A win at home win against Steaua Bucharest should take Real Madrid into the last 16 with two matches to spare.
Fabio Capello’s side began the competition with a defeat at the hands of Lyon, but back-to-back victories of Steaua and Dynamo Kyiv have put them back in the running in Group E.
“This is the most important game of our season so far,” Capello said. “If we win we’ll be 95 per cent certain of going through to the next phase.”
Unfortunately for Capello, the build-up to this match has been overshadowed by striker Antonio Cassano’s demotion from the first-team due to what Madrid described as “a breach of club discipline”.
“This incident won’t affect the players,” Capello insisted. “They have only to think about putting on the Madrid shirt and playing. The subject is now closed.”
Joining Cassano on the sidelines are Cicinho, with a cruciate ligament injury, and fellow right-back Míchel Salgado who has a calf muscle strain.
Capello believes that Steaua will pose a threat at the Bernabéu.
“They are dangerous on the counterattack away from home and they have many good players with a lot of quality,” he said. “We need to be careful.”
Thanks to a 4-1 win at Dynamo in their only previous away fixture, Steaua are just three points behind Madrid but defeat will almost certainly end their chances progressing to the knockout phase.
“We want to win and we want to play well,” Steaua coach Cosmin Olaroiu said. “We must rectify the mistakes we made when we last played Madrid, and we have to take our chances when they come.
“Who knows what can happen,” the coach added. “Sometimes there is a player who can inspire the team or do something great to win the match for us.”
Steaua will be without several key players. Captain Mirel Radoi and forward Victoras Iacob have long-term knee injuries while midfielder Vasilica Cristocea is out with a thigh strain, as are defenders Rahamin Klemi Saban and Mihai Nesu.
Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Fabio Cannavaro, Iván Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Mahamadou Diarra, Emerson, Guti, Robinho; Raúl González, Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Cornel Cernea; Stelian Stancu, Dorin Goian, Sorin Ghionea, Petre Marin; Florin Lovin, Gabriel Bostina, Banel Nicolita, Nicolae Dica; Valentin Badea, Cyril Thereau.