Real Madrid will travel to Moldova to face Sheriff Tiraspol in the UEFA Champions League as they look to clinch qualification for the knockout stages.

Real Madrid will be aiming to book a place in the Round of 16 of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League when they lock horns with Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol at the Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena on Wednesday night.

Real Madrid are currently at the top of Group D, with nine points from four games. They have a two-point lead over second-placed Inter Milan and are three clear of their midweek opponents, who are third. A win on Wednesday would, thus, guarantee safe passage to the next round for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, who are on a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions, most recently beating Granada 4-1 in La Liga.

Sheriff Tiraspol, though, will take a lot of confidence from their surprise run in Europe. In their maiden Champions League campaign, the Moldovan outfit handed Real Madrid their only defeat in the competition this term, beating them 2-1 at the Bernabeu. However, they have lost their next two fixtures against Inter Milan. But, back-to-back wins over FC Zimbru (6-0) and FC Floresti (3-1) set them up nicely to welcome Madrid for this crunch tie.

A win for Yuriy Vernydub’s men would leave Real Madrid in a precarious position regarding their knockout prospects, especially if Inter Milan defeat Shakhtar Donetsk in the other group game, making this for an enticing match-up. Ahead of this clash coming our way from Tiraspol, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Sheriff Tiraspol

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The hosts have just one player missing out with an injury, with Lovro Bizjak being the absentee. Apart from Bizjak, Yuriy Vernydub has the entire squad at his disposal as he plots Real Madrid’s downfall for the second time this season. 

Sheriff Tiraspol will set up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation in front of goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis, who could be in for a busy night if Karim Benzema & co. get going. The centre-backs, Gustavo Dulanto and Danilo Arboleda Hurtado will need to be at their topmost level to thwart the visitors.

More defensive support will be sought from the full-backs in Fernando Costanza and Ronaldo, with the duo expected to stay close and compact to the centre-halves. Edmund Addo will shield the backline from the centre of the park and look to curb the influence of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, with support coming from Sebastien Thill, who will not shy away from venturing forward if a chance presents itself.

Dimitris Kolovos will be in charge of the chance-creation starting in the No. 10 role. At the same time, the threat from the wide areas will come from Frank Castaneda and Adama Traore, who will look to provide support to the centre-forward in Jasurbek Yakhshiboev.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Athanasiadis; Costanza, Arboleda, Dulanto, Cristiano; Addo, Thill; Traore, Kolovos, Castaneda; Yakhshiboev

Real Madrid

Real Madrid are once again without the services of Eden Hazard, who is recovering from an illness, while Gareth Bale and Dani Ceballos are out with injuries. Federico Valverde is closing in on a return, but Wednesday’s game comes too soon for the Uruguayan midfielder.

While Ancelotti would usually have been tempted to make some changes for this game, the result from the reverse fixture and the stakes involved are likely to prompt him to go in with his strongest side in Tiraspol on Wednesday.

That means Thibaut Courtois continues in goal ahead of frustrated second-choice stopper Andriy Lunin while Eder Militao returns to partner David Alaba at the heart of the Real Madrid defence. Dani Carvajal ought to continue at right-back despite the risk of fatigue, given his recent injury history. Ferland Mendy, who was one of the star performers at the weekend for Los Blancos, is a shoo-in at left-back.

Casemiro is a certainty to start at the base of the midfield while the veteran duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos should also feature from kick-off, meaning summer signing Eduardo Camavinga will be on the bench yet again, hoping to get some minutes in the second half of the contest.

Up top, there is no looking past the in-form Karim Benzema, while Vinicius Junior is a guaranteed starter on the left flank. With Rodrygo Goes returning from injury over the weekend, he could make a return to the starting XI on the right-wing against Sheriff Tiraspol.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius

Key Stats

  • Having beaten Real Madrid 2-1 in the reverse fixture, Sheriff Tiraspol could become the fourth team to win their first two meetings with the Merengues in European competition after Liverpool, Galatasaray and Benfica.
  • Real Madrid have won both of their away games in the Champions League this season without letting in a goal.
  • Real Madrid will be aiming to record three consecutive wins in the Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2018/19 campaign.
  • No team have scored more headed goals than Sheriff Tiraspol through the opening four matchdays of the 2021/22 Champions League (3), which is half their total goal tally in the competition.
  • Karim Benzema has scored in his last three Champions League appearances for Real Madrid (four goals). After scoring a brace against Shakhtar Donetsk in the previous game, the Frenchman has now directly been involved in 100 goals in the competition (75G, 25A).

Player to Watch

Vinicius Junior

With ten goals and seven assists from 17 matches in all competitions this season, Vinicius Junior is currently one of Real Madrid’s most in-form players. The 21-year-old has been directly involved in five goals in his last two appearances in the Champions League, scoring two and assisting three more.

The Brazilian, who has emerged as a transfer target for Manchester United, was also among the goalscorers for Los Blancos as they hammered Granada away from home in La Liga this past weekend. Carlo Ancelotti and the Real Madrid supporters will be hoping for the same from Vinicius on Wednesday night against Sheriff as they look to make it through the next round of the competition.

Prediction

Sheriff Tiraspol 1-3 Real Madrid

Sheriff Tiraspol have shown that they can punch well above their weights in the UEFA Champions League this season. And Real Madrid, having been at the receiving end of Moldovan opponents’ bravery and determination once already, will be wary of taking them lightly on Wednesday.

However, after their opening two wins, the hosts have suffered back-to-back heavy defeats against Inter Milan in Europe. And with Real Madrid finally starting to get into their groove under Carlo Ancelotti, it will be hard for Yuriy Vernydub & co. to achieve a repeat of the outcome from the reverse fixture. The Hard Tackle predicts the Merengues to clinch a comfortable win to make it through to the knockouts.

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