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Real Madrid favoured to enter Champions League quarters against Napoli

IANS logoIANS 06-03-2017

Zinedine Zidane-coached Real arrives in Italy on the back of a morale boosting 4-1 La Liga win away to Eibar on Saturday in which the coach was able to rest key footballers, reports Xinhua news agency.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Toni 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 favourites to qualify, but where they cannot afford any defensive errors against the top-scoring side in Serie A.

Maurizio Sarri-coached 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.

In the last weekend, they defeated second-placed Roma 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium to reduce the gap in the Serie A and that should give them confidence coming into the match.

"We've lost the 1st leg but we have the quality to overturn the situation. We want to go through," Napoli captain Marek Hamsik said ahead of the match, according to his club on Twitter.

"They (Real Madrid) are an amazing side. It's a historic match for us and it will boost our strength."

Madrid know that their defence 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 La Liga table by FC Barcelona. And although they still have a game in hand, they are no longer such clear favourites 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 five 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 Karim 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.

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