Real Madrid are the firm favourites to make it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League as they host AS Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday, leading the tie 2-0 on aggregate.
While the first leg in Rome looked equally poised between the two sides, a deflected effort from Cristiano Ronaldo gave the visitors the lead, while Jese Rodriguez doubled their tally shortly after his introduction in the 82nd minute of the match.
A two-goal cushion will give Real Madrid a distinct advantage even though they are still reeling from their derby defeat to Atletico Madrid last week. Roma, on the other hand, are in invincible form as they thrashed Fiorentina 4-1 on Friday to register their seventh Serie A win in a row, consolidating their position in the top 3.
Real Madrid title hopes in tatters
Despite a strong start since taking over from Rafael Benitez, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane finds himself under intense scrutiny after a string of disappointing performances. The Frenchman has dropped seven points since his appointment, including a derby defeat, as Madrid find themselves out of the La Liga title race.
With only the Champions League to play for, the home team will be aware that failure to qualify for the next round of the tournament will effectively result in a premature end to their campaign.
A string of crucial injuries has severely reduced Zidane’s options as he looks to capitalize on his away goal advantage. While both Marcelo and Gareth Bale made a cameo appearance against Celta de Vigo, it remains to be seen if the Frenchman will give them a start against Roma on Tuesday.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric remain doubtful for the fixture, thus forcing Zidane to field second-choice options in central midfield. With Casemiro and Kovacic expected to start, Real Madrid will look to attack through the wings in order to open up the opposition’s defence. However, the onus will be on the visitors to take charge of the game. Real Madrid have shown themselves to be comfortable on the ball and will look to open up spaces with quick counter-attacks.
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Zidane could opt for Danilo ahead of Marcelo due to the latter’s tendency to stray out of his position. Mohamed Salah looked particularly interested in exploiting the space left behind by the Brazilian, which posed a severe threat to Real Madrid in the first leg.
AS Roma looking to cause a major upset
Dominant in possession, Real Madrid usually maintain a high defensive line with full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal often operating near the half-way line. Roma will look to exploit this space, attempting to stretch the defence with long passes directed towards wingers Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah. The duo will look to capitalise on the defensive imbalance caused by the marauding Real Madrid full-backs, who can often be found in the opposition half in order to support their wingers in attack.
An inexperienced midfield partnership comprising of Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro will further provide the visitors with the opportunity to destabilize their opponents. Roma will ideally look to employ a high-pressing tactic in order to hurry their rivals into making a mistake.
However, the visitors cannot afford to allow Real Madrid to open the scoring and Alessandro Florenzi will be tasked with the responsibility to keep an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo at bay.
Net effect — Goals galore at the Bernabeu?
With the game unevenly poised between the two teams, all eyes will be on Roma as they look to claw their way back into the fixture. With the visitors keen on piling on the pressure on the home team, both sides are expected to find themselves in goal-scoring positions during the second leg of the Champions League tie. Hence, the tie could well be determined by the teams’ efficiency — or lack thereof — in front of the opposition goal.
While Real Madrid have been proficient in front of goal, they have looked far from convincing this season from a defensive viewpoint, particularly against the bigger sides domestically. The players are liable to making costly errors which could be capitalized upon by an in-form opposition side. A good start by the visitors could also turn the notoriously demanding home crowd against the players, which could further weaken their position during the game.
Alessandro Florenzi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Having put four past Celta Vigo on Sunday, Cristiano Ronaldo will look to guide Real Madrid to a comfortable victory against Roma. However, his clash against Alessandro Florenzi will prove to be an interesting spectacle, as was the case in the first leg of the tie. The right-back proved to be instrumental for AS Roma in the first leg and will be looking to make a similar impact at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Mohamed Salah vs Marcelo/Danilo
Mohamed Salah has been phenomenal for Roma this season and was responsible for single-handedly leading the team’s attack against Madrid in the previous leg. The Egyptian winger was a constant thorn in the side for Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, and his performance on Tuesday will go a long way towards determining Roma’s fate.
Miralem Pjanic vs Mateo Kovacic
The two midfielders are expected to lock horns in the middle of the park. Both players have the ability to dictate proceedings from the centre of the pitch, and will look to get the better of each other in this midfield battle. Pjanic was instrumental in Roma’s 4-1 win over Fiorentina and will look to continue his good run of form at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Keylor Navas’s ability to defend the goal has been one of the club’s main talking points this season.
- Cristiano Ronaldo once again demonstrated that he has the ability to single-handedly tear down the opposition in the 7-1 rout of Celta Vigo.
- The Real Madrid defence is prone to making costly errors at the back.
- A second-string midfield lineup could prove to be the home team’s undoing.
- AS Roma are not shy in front of the opposition goal and are the leading goalscorers in the Serie A.
- Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy provide the team with the ability to attack with pace and precision.
- AS Roma have only won once in the Champions League this year.
- They have conceded 18 goals in 7 Champions League fixtures this year.