UCL: AS Roma v Real Madrid 1st Leg

Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.

AS Roma vs Real Madrid | Wednesday 17 February | Stadio Olimpico | 21:45

The Stadio Olimpico plays host to what should be a fascinating Champions League Round of 16 fixture this week. Roma - perennial underachievers at both domestic and continental level - come up against a Real Madrid side still finding their feet under the tutelage of one Zinedine Zidane. Luciano Spaletti has done well since replacing Frenchman Rudi Garcia, with this fixture no doubt going a long way to defining their entire season. Real are in that tentative post-Benitez space that necessitates success. There are, however, some injury concerns that could render the Galacticos a somewhat diminished force this week.

So it is the established European superpower going head to head with one of those enigmatic sides always threatening to tip the scales in their favour.

To Win (90 Mins)
Roma 63/20
Draw 28/10
Madrid 8/10

AS Roma have reached the knockout stages for the first time since 2010/2011, where they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk. In finishing second to Barcelona in the group stages with a paltry six points, they equalled the record for the lowest points tally to see a side progress to the knockout stage. They also conceded a formidable sixteen goals in the group phase.

So superficially it looks like the odds are stacked against the Italian side going into this one. They have been slightly more consistent in recent weeks however, with Spaletti bringing back a semblance of defensive rigidity to the side.

Considering Real’s considerable pace, Spaletti will no doubt look to choke the midfield with De Rossi and Nainggolan, looking for Salah and El Shaarawy to counterattack with precision and pace. Spaletti was actually in charge of the side that beat Real over two legs in 2008. He will know that a home win will almost be essential this week. Dzeko may find himself a tad isolated at times, but I believe Salah and El Shaarawy may be able to exploit the absence of Marcelo this week. Their backline looks fairly established and probably looks the best facet of this side.

Real Madrid 
Marcelo’s absence through injury is a major blow to the side; it’s probably even more detrimental than the absence of Bale and Pepe. His pace provides considerable width on that left-hand side, opening awkward pockets of space for the likes of Rodriguez and Isco to exploit. Carvajal will likely deputize at fullback, a far more conservative option that will see them lose some attacking potency. Gareth Bale was probably looking like Real’s best player before he picked up his injury, flourishing under the guidance of the totemic Zidane.

Ramos and Varane were hardly convincing at the weekend as a central defensive partnership, a fact that will no doubt embolden the Italian side to some extent. Rodriguez and Kroos looked impressive though and will look to outclass Roma’s more pugnacious midfield combination.

The Ronaldo factor is always going to be key in these Champions League encounters. The superstar forward has come under some criticism for being something of a flat-track bully, unable to replicate his best form against better opponents. But he looks to be regaining some of his best form and alongside Benzema will no doubt be a huge threat to Roma.

Verdict: 1-1 Draw 63/20
Real have never failed to score on their four trips to Roma and have won three of their four trips there. While I expect Roma to be organized and present a decent contest to Zidane’s side, I can’t see Real losing to this Roma side, currently in fourth place in Serie A. Additionally, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first ever Champions League goal - for Manchester United - at Old Trafford against Roma. That is surely a portent of Real getting a positive result this week. Roma will then be summarily turned over in Spain in a fortnight.


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