atmosphere will build up to fever pitch in what can be one of the most hostile grounds in Europe.
Zidane's men will have to weather an early storm, but with Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema, who scored twice at the weekend, leading their attack, they will hope for a goal on the break to calm nerves and set them on their way to a place in the last eight.
Source: National information agency of Tajikistan