Evening all! Sports Mole
's Champions League
coverage continues as Roma
welcome Real Madrid to Italy for the first leg of their last-16 clash. The Spanish outfit are seen as the favourites to make it through this tie, but Roma will enter this match on the back of a four-game winning run in the league. It has all the makings of a super game at the Stadio Olimpicio. Kickoff is just under one hour away tonight...
... in total, these two teams have met on eight occasions in UEFA competition, with Real Madrid recording four wins, Roma three and the final fixture finishing level. The two European sides have faced off in two high-profile friendlies in recent years, but have surprisingly not actually met in a competitive match since clashing at this stage of the Champions League in the 2007-08 season.
It was Roma that advanced on that particular occasion courtesy of 2-1 wins both home and away against the Spanish giants. Real Madrid have been victorious on three of their four visits to Roma in the Champions League, however, and have also never failed to score in Rome. You fancy that the home team need to secure a positive result tonight if they are to stand a chance in the second leg next month.
Right, without further ado, let me bring you up-to-speed with the all-important team news from Rome. Who have Luciano Spalletti and Zinedine Zidane placed their faith in for this match...
ROMA: Szczesny; Florenzi, Manolas, Rudiger, Digne; Vainqueur, Pjanic, Nainggolan; Salah, El Shaarawy, Perotti
REAL: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco; James, Benzema, Ronaldo
Francisco Totti and Daniele de Rossi are both on the bench for Roma tonight as they nurse calf problems, while Eden Dzeko has also been left out of the starting XI. It appears that the home side will line up without a recognised centre-forward, although pacey Italian international Stephan El Shaarawy is expected to start through the middle with support from both Mohamed Salah and Diego Perotti. Roma's skipper for tonight's match will be 24-year-old right-back Alessandro Florenzi.
As for Real Madrid, experienced left-back Marcelo has returned from a shoulder problem to start. That is the only change from their 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, with Danilo the player dropping to the bench. Gareth Bale's ongoing calf problem means that James Rodriguez keeps his spot in the final third alongside Cristiano Ronaldo
and Karim Benzema, while Isco starts as part of a midfield three.
So there we have it. The two teams are in and we are now little under 40 minutes from kickoff on this mild evening in Rome. Tonight will see Zidane take charge of his first Real Madrid match in the Champions League and it will be a new and interesting test for the Frenchman, who has not tasted defeat since replacing much-criticised Rafael Benitez as head coach of Los Blancos earlier last month.
I shall talk a little bit more about Real Madrid before kickoff, but let's start with Roma. Incredibly, the Italian side only won one of their Group E matches, but they managed to qualify behind Barcelona, who they held to a 1-1 draw in Rome, before losing 6-1 in Spain. Barcelona found it tough in this stadium earlier this season and Roma will be looking for a similar performance this time around.
This is Roma's first appearance in the knockout stage of the Champions League since the 2010-11 season and on that occasion they were dumped out by Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. What's more, the Serie A giants have not made it into the quarter-finals since 2008. In truth, their performance in the group stages – where they conceded 16 goals in six games – will not have worried Real Madrid.
Roma's European home record against Spanish teams is won six, drawn one and lost five, while they have lost three of their five two-legged affairs with La Liga opposition. Quite incredibly, Roma have also won just two of their last 15 Champions League matches and have lost seven times in the process.
What's more, Roma have only kept one clean sheet in their last 20 Champions League matches, which is not exactly trophy-winning form. The Italian side have only lost one of their last 13 games in all competitions, however, and that was against Serie A champions Juventus. Indeed, a four-game winning run in the Italian top flight has moved Spalletti's side into fourth position in the table.
As for Real Madrid, this is the 19th consecutive season that the Spanish giants have made it through to the knockout stage of this competition, which is an all-time record. They finished top of Group A ahead of French champions Paris Saint-Germain, who beat Chelsea 2-1 last night, earlier this season and have made at least the semi-finals of the European Cup in each of the last five seasons.
Just two clubs are unbeaten in this season's Champions League and Real Madrid are one of them. The other? Barcelona. Who knew? Since Zidane replaced Benitez last month, Real Madrid have been in excellent form and will enter this match off the back of a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, which saw them close the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to four points. That gap now stands at seven, however, because the Catalan giants have just won their game in hand away to struggling Sporting Gijon.
© Getty Images
For all the Roma fans losing faith, some hope is about to come your way. Incredibly, Real Madrid have failed to win on any of their last eight visits to Italy – losing four times in the process. What's more, Los Blancos have lost each of their last eight two-legged ties against Serie A opposition, including last season when they were dumped out of the competition by Juventus in the semi-finals.
Indeed, the last time that Real Madrid managed to overcome Serie A opposition over two legs was in the 1987-89 season, when they beat Napoli (3-1) in the European Champion Clubs' Cup first round. Real Madrid are rightly the favourites tonight and for the tie overall, but recent history suggests that it will not be all plain sailing for Zidane's side. Kickoff is fast approaching in Rome!
Big game for this man tonight...
PREDICTION! I am just leaning towards a Real Madrid win tonight. Barcelona found it difficult in Rome earlier this season and it would not surprise me one bit if this finished level, but I look at the two teams and I fancy Los Blancos to secure a first-leg win. My score prediction is 2-1 Real Madrid.
So, we've found out that Ronaldo does not have Bale or Benzema over for tea, or supper, or tapas. Anything really. What matters is what happens on the field, according to Ronaldo. Bale is not available tonight, but Benzema starts and the Frenchman has 16 goals in his last 12 games.
KICKOFF! Here we go then - the pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. This has all the makings of a very entertaining game of football and as expected, there is a wonderful atmosphere in Rome tonight. It is the home side that kick us off here...
... it has been a bright start from the home team, who have already managed to deliver a dangerous cross into the Real Madrid box. It was Florenzi that attempted to pick out Perotti inside the box, but Navas was on hand to claim. The resulting goal-kick allows Real Madrid to see some possession.
James combines with Benzema just outside the Real Madrid box, but the former runs into traffic and Roma manage to clear. Both teams are just feeling each other out in the early moments here.
Good football from the away side as Ronaldo drifts to the left before picking out Marcelo, whose cross is cleared for the first corner of the match. Florenzi goes down following a challenge with Benzema, but it does appear that the Roma skipper will be fit to continue after some treatment.
Roma's first counter sees Perotti slide a super ball into Salah, but the pacy midfielder cannot run away from Marcelo, who is no slouch. Real Madrid will have the majority of the ball tonight, but they will need to be aware of Roma's counter-attacking threat, which has the potential to be very dangerous.
Ronaldo strikes a free kick from distance, but it was always wide of the post.
Slightly untidy period of the match in the last couple of minutes, with Roma guilty of a number of late challenges. Still no bookings, however, and Real Madrid remain in control of the possession.
Kroos delivers a free kick into the Roma box, but Digne does well to head clear and the home side are suddenly on the counter. Salah races away, but Marcelo is on hand to make the challenge.
Roma have just managed to enjoy a spell of possession in the last couple of minutes and they are looking dangerous when they quicken the pace in the final third of the field. Perotti attempts to play a quick one-two with Salah, but Ramos is alive to the danger and wins a free kick for his team.
Slightly untidy from Real Madrid in the last minute or two as they relinquish possession to Roma.
CHANCE! Roma come closest to taking the lead here as Perotti pokes a low pass into El Shaarawy, who attempts to beat Navas from close range, but his effort was always too high.
It did appear that Real Madrid would really dominate this game after making such a strong start, but Roma have responded well and look dangerous when they commit numbers in the final third. The visitors are currently popping the ball around, but they have not seen a goal threat thus far here.
Pretty much all Real Madrid since Roma had that chance in the 17th minute, but the home side are not really being threatened at the moment. Szczesny has not had a save to make and that remains the case as another corner from Kroos is headed clear - well behind for another Real Madrid set piece.
Vainqueur has made three late challenges on Ronaldo and is yet to receive a yellow card. The Roma midfielder is a very lucky boy at the moment. Real Madrid continue to pass and probe in Rome.
Salah uses his electric pace to run away from Ramos, but the attacker just loses control at the vital moment and Navas resumes with a goal kick. Still goalless with 25 minutes on the clock tonight.
Pretty untidy from both teams at the moment it must be said!
Marcelo shifts down the line for Real Madrid before delivering into a dangerous area, but Rudiger is on hand to make the challenge. Roma attempt to break, but the referee brings the play back for offside when advantage could have been played. Not an awful lot happening at the moment here.
Marcelo finds Isco on the edge of the Real Madrid box, but the Spaniard's strike is blocked by Manolas as the pressure starts to build. Los Blancos are now moving the ball quicker up top.
Marcelo has been a big threat for Real Madrid in the opening 33 minutes as the Brazilian continues to take up space on the left and Florenzi is having a tough time dealing with the full-back and also Ronaldo, who has struggled to get into the game tonight. Still goalless in this last-16 first leg in Rome.
CLOSE! Marcelo attempts a spectacular volley from just inside the box, but his effort drops wide of the post. Wonderful technique from the full-back, but just wide of the Roma goal!
Perotti slides a pass into El Shaarawy and the attacker looks to release a strike, but Ramos is on hand to make a fine block, before Marcelo blocks Pjanic's strike for a corner. This is better!
This referee is being very lenient with cards as Kroos dives into a challenge with Digne!
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining and both sides have been guilty of conceding possession too easily in the last couple of minutes. It has actually been quite a poor game.
Real Madrid threaten as Carvajal delivers a low cross into Benzema, but the Frenchman's strike is blocked, before Ronaldo is also denied by a Roma leg. The home side break down the other end and force it wide into Digne, but the full-back cannot escape the attention of James Rodriguez.
Manolas rises to meet a corner, but his header is over Real Madrid's crossbar.
Wonderful defending from Varane as the Real Madrid centre-back uses his pace to stretch across and challenge El Shaarawy, whose pace had taken him free and into the away side's penalty box!
HALF-TIME: Roma 0-0 Real Madrid
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with the two teams level at 0-0. In truth, it has not been brilliant in terms of entertainment. It has been interesting on a tactical level, but clear chances have been at a premium. Let's hope for an upturn in the second 45 minutes!
STATISTICS! Real Madrid have dominated the possession with 65%, but they have not managed a single attempt on target despite having seven shots. Roma, meanwhile, have had three shots, but also not managed to hit the target. No yellow cards to report int he opening half of action in Rome.
Roma have a number of attacking options on their bench tonight, with the likes of Dzeko, Totti, Falque and Keita all available. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have options in the shape of Jese Rodriguez
, Lucas Vasquez and Kovacic. Plenty of talent on both benches tonight!
Will we see this man for Roma in the second period? #totti
© Getty Images
RESTART! Here we go then - both sets of players re-join us on the pitch for the second period of action. Will we have a breakthrough in Rome? It is Real Madrid that resume proceedings...
... no changes from either manager at the break, which is not too much of a surprise. However, I suspect that both managers will have alterations in mind as the second period develops here.
Not too much to report in terms of clear chances in the early stages of the second period, but both teams are passing and probing in the final third. Salah's pace continues to cause problems to Real Madrid's back-line, but Ramos has been pretty much faultless for the visitors in Rome tonight.
Nainggolan drives to the edge of the Real Madrid box before striking towards goal, but Ramos is on hand to make the block. Pretty lively start to this half as both sides commit players forward.
Controversial moment as Vainqueur uses a high foot to clear a super pass from Ronaldo, which was dropping onto the chest of James. The Real Madrid attacker actually looked offside there!
James is still being patched-up following that high foot, which means Real play on with 10.
Ronaldo goes down following a challenge with Manolas, but the referee is not interested and waves play on. It would be fair to say that Ronaldo has had a very frustrating night thus far in Rome.
A tame shot from Carvajal is straight into the arms of the Roma stopper.
CHANCE! El Shaaraway breaks through on the Real Madrid goal after showing the pace needed to beat Carvajal, but Navas races off his line to make the challenge!
GOAL! Roma 0-1 Real Madrid (Ronaldo)
Oh it just had to be him didn't it! Real Madrid take the lead just before the hour as Ronaldo collects a pass from Marcelo, cuts inside his full-back and angles one into the top corner! Brilliant!
CHANCE! Real Madrid are in again as Ronaldo breaks the offside trap before squaring for a teammate, but there is no-one with him! Any touch would have meant 2-0 Real Madrid!
SAVE! All Real Madrid now as Benzema tests Roma's stopper with a low drive!
BOOKING! Varane (Real Madrid) is booked for a late challenge on Perotti.
ROMA SUB! Dzeko replaces El Shaarawy for the home side.
REAL MADRID SUB! Kovacic replaces Isco for the visitors.
Roma just cannot seem to keep the ball at the moment as Real Madrid continue to force the issue. Salah manages to beat the offside trap and strike on goal, but the attacker was always falling backwards and it was comfortable for Navas, who quickly released Ronaldo on the left.
The home supporters are doing their best to drive their team forward, but Real Madrid are finding gaps in the final third and you sense that another Los Blancos goal is on the way tonight.
Benzema decides to drive through the heart of the Roma defence and the Frenchman almost squeezes through, but Roma regain possession and Salah breaks down the other end. Indeed, the attacker delivers a super cross towards Dzeko, but Varane is across to make a smart challenge.
CLOSE! Oh my goodness! Vainqueur lets fly from outside the Real Madrid box and the midfielder's effort just moves wide of the post! Navas looked to be in trouble there!
CLOSE! Ronaldo meets a cross from James and looks certain to be finding the back of the net with a header, but the ball just drops wide of the post! What a chance there!
CHANCE! James delivers a stunning cross onto the head of Benzema, who looks certain to head home, but Digne is on hand to make a wonderful block! That looked to be 2-0!
ROMA SUB! De Rossi replaces Vainqueur in Roma's second change.
CHANCE! Ronaldo picks out James with a super cross, but the Colombian heads wide!
CHANCE! Dzeko is next to come close for the home side, but the striker cannot squeeze his effort into the near post under pressure from Navas. Cannot take your eyes off this game!
Benzema now fires wide as the end-to-end period of the game continues.
PENALTY SHOUT! Florenzi goes down under a challenge from Carvajal, but the referee says no penalty! It looked one to me and replays seem to confirm that.
REAL MADRID SUB! Jese replaces James in Real Madrid's second sub.
Not much happened in the first period tonight, but the second half has been flooded with opportunities at both ends of the field. Ronaldo's effort remains the difference in Rome.
Roma are all over the place at the back at the moment and they are very fortunate not to have conceded a second goal. In truth, Benzema really should have scored at least twice tonight.
BOOKING! Ramos (Real Madrid) is booked for a pull on Salah.
GOAL! Roma 0-2 Real Madrid (Jese)
That might well be tie over! Real Madrid have their second as Jese drives into the Roma box before firing a low effort into the bottom corner. What a massive goal that is in the context of this tie!
ROMA SUB! Totti replaces Florenzi for the home side.
REAL MADRID SUB! Casemiro replaces Ronaldo.
Three additional minutes to be played in Rome.
Totti has hardly had a touch for Roma since entering the action!
Not an awful lot to report as we enter the final minute of stoppage time here. Real Madrid are going to secure a very good win ahead of the return in Madrid next month.
FULL-TIME: Roma 0-2 Real Madrid
So there we have it. The referee brings the second period to a close with Real Madrid running out 2-0 winners on the night, which has given them a big advantage ahead of the second leg next month. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action once again. Until next time!