The second day of the knockout stages brings the clash of two historically prevalent clubs, as the Los Blancos travel to Rome to face AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Both teams have endured similar fates this season, as disillusionment with the style of play among fans and players alike led to the high-profile departure of Rafa Benitez. Rudi Garcia departed too, as results went from bad to worse, with fan protests again playing a crucial role in his sacking.
As the dust has settled, both clubs have changed course and returned to winning ways. Zidane has done what his mentor Ancelotti is renowned for, unshackling the players and bringing a propensity in the style of play, something Benitez’s model lacked. Designing Madrid’s diagramme is never a layman’s task, with results not being the only factor in question. Zidane’s appointment, although questionable in the long run has had the desired effect. His lack of tactical acumen has been nullified by the unshakable respect and sway he holds in the star-studded Madrid lineup.
Roma has recovered as well though they have lacked Madrid’s swagger. Spalletti has moved away from Garcia’s 4-3-3 to the more flexible 4-2-3-1, giving them more potency going forward and a reasonable foundation at the back. Signings like El Shaarawy and Perotti have had an immediate impact, giving considerable creativity going forward.
As impressive as the recovery might have been, the Italian stalwarts face a trial by fire against Madrid. The overwhelming array of talent Madrid possess means only a defensive masterclass over the two legs can assure a path to the quarterfinals.
It would be a mistake, though, to believe this miracle is beyond Roma. Real Madrid has failed to eliminate an Italian rival in 29 years, a stifling record whose significance was dismissed by Madrid manager Zidane in the pre-match presser.
The Madridistas will be hoping Zidane knows what he’s talking about.
Real Madrid: Navas, Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, Isco, James, Ronaldo and Benzema
AS Roma: Szczesny, Florenzi, Manolas, Rudiger, Digne, De Rossi, Pjanic, Salah, Perotti, El Shaarawy and Dzeko