Real Madrid face their biggest game of the season so far against Juventus tonight and the reigning European champions will need their biggest performance in the middle of the park to ensure it ends with a trip to Berlin.
Carlo Ancelotti's men will require one of their performances of the campaign from back to front to come from behind and beat the Serie A champions and ensure a place in the Champions League but the midfield battle will be more important than ever.
Not only because Juventus won that battle in Turin a week ago, aided by a struggling Sergio Ramos as a defensive midfielder, but because the ‘Old Lady' will arrive in the Spanish capital with one of the best midfielders in the world back in their starting eleven in Paul Pogba.
"Paul is fine and it is very probable that he will start," Juventus coach Massimo Allegri said at Tuesday's pre-match press conference at the Bernabeu. "Paul is an outstanding player and a very important one: on Wednesday he can show how good he is by playing a great game."
The Frenchman has been crucial in Juve's title success and his form has been such that Madrid have been amongst the clubs linked with the former Manchester United man. That will only act to add more spice to the occasion - for the player and for Madrid. Paris St Germain and Manchester City have also been linked with the France international. Pogba is one of the most in-demand players in the world and he will look to showcase his abilities on one of the biggest stages on Wednesday night.
The 22-year-old will probably not last the whole match but the consensus from Juve is that a Pogba who is not at 100 per cent is better than no Pogba at all in the line-up. He has a physicality and versatility that will cause Madrid plenty of problems in the middle and if he can help the Turin club for over an hour he will have done his job.
He is expected to join the evergreen Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in a midfield three with Arturo Vidal just in front of them. It is a strong midfield, the majority of whom helped their side to come out on top a week ago, and one that may well have given a usually calm Carlo Anclote a few sleepless nights.
Ancelotti was quick to deny that he had discarded the use of Ramos in midfield again when he was posed the question by reporters on Tuesday. The Spain international had done a job there in the quarter-final against Atletico Madrid but he could not produce the same kind of performance in Turin, leaving many to ponder whether that would be the final experiment using the defender further up the field.
Given Juve's strength in midfield, literally and in terms of quality, the Madrid coach was never going to totally throw the idea of using Ramos out of the window. At the Bernabeu things are different, with Madrid having the initiative, and the presumption (rightly or wrongly) is that Madrid would have more of the ball on home soil and call the tune. Ramos would be under less pressure yet he will still allow an organised, tough-tackling and strong presence in the middle. He would be there to thwart the threat of Vidal.
That is still a viable option. After all, if Ramos provides the same kind of performance as he did against Atletico and Madrid provide the same result, they will be on the plane to Germany for next month's final. Toni Kroos has recovered from the worrying muscular problems he suffered against Valencia at the weekend but the German may still not be 100 per cent. Ramos doing the ‘dirty week' in the middle would certainly lift some of the weight off Kroos in a defensive sense.
More likely is a return to the 4-3-3 with Ramos in at the back alongside Pepe. With Luka Modric still missing, Kroos would be the middle man and he would be flanked by the creative sparks of Isco and James Rodriguez. Two attack-minded players who would need to be switched on defensively to cope with the Juve midfield threat.
A clean sheet would be a big help but with Kroos, Isco and James in the middle Madrid have an ultimately attacking line-up that would give them a better chance of scoring goals. It may well be a case of Madrid looking to win by a two-goal winning margin rather than try their luck for a 1-0 victory, albeit having achieved that in the last round. That three-man midfield would be best suited to achieve just that.
They will have their work cut out defensively but Madrid need to be strong collectively more than ever before. Both Isco and James have shown they can help out defensively but the biggest threat may be that of 35-year-old Pirlo, keen to bring a monumental season to a close with Champions League glory. The Italian will sit deeper and look to spread the ball around with space. That does not just need Madrid's midfielders, it needs Karim Benzema, Javier Hernandez or whoever starts in attack to come back and help thwart Juve's midfield maestro, as Gareth Bale attempted to in Turin. Benzema or Chicharito would be better suited to that job, especially the latter.
Possession will also be key, especially in the Madrid heat, and there are few better midfields than Kroos, Isco and James to do just that. While the Colombian ensures quick transitions for Madrid, Kroos can put his foot on the ball and slow things down and Isco can hold on to the ball thanks to his unrivalled close control and intelligence on the ball. Madrid have a good midfield mix to dictate the play, even without Modric, if the defence and attack link well enough.
Sami Khedira is nursing a foot injury and it would be a huge surprise to see Ancelotti put any faith in Asier Illarramendi from the start. That leaves the options thin on the ground for Madrid in the middle somewhat. However Ancelotti goes in the middle, his decision could help make or break his future in the Spanish capital.