Serie A’s fourth best side Roma, will face Spain current third best side, Real Madrid as the Champions League reaches the knock-out stages with an absolute belter of a game from the Stadio Olimpico tonight.
The Olympic stadium is the venue for the first leg with Roma hoping for a repeat of their 2-1 win in 2008. On that occasion the club prevailed 4-2 on aggregate before losing out in the last 8.
Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi both featured in that game and the pair are likely to be involved again after overcoming calf troubles.
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The Eternal City outfit have endured a frustrating campaign however under the guidance of new manager Luciano Spalletti, appointed following the sacking of Oscar Garcia in January, they have lost just once, going down to Juventus.
Last time out they beat Carpi 3-1 for their fourth successive win however having scrapped through the group-stages of the Champions league with just one win, few will expect them to progress.
Real Madrid meanwhile will have Zinedine Zidane in the dugout for the first time in Europe. A match-winner against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final and assistant manager for the 2014 success, Zidane knows all about the pressure to succeed in Europe’s biggest competition.
The Frenchman has made an impressive start to life as a top tier manager, winning five and drawing one of this six games in charge but with the club four points off Barcelona having played a game more, the Champions League may represent a better chance of a trophy.
Zidane will be without Pepe (foot) and Gareth Bale (calf) for the clash although Marcelo is back in the squad following a shoulder problem.
The impact the world cup winner has made on the Real Madrid squad has been very visible with Raphael Varane in particular impressed with how he has adapted to his new role.
He’s a coach who loves the sport and who likes to play attacking football. He likes to play quick possession football,” Varane told UEFA.com.
“He’s added in more physical work in the training sessions, which is allowing us to press higher up the field. He’s close to his players. He likes to chat with us and show us videos so that we can improve the finer details.
“The fact that he was a player and that he’s a young coach means that we have a close relationship. When I was a child I saw him play and he’s got an excellent reputation throughout the world and especially in France.”
For Luciano Spalletti, the arrival of Real Madrid is a significant test for his side, and he agrees that the Champions League quality levels have increased over recent years, telling ASRoma.com
“The level has gone up. What you witness now is good quality football, both in Italy and abroad. In general, I don’t think there are easy wins anymore. There are teams who go through tough periods especially when you play in a league like ours with a lot of pressure. Overall, I believe the standard has gone up, both in European and Italian football.”
The action kicks off at 19:45