Two games, four points. That’s almost a perfect stat line for Monaco who head to Moscow full of confidence and belief that they really can escape what on paper seemed like one of the closest groups in this year’s Champions League.
However, there are no easy games in Europe’s premiere competition and CSKA Moscow proved against Bayer Leverkusen that they aren’t a pushover. A return to Russia for Monaco’s owners but will they return home with love or with their tails tucked between their legs?
Despite returning to training, Radamel Falcao has not made the trip to Russia. The Colombian is on a special training regime as he recovers from a concussion against Nice back in September but has not been cleared in time.
Joining him on the injury table are Almamy Toure and Nabil Dirar, who are still recovering from their respective injuries. Monaco can go six points ahead of their Russian opponents with a victory in Moscow this evening.
CSKA will be without two key players for this tie, with Alaz Dzagoev missing through injury and Roman Eremenko missing after UEFA imposed an impromptu 30-day ban on the Finnish international. Russian press has speculated that the suspension could be because of his use of snus.
However, Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim admitted that his team would not take them likely and that CSKA had ample choices for replacements.
He said: “The loss of Roman Eremenko and Alan Dzagoev is of course a blow for CSKA, but as far as I know, they have a good team and their head coach will find some alternatives. We are expecting a very difficult match against a quality team.”
The Russian champions come into this one having not won in their last three games, which include consecutive defeats against Tottenham Hotspur in Europe and FC Rostov in the league. Monaco loanee Lacina Traore is available and could start against his parent club.
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Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco) – The diminuative Portuguese maestro’s powers have faded a little in recent years but this season has seen a little renaissance. After a rest from the Euros, Moutinho has been an excellent link between the midfield and the creative attacking talent at the top of the pitch.
He’s an excellent set-piece taker as well, which has been a much more fruitful source of goals for Monaco this season in the past. If he’s allowed the time to dictate play and create for others, it could become a really routine win for the Ligue 1 side.
Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) – While “Danger Man” might be the wrong term, Akinfeev could be the decider for CSKA in this fixture. Without their best two attacking outlets, it will be their defence that they will call upon to help them get out of a difficult spot.
The Russian international can be very good on his day but also has a mistake in him. If he can play to his potential, he will be key in keeping Monaco at bay and giving the likes of Zoran Tosic to express themselves on the counter.
This game could not have come at a worse time for the hosts. Without their two most influential players and hitting a patch of average form, they do not want to face a team that knows a victory practically hands them a pass into the next round.
Monaco should be positive, attacking from the off and test Akinfeev as soon as possible. If they can score early and maintain the pressure, it is hard to see where any success will come from the opposition, who must be hoping to keep it as tight as possible then hit Monaco on the break.
Look for Monaco to get that quick start through the likes of Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva, with Moutinho pulling the strings, and CSKA unable to handle the pressure without a real outlet to stem the tide. A huge win this would be for the Ligue 1 club and they know it, expect them to go out there and take that opportunity with both hands.
Result: CSKA Moscow 0-2 AS Monaco