Still boasting an unblemished record in the 2023-24 Champions League, 14-time winners Real Madrid begin their knockout journey on Tuesday, as RB Leipzig welcome them to Germany for the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Los Blancos blew the competition out of the water to place first in Group C, while Marco Rose's team finished second in Group G behind reigning champions Manchester City.
Group G of the 2023-24 Champions League certainly followed the pre-tournament script, as while Man City sailed into the sunset with a perfect record of 18 points from six fixtures, RB Leipzig - as expected - fended off Young Boys and Red Star Belgrade to take the runners-up position.
Die Roten Bullen were powerless to snap Man City's winning streak in Europe's premier competition - losing 3-1 at home and 3-2 at the Etihad to the current holders - but each of their other four Group G fixtures ended in victory, albeit not entirely convincing ones.
Indeed, Leipzig failed to keep a single clean sheet in the group phase and only managed 2-1 successes over Red Star and Young Boys either side of their five-goal Etihad extravaganza, but back-to-back qualifications for the knockout stages was the goal before the first Champions League ball was kicked, and the hosts now have a few wrongs to right from last year.
Leipzig's European quest ended by virtue of an 8-1 aggregate annihilation at the hands of Man City in the 2022-23 last 16, and the Bundesliga winter break came at the most inopportune time for Rose's men, who lost all three of their German top-flight matches in January before overcoming Union Berlin 2-0 on February 4.
Die Roten Bullen head into the first leg on the back of another domestic disappointment, though, being held to a 2-2 draw away to Augsburg to fall three points behind fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund, and not since October 2020 have the hosts kept a clean sheet in a Champions League home fixture.
While Leipzig have also registered at the correct end of the field in their last 10 home Champions League contests, such defensive frailties makes for unpleasant reading ahead of the visit of a Real Madrid side who made light work of their closest challengers for the La Liga crown on Saturday.
Headline-makers Girona travelled to the capital sat just two points adrift of Carlo Ancelotti's men in the standings, but thanks to a record-breaking Jude Bellingham brace - sandwiched in between efforts from Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo - Los Blancos' lead at the top of the pile is now unassailable.
Already proudly displaying a Supercopa de Espana in their 2023-24 cabinet, Real Madrid can still complete a treble of sorts in the coming months, and Ancelotti's men were one of only two teams - the other being holders Man City - to navigate the Champions League group stage without dropping a single point.
Napoli, Braga and Union Berlin all fell to Los Blancos' superiority on two occasions, although Real Madrid have conceded multiple goals in five of their last seven Champions League matches away from the Bernabeu, shipping two on Napoli and Union Berlin's turf during their Group C travails.
The first match in that seven-game sequence saw Real Madrid succumb to a 3-2 loss on Leipzig's turf in the 2022-23 group stage, prior to which they had seen off Die Roten Bullen 2-0 on home soil, and not since the 2012-13 semi-finals - where Borussia Dortmund trumped them - have they seen their Champions League dream crushed by a German outfit.
Leipzig head coach Rose is blessed with a near fully-fit contingent of players to choose from on Tuesday, but Amadou Haidara missed the draw with Augsburg due to a minor knee injury and is a major doubt for the home side at the time of writing.
Defensive duo Mohamed Simakan and Benjamin Henrichs must tread carefully this weekend, as they are both just one booking away from serving a one-match ban in the Champions League, but the former started all six group-stage games and ought to be recalled to the side here.
The same can be said for Castello Lukeba, although captain Willi Orban - who missed the entire group phase owing to a serious knee injury - is now marshalling the Roten Bullen backline again and will be in Rose's thinking for a starting role given his Champions League nous.
Real Madrid also have a concern over one of their midfielders for Tuesday's first leg, albeit a much more high-profile one, as Bellingham was forced to leave the field against Girona with a sprained ankle just moments after scoring his side's third goal.
The ex-Borussia Dortmund man has now been ruled out for three weeks with the sprain, so Brahim Diaz should gear up to feature in the number 10 position, while Antonio Rudiger will not be back from a thigh issue in time for the midweek fixture either.
However, Nacho Fernandez's expected return from a muscle issue means that Real will at least have one senior centre-back available for the first leg, where ACL victims Eder Militao, David Alaba and Thibaut Courtois will all watch on helplessly once again.
RB Leipzig possible starting lineup:
Gulacsi; Simakan, Lukeba, Orban, Raum; Olmo, Schlager, Kampl, Simons; Sesko, Openda
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Lunin; Carvajal, Tchouameni, Nacho, Mendy; Valverde, Kroos, Camavinga; Diaz; Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo
We say: RB Leipzig 1-2 Real Madrid
Owing to the untimely absence of the red-hot Bellingham, it would take a plucky soul to confidently call the outcome of Tuesday's first leg, although Los Blancos have still produced the attacking goods during his infrequent absences this season.
Leipzig's tendency to ship goals at home in the Champions League - coupled with their underwhelming form since returning from the winter break - makes it difficult to envisage the German side repeating last season's Red Bull Arena success over Los Blancos, who have our vote to take a slender lead back to Madrid for the second leg.
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