Top spot in the UEFA Champions League Group G will be on the line when AS Roma and Real Madrid clash in a Matchday 5 tie at Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday

The UEFA Champions League returns this week with Matchday 5 of the group stage. At Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday, AS Roma will play hosts to table toppers Real Madrid in a match that will effectively decide who proceeds to the Round of 16 as group winners.

AS Roma and Real Madrid are only separated by the slimmest of margins, with both sides sitting on 9 points. But, Los Blancos are atop the table due to their win in the reverse fixture back in September. The winner will be through to the knockout stages, although both sides can progress if CSKA Moscow fail to beat Viktoria Plzen.

But, neither side is coming into the tie with a lot of momentum, having lost their first games upon the end of the last international break of 2018. While Roma were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Udinese, Real Madrid were disastrous in the 3-0 hammering they received at the hands of SD Eibar.

The reverse fixture, played at the Santiago Bernabeu on Matchday 1, ended in a comfortable 3-0 win for Real Madrid, although the holders are far away from their level back then. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League encounter.

Team News & Tactics

AS Roma

It's back to the drawing board for AS Roma. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

It’s back to the drawing board for AS Roma. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Eusebio Di Francesco has a number of pressing concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Tuesday, the AS Roma boss could be without as many as seven first-team players due to various fitness issues.

Those who will definitely miss out are Daniele De Rossi (knee), Rick Karsdorp (thigh), Javier Pastore (calf) and Lorenzo Pellegrini (thigh). The likes of Robin Olsen (thigh), Diego Perotti (calf) and Kostas Manolas (ankle) could feature, although the trio still face late fitness tests to determined their availability.

Di Francesco appeared to be positive about the fortunes of Olsen and Manolas, suggesting that the duo could make it to the starting lineup. While Olsen should line up in goal, Manolas will line up at the heart of the AS Roma defence, with Federico Fazio being his partner.

Aleksandar Kolarov is a certain starter as the left-back, while Davide Santon should continue on the opposite flank. Alessandro Florenzi is expected to return to the side after being rested against Udinese, albeit in a midfield trio alongside Steven N’Zonzi and Bryan Cristante, owing to the absence of De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini.

The duo will have to plug the leaks ahead of the backline, which is exactly where they faltered this past weekend. Up ahead in attack, Cengiz Under and Edin Dzeko’s place in the starting lineup is all but certain after the two were named as substitutes this past weekend. The final place in the side should be taken up by Stephan El Shaarawy.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Olsen; Santon, Fazio, Manolas, Kolarov; Florenzi, N’Zonzi, Cristante; Under, Dzeko, El Shaarawy

AS Roma

Real Madrid

Santiago Solari has a few injury troubles of his own hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to the Italian capital. On Tuesday, the Real Madrid boss will be without as many as five first-team players, although only one absentee is holding him back to a great extent.

The said player is Casemiro, whose absence due to an ankle injury throws the dynamic of the side completely out of balance. Dani Ceballos was deployed in his role against Eibar, but the young Spaniard was caught like a deer in the headlights despite trying his best.

Marcos Llorente is the only viable replacement within the squad. But, Solari does not seem to consider the Spaniard as a regular, meaning Ceballos should continue in the deeper role against Roma as well. Luka Modric is likely to get another go as well, although one underperforming player who is likely to be dropped is Marco Asensio.

In his stead, Isco is likely to start in the front trio alongside Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, with the latter another player who desperately needs to get out of his own slump. Meanwhile, the other four players who will miss out on Tuesday are Keylor Navas (knee), Nacho (knee), Alvaro Odriozola (thigh) and Sergio Reguilon (hamstring).

The absence of the aforementioned quartet means the backline is an automatic selection, with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane lining up at the heart of the Real Madrid defence, Marcelo being the left-back and Dani Carvajal replacing Odriozola on the opposite flank. Thibaut Courtois should continue in goal in Navas’ stead.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Ceballos, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Isco

Real Madrid

Key Stats

  • AS Roma boast an abysmal record against Real Madrid at home, having managed to win on just one occasion when they’ve hosted Los Blancos (L4).
  • Real Madrid have lost two of their last four away Champions League group stage games – more than they’d lost in their previous 26 such games (W18 D7 L1).
  • Roma are looking to win four consecutive Champions League games for the first time in their history.
  • Real Madrid have won their last three games in Italy, having previously gone eight matches without a victory (D4 L4).
  • Edin Dzeko has been directly involved in more Champions League goals than any other player in the competition this season (5 goals, 2 assists). In fact, since the start of last season, only Cristiano Ronaldo (16) has scored more Champions League goals than Dzeko (13).

Player to Watch

Gareth Bale

Time is running out for Bale. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Time is running out for Bale. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Bale had begun the 2017-18 season in blistering fashion, notching up four goals and three assists in the first month of the campaign. The start also prompted him to gloat and say that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be missed at Real Madrid. Oh, how those words have backfired.

Over the last two months or so, the Welshman has managed just one goal and a couple of assists in ten appearances. And, his latest performance against Eibar this past weekend was nothing short of abhorring, with Bale looking like a shell of his domineering self. A trip to Italy though, could help him return to top form.

Bale has played some of his best football in the country, having scored four goals in his four away Champions League games against Italian sides, including a hat-trick vs Intern Milan in October 2010. If he can managed to add to his tally against Roma, a crucial win could be set up for Real Madrid. If not, it could be another long night for Santiago Solari’s men.

Prediction

AS Roma 1-1 Real Madrid

The reverse fixture was very easy for Real Madrid, who showed early signs, albeit erroneously so, that the Julen Lopetegui era could be a successful one as well. Lopetegui is long gone since then, and the Santiago Solari era has not begun well either. But, AS Roma are not in the best of forms themselves.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s men looked listless in the shock loss at Udinese, and are missing a number of key players. But, in Edin Dzeko, Roma boast one of the best players in the UEFA Champions League this season, and the Bosnian will likely have a say in the matters on Tuesday.

In the end, there could be very little to support the two sides, that are both vulnerable at the back and are not always irresistible going forward. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw, with both AS Roma and Real Madrid possibly progressing to the Round of 16.