Matches like the one Real Madrid will play tomorrow against Shakhtar (20:45 CET) could very well decide the fate of Rafa Benítez's squad in this 2015/2016 edition of the Champions League. With Paris Saint-Germain on their group, Madrid can't afford any mistakes assuming that it will not be easy to beat the French side. It will be very important to win the Group and face the runners-up in the Round of 16 not only to have a better shot at the continental title but also in order to ease their schedule next February.
It will all start against Shakhtar. The Ukrainian side will visit the Bernabéu hoping to at least get a point. They sold Luiz Adriano and Douglas Costa this summer but they are used to losing their most important players year after year and they always find quality replacement in the process, as Rafa Benítez explained in press conference. More importantly, their coach Mircea Lucescu is a very experienced manager responsible for turning Shakhtar into a legitimate threat in European football.
"They're an excellent team. I said that it wasn't going to be an easy group. They have a coach with a lot of experience who gets the best out of his players. They have players with ability, speed and quality. If we're not focused and underestimate them, they'll be tough," said Benítez during his pre-match press conference.
"They're a team that I'd compared with Galatasaray, a side with quality players who can make life very difficult for you when they're on their game. They're going to be very tough opponents. We're Real Madrid and we're playing at the Bernabéu. The challenge is to start our Champions League campaign and do so on a positive note. We'll look to put in a good performance, so as to get the win and give the fans plenty to shout about," he added.
Benítez could very well rotate his players, as he admitted. However, it would be much wiser to do that next Saturday when Los Blancos will host Granada at the Bernabéu. The Spanish manager did not say who will start between Real Madrid's sticks, meaning that Kiko Casilla could very well have his official debut as a Real Madrid player tomorrow. Kovacic, Jesé and Denis Cheryshev will surely be hoping to get some minutes as well, but Benítez will need to find a good balance between keeping his men fresh and starting the best team available to collect all three points against Shakhtar. Madrid can't afford to drop points this early in the competition.
Raphaël Varane is expected to return to Real Madrid's starting XI after coming off the bench against Espanyol last Saturday. The French will likely be Madrid's starting center-back alongside Ramos this season, but Pepe will also have his chances given his experience and importance within the team. Kroos will also be back -- he was rested last Saturday -- and that should give Real Madrid the composure they need to beat Shakhtar at the Bernabéu.
All in all, this will be a hard-fought game which will show how good Real Madrid really are. Benítez and his men were really impressive against Betis and Espanyol after getting a scoreless draw on their Liga BBVA opener in Gijón. Los Blancos have not conceded a single season yet. Are they as good as the 5-0 against Betis and the 0-6 against Espanyol suggest? Only Shakhtar will tell.