Real Madrid will begin the defence of their UEFA Champions League crown when they welcome AS Roma to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night

The curtains will fall on Matchday 1 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, but not before one of the marquee matches of the group stage is played. Real Madrid will be aiming to kickstart their title defence with a bang when they play hosts to AS Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu in their first group game.

Real Madrid have made a decent start to the season, having won three of their first four games of the La Liga campaign. But, a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao this past weekend has seen them fall two points adrift of bitter rivals Barcelona. But, the UEFA Champions League remains a competition they revel in.

AS Roma, on the other hand, has stuttered at the start of the season, with a solitary win after their first four games leaving them 9th on the Serie A table, seven points behind league leaders Juventus. The Giallorossi though, will take heart from their run to the semi-finals last season. On Wednesday, Eusebio Di Francesco & co. will also hope to repeat their heroics against Barcelona.

It has been a tough start to the season for AS Roma. (Photo courtesy - Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

It has been a tough start to the season for AS Roma. (Photo courtesy – Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

The two sides have already clashed once this year, albeit in a pre-season friendly, with Real Madrid narrowly beating AS Roma 2-1 in the International Champions Cup. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Champions League encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Julen Lopetegui has a near full-strength squad at his disposal ahead of the visit of AS Roma. On Wednesday, the only player unavailable for Real Madrid will be Jesus Vallejo, who is making his way back to peak fitness after returning from a thigh injury. But, the manager has all his regulars fit and available.

As far as team selection is concerned, Lopetegui has a few tough calls to make, starting with the very first position on his team sheet. Thibaut Courtois seems to have usurped Keylor Navas as the Real Madrid no. 1 for now, and the summer signing should start between the sticks once again.

The back four though, should see all the regular faces take their places, with Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo providing cover to Courtois. Midfield is another area where the Real Madrid boss faces selection headaches, with Toni Kroos being the only automatic selection for now.

Isco has presented a strong case for himself following his match saving equaliser against Athletic Bilbao, but the Spanish international might have to suffice with a place on the bench once again, with Casemiro and Luka Modric likely to get the nod ahead of him.

Upfront, there is no debate as to the three starters, with Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema beginning the season in strong fashion. While Benzema seems to have his scoring touch back, Bale and Asensio will be aiming to make an impact with their pace and trickery while also interchanging flanks at times.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Asensio

Real Madrid

AS Roma

Eusebio Di Francesco has just two first-team players on the treatment table, with Javier Pastore (calf) and Ante Coric (thigh) missing the trip to the Spanish capital. But, Alessandro Florenzi is back in the thick of things, and should start on the right side of the AS Roma defence.

On the opposite flank, Aleksandar Kolarov has made the left-back slot his own since joining Roma, and should be duly deployed in the position against Real Madrid as well. The central defensive partnership though, is one that presents a few questions.

While Kostas Manolas is an automatic selection, the likes of Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio and Ivan Marcano are vying for the other spot at the heart of the Roma defence. On Wednesday, Fazio is likely to get the nod over Jesus, who will have to suffice with a spot on the bench.

In midfield, Steven N’Zonzi and Daniele De Rossi should certainly start, with the duo providing solid cover for the back four. Providing the attacking impetus in the middle of the park though, should be Bryan Cristante, who has started his stint with AS Roma brightly.

But, like Real Madrid, Roma’s attacking trio pick themselves up, with Cengiz Under providing the spark with his pace out wide on the right flank, Edin Dzeko being the target man, and Stephan El Shaarawy being the creative outlet on the left.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Olsen; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Cristane, De Rossi, N’Zonzi; Under, Dzeko, El Shaarawy

Roma

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid and AS Roma have become familiar foes in the UEFA Champions League since the turn of the century, with all ten of their meetings coming post 2000. Los Blancos hold the edge in the head-to-head battle with six wins (D1 L3).
  • Real Madrid are in the 49th campaign in Europe’s premier club competition, more than any other side.
  • Real Madrid have a strong recent record at home, having won 34 of their last 42 games at Santiago Bernabeu (D6 L2).
  • Away Day Blues – AS Roma are on a four-game losing run on the road in the UEFA Champions League.
  • The Giallorossi do not boast a strong record in Spain either, having lost on four of their five trips to the country (W1).

Player to Watch

Gareth Bale

Time to step out of Ronaldo's shadow. (Photo courtesy - Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Time to step out of Ronaldo’s shadow. (Photo courtesy – Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Real Madrid have seemingly moved on quickly since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. But, if there is one competition where filling his void will be nigh on impossible, it is the UEFA Champions League, where Ronaldo has been on a whole different level to literally every other player in recent campaigns.

Gareth Bale, who has stepped up strongly in La Liga thus far, will have to raise his game in Europe as well, if Real Madrid are to win the Champions League for the fourth successive season. And, Roma are just the opponents against whom the Welshman can make a statement.

Prediction

Real Madrid 3-1 AS Roma

Real Madrid will know well enough not to take AS Roma lightly following their remarkable win over bitter rivals Barcelona last term. And, a wounded Giallorossi side can certainly spring a surprise or two, although their obvious defensive weakness does render them as second favourites.

Real Madrid have been formidable at home in the early stages of the season, and with the likes of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema in fine form, there is unlikely to be a shortage of goals. But, Roma should fancy their chances of finding the back of the net as well, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for the hosts.