Three Roma men Real Madrid must watch: Gary Lim
The three Roma players who can finish the Italian job
ROUND OF 16, 2ND LEG
REAL MADRID v ROMA
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
- Real lead 2-0 from first leg
Real Madrid will be forgiven for thinking that they have already sealed a spot in the Champions League quarter-finals, after beating Roma 2-0 away in the first leg of their Round-of-16 clash.
They go into the return fixture at Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow morning (Singapore time) on the back of a 7-1 La Liga victory over Celta Vigo last Saturday.
Coach Zinedine Zidane is also set to welcome back flying Welshman Gareth Bale, who played the final 25 minutes against Celta.
With 28 wins in their last 33 Champions League home fixtures, it is not wrong to say that Real have one foot in the last eight.
But Roma did enough in the first leg to suggest that they won't be pushovers. With seven straight Serie A victories under their belt, Roma may yet add a few more twists to the tie.
Here are three men Real must watch out for:
1 STEPHAN EL SHAARAWY
At AC Milan, he was an 18-year-old forward with the world at his feet.
Five years on, he is just about to get back on his feet.
A series of injuries saw El Shaarawy fall out of favour at Milan after an impressive start to his career.
Unable to find form while on loan at Monaco for the first half of this season, he joined Roma in January to resurrect his career.
His arrival has coincided with the club's run of seven straight Serie A wins.
El Shaarawy played in six of those, scoring five goals in the process, including on his debut against Frosinone.
He was one of the main threats for Roma in the first leg at the Stadio Olimpico last month, showing lovely touches in the final third of the field.
He had two good chances to open the scoring.
But Raphael Varane's excellent defending just before the break and goalkeeper Keylor Navas' timely interception after half-time foiled his attempts to get on the scoresheet.
The 23-year-old Italian is likely to once again feature on the left of a front three featuring Diego Perotti in the middle and Mohamed Salah on the right.
El Shaarawy's speed, dribbling ability and excellent first touch will be cause for concern for the hosts.
Roma are expected to pay AC Milan the 13 million euros ($19.7m) needed to make his move permanent.
2 MOHAMED SALAH
He first came to the attention of English Premiership fans two years ago, when Liverpool and Chelsea fought for his signature.
The 23-year-old's career, however, failed to take off at Stamford Bridge.
At Roma though, he has recovered the form which made him so sought-after.
Like El Shaarawy, the player dubbed the "Egyptian Messi" is on a hot goal-scoring streak, with six goals in his last six Serie A appearances.
One of those, against Palermo slightly over two weeks ago, came off a shot almost on the byeline.
Salah currently tops the club's scoring chart with 11 Serie A goals.
It is his searing pace which most defenders find hard to cope with.
During the first leg, he was Roma's brightest spark, often carrying the ball into Real's half with a trail of defenders in his wake.
His teammate Perotti described him as "ridiculously fast with the ball". Real's defenders will need no reminder.
3 MIRALEM PJANIC
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international is targeting a "perfect" performance in Madrid to overturn the deficit.
Pjanic will have a huge say in how close to perfection they get.
The playmaker, linked with a move to Chelsea at the end of the season, is the fulcrum of his team.
His teammates look to him for inspiration, as his nine assists in the Serie A showed. He is also the club's second-top scorer with nine goals.
The 25-year-old controls his team's rhythm with his exceptional reading of the game and excellent passing ability.
His greatest weapon is his set-pieces. In fact, ex-Brazil international Juninho Pernambucano, a renowned dead-ball specialist himself during his playing days, called Pjanic the best free-kick taker in the game today.
He said: "Pjanic's very efficient and, above all, consistent. That's the most difficult part.
"He has a lot of variation in his strikes. He's able to shoot in different ways, depending on the distance."
Spalletti: All is not lost
Real Madrid return to Champions League action with the visit of Roma tomorrow morning (Singapore time) needing to book their place in the quarter-finals to keep alive a hugely disappointing season.
A place in the last eight for a sixth consecutive season is well within the reach of Zinedine Zidane's men with a comfortable 2-0 first-leg lead to rely on.
Yet, Real will have memories of this stage of the competition 12 months ago when Schalke had the 10-time champions clinging on in the final stages as the German side won 4-3 at the Bernabeu.
What's more, their opponents Roma clinched a seventh successive Serie A victory last Friday with a 4-1 mauling of title rivals Fiorentina.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said his team will travel to Madrid without fear, despite Real thrashing Celta Viga 7-1 over the weekend.
Spalletti, who guided Roma to a Champions League win at the Bernabeu in 2008, told his club's official website: "If you do things well, you can beat anybody.
"I came back here to continue what I had started. I wanted to see if what I thought was true - that this team can delight the fans again."
Roma president James Pallotta believes the Giallorossi can turn it around in the Bernabeu tomorrow morning.
"I believe in qualification," Pallotta told Ansa, holding up three fingers to indicate he believes Roma can win 3-0.
"That's what we need right?"
Real Madrid defender Pepe insisted that the Roma tie "is not over yet" and will require "humility and team spirit".
"I didn't play in the first leg," said the Portuguese.
"Roma have great players, they're good in Europe and one of the best in Italy. They have fast players on the wings, and that is the kind of thing which could cause us problems.
"We have to think about playing our game, because it's not over yet. We have to face it with humility and team spirit, that's the way we'll win tomorrow."
Spalletti has included 39-year-old Francesco Totti in his squad, and said a recent disagreement between the pair is now water under the bridge.
"Francesco is a big part of Roma's history - he's the best player of post-war times," he said.
"I've learnt a great deal from him, and I've used some of his ideas in training. They have played a big part in a lot of the goals scored by my clubs, even if he wasn't the man scoring them.
"He's given a lot to this club, and it's only right that he gets the due recognition for it. I hope he finishes his career in the most correct way possible.
"I have absolute respect for the champion and the man that is Francesco Totti."
Totti featured for the final minutes of the first leg against Real, coming on seconds after Jese Rodriguez had doubled the visitors' lead, but he is not expected to start in Madrid.
One player who is guaranteed to start is three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese superstar was jeered by sections of the Real support before firing four goals in 28 minutes during Saturday's 7-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo.
"He is capable of scoring four goals and there are very few people capable of doing that. That is why he is unique," said Zidane in defence of his star man.
"There are fans who want Ronaldo to be sold? Well I don't and I'm the coach.
"As far as the whistles go, they did it to me too... to everyone."
- Wire Services.
If you do things well, you can beat anybody. I came back here to continue what I had started. I wanted to see if what I thought was true — that this team can delight the fans again.
— Roma coach Luciano Spalletti (above)
Roma are a good team. Their forwards are very good. If you don’t do your job properly, you can be eliminated. It’s not true that Roma have no chance.
— Real coach Zinedine Zidane (above)
Barca and Arsenal clash tops money league
The Champions League clash between Barcelona and Arsenal features two clubs with combined revenues of almost one billion euros ($1.5b) - the highest ever for a last-16 tie in the competition, according to new figures.
The Deloitte Football Money League, which profiles the highest-earning clubs in world football, puts the two clubs' combined revenue from 2014/15 at 996.3 million euros. Barcelona's revenue is 560.8m euros and Arsenal's 435.5m euros.
The clubs in the last 16 have a total revenue of more than 4.3b euros.
The European tie with the second highest joint revenue takes place in the Europa League, where Manchester United take on Liverpool (911.3m euros combined).
Real Madrid are top of the Money League with revenue of 577m euros, but their opponents Roma are only 16th (180.4m euros). - PA Sport.
By The Numbers: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo (above) tops the European Golden Shoe scoring chart with 27 goals, thanks to his four goals in Real Madrid's 7-1 win against Celta Vigo on Saturday. He is one ahead of Barcelona's Luis Suarez, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Benfica's Jonas. Barca's Lionel Messi has 21.
Ronaldo is also second in the all-time La Liga scoring chart with 252 goals, 53 short of Messi's tally.
The Portugal forward also leads the way in this season's Champions League on 12 goals, including his record 11 group-stage strikes and another first-leg effort against Roma, as he moved to 88 in the competition - another record.