Inter Milan and Real Madrid meet in what promises to be a pulsating Champions League encounter at San Siro on Wednesday evening, but both European giants find themselves in unfamiliar positions in Group B.
Indeed, Inter are yet to pick up a win in Europe's elite competition this season and sit rock bottom, whereas Real are only two points better off than their opponents as Los Blancos languish in third place, with Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Monchengladbach in dreamland as they occupy the top two spots ahead of Inter and Real.
The hosts finally managed to return to winning ways before this crunch match as they overcame Torino 4-2 in Serie A, with Romelu Lukaku bagging a brace as Alexis Sanchez and Lautaro Martinez also found the back of the net at San Siro.
In contrast, Zinedine Zidane was unable to lead his Real Madrid side to victory over Villarreal as the points were shared in a 1-1 draw at the weekend, with Mariano Diaz's early opener cancelled out by Gerard Moreno's second-half penalty.
Both Zidane and Antonio Conte have been hit by injuries and positive coronavirus tests in recent weeks, and here, Sports Mole selects a combined XI from both squads using only players expected to be available for the showdown.
Both Thibaut Courtois and Samir Handanovic have established themselves as two of the world's leading shot-stoppers over the years, even if that is not reflected in either's record so far this season. Courtois has already shipped seven goals in three Champions League outings, while Handanovic has only kept two clean sheets in all competitions - conceding 18 times in the process. This was an extremely difficult call, but the Real Madrid man just edges it.
Sergio Ramos - part of an elite crowd at Real Madrid after notching up his 100th goal for the club - would have been a shoo-in for this team, but the 34-year-old has been ruled out of this encounter with a hamstring problem he picked up on international duty. However, his teammate and World Cup-winning defender Raphael Varane gets the nod as the sole Real Madrid representative in our back three, whom Zidane recently affirmed is not for sale amid links with Manchester United.
Lining up alongside Varane is Inter starlet Alessandro Bastoni - who at 21 years of age has become a regular starter under Antonio Conte - although the same cannot be said for Milan Skriniar. There is no denying the Slovakian's quality, but Skriniar is yet to play a single minute of Champions League football this term and is left out of our team, with fellow Inter defender Stefan de Vrij completing the trio of centre-backs ahead of Real pair Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao.
As we move further up the pitch, Inter's Achraf Hakimi will be determined to show his former club what they are missing as he lines up at San Siro, and the attack-minded 22-year-old - who has one goal and three assists to his name this season - gets the nod over Real Madrid trio Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio. On the opposite flank, the ever-improving Ferland Mendy is selected, although Ivan Perisic - who scored Inter's second against Real Madrid earlier this month - was a close second.
Zidane should be able to welcome Casemiro back to the fold for this one after the Brazilian returned a positive coronavirus test, and the 28-year-old's ability to stabilise the midfield is unparalleled, and he was an easy selection for this lineup over fellow Blancos lynchpins Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Inter's Nicolo Barella has set up his teammates four times already this term and is being tipped for big things in the future, and with Federico Valverde, Marcelo Brozovic, Stefano Sensi and Matias Vecino all unavailable, Barella is a straightforward pick.
There are plenty of names in the hat for the number 10 role, although Inter's Radja Nainggolan has not been selected from the first whistle yet this season, and Christian Eriksen's underwhelming stint at San Siro could soon be about to end with Manchester United supposedly interested in a January deal. Martin Odegaard and Isco are both options but the Real Madrid duo have not registered a single goal contribution between them this term, and while Eden Hazard has experienced plenty of struggles of his own, the Belgian occupies a spot in our team.
The two-man strikeforce was one of the more routine selections in this combined lineup. Karim Benzema's 67 strikes in the Champions League is only bettered by Robert Lewandowski, Raul, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and we would not have put it past the Frenchman to notch up at least one more at San Siro, but Benzema has been ruled out of this game through injury and there is no spot in our lineup for the 32-year-old as a result. Lautaro Martinez - who appears to have found his shooting boots again in recent weeks - takes the Frenchman's place.
Martinez is partnered in the attack by Inter's star man Romelu Lukaku, who took his tally across all competitions to nine for the season with a brace against Torino. Belgium's all-time leading scorer was not available for the trip to the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano but is sure to start here, with Lukaku completing the lineup over Inter teammate Alexis Sanchez and Real's Mariano Diaz - who will be leading the line in Benzema's absence this week. body check tags ::