Real Madrid are poised to wrap up qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League when they host Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday despite a shaky start to their European campaign under new coach Fabio Capello.
Real suffered a 2-0 defeat at Olympique Lyon in their opening game in Group E but won emphatically against Dynamo Kiev and Steaua.
Another win against the Romanians will put them through to the knockout stage as long as Dynamo, who have yet to earn a point, do not beat runaway leaders Lyon.
The nine-times European champions may not have been playing the sort of fluent, flowing football their fans demand but they have developed a more gritty, pragmatic style under Capello and are getting the results.
They scored nine goals against Dynamo and Steaua, beat Barca 2-0 in the league two weeks ago and are now just two points behind their arch-rivals.
Real have conceded four goals in eight league games and the team are growing in confidence according to Brazilian full back Roberto Carlos.
"Capello has brought with him a different, more modern mentality," the 33-year-old told Telemadrid at the weekend. "We are no longer the team that passes the ball slowly round the pitch. We are more direct and we know what we have to do."
Capello has made a number of changes since the defeat by Lyon.
Talented Brazilian forward Robinho has earned himself a place in the starting lineup with a series of live-wire performances on the wing while Ivan Helguera has been transformed from outcast to defensive linchpin in the space of a fortnight.
But there have been casualties and the decision to ban discontented Italy striker Antonio Cassano from training after he insulted Capello for failing to give him a chance in the first team, shows that not everyone is happy.
David Beckham has also been squeezed out of the first XI, while Ronaldo has had to settle for a place on the bench in the face of competition from Ruud van Nistelrooy although the Brazilian should get a run out on Tuesday.
Steaua, who have taken only three points from their three matches, are without several influential players because of injuries.
Defenders Klemi Saban and Mihaita Nesu, as well as inspirational midfielder Vasilica Cristocea have joined skipper Mirel Radoi and striker Victoras Iacob on the sidelines.
Goalkeeper Cornel Cernea, who has replaced out-of-form Portuguese Carlos Fernandez for Steaua's last two league games, should keep his place.
"We are missing a lot of key players so only a miracle will help us snatch a good result in Madrid," coach Cosmin Olaroiu told Reuters.
Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas; 4-Sergio Ramos, 21-Ivan Helguera, 5-Fabio Cannavaro, 3-Roberto Carlos; 6-Mahamadou Diarra, 8-Emerson; 7-Raul, 14-Guti, 10-Robinho, 9-Ronaldo
Steaua Bucharest: 12-Cornel Cernea; 27-Stelian Stancu, 3-Dorin Goian, 24-Sorin Ghionea, 18-Petre Marin; 16-Banel Nicolita, 22-Sorin Paraschiv, 20-Florin Lovin, 10-Nicolae Dica, 14-Gabriel Bostina; 21-Cyril Thereau
Referee: Konrad Plautz (Austria)
(Additional reporting by Radu Timofte in Bucharest)