From mysterious Moscow to the mystery surrounding Bale
Tonight, Real Madrid play in Moscow, a city which, in my generation's collective consciousness, has traditionally held an aura of mystery. That's where our gold reserves ended up; that's where Spain didn't want to go and play when we were drawn against the USSR in the European Championship in 1960, costing us our place in the tournament. The first time our national team did play there, in 1971, it was a journey that was fascinating for our travelling party: they were venturing into an off-limits, secret world. Today, of course, that has changed. Moscow is the capital of a country that hosted the last World Cup and which so many fans smoothly traversed during the event. Hordes and hordes of tourists have posed for a pic in Red Square. And everything Real's coaches need to know about CSKA, they do now.
Once again, Bale's fitness is shrouded in secrecy...
Less is known about the physical state of Gareth Bale, though; now there's a mystery. The other day, he came off at half time against Atlético because, it was said, something was hurting. Now, it seems, that 'something' is in fact 'nothing'. At least, no medical report has been issued explaining exactly why he was taken off, or why he hasn't travelled to Russia. At Real Madrid, Bale's health is a sort of state secret that's difficult to maintain as such, given how many games the Welshman misses: too many to build a side around him, that's for sure. Despite all the similarities with Cristiano Ronaldo: his speed, his shooting ability and his aerial prowess, not to mention that individualistic quality offered by the Portuguese - one which meant he stuck out from the rest of the team but, in doing so, made it better.
Bale is out, and Lopetegui leaves Ramos behind too?
With neither Bale nor Sergio Ramos in tow, Real Madrid arrived in Moscow yesterday. Why hasn't Ramos gone either? Head coach Julen Lopetegui says it's because his captain has been ever-present so far, and that is true. The thing is, though: that's two key figures that he's left at home for this clash, having already lost both Marcelo, who's becoming just as noted for the holes he leaves in defence as he is for his incursions in attack, and Isco. At the same time tonight, by the way, Valencia will be out to pile further misery on José Mourinho at Old Trafford. A Valencia side who are getting into their stride, who are growing into the season after a poor start, up against a club where more and more people are tiring of Mourinho. All in all, we have a very decent night of European action to look forward to.