First knockout round – first leg
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has called on his players to forget their recent poor form and produce the “big performance” needed to overcome Spanish cammpions Real Madrid.
With two defeats in their last three Serie A outings, including Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Juventus, Roma’s preparations have not been ideal.
“We have to recover our energy, our desire, our belief and our fighting spirit,” said Spalletti. “There are ups and downs in any team’s performance over a season. We’ve not been at our best but we just have to keep going.”
The mood in the Roma camp has not been helped by a training-ground dispute between Christian Panucci and Alberto Aquilani on Monday, and Spalletti certainly appreciates the size of the task facing his side.
“[Madrid coach Bernd] Schuster has put together a very well-balanced side, one that can open you up easily,” added Spalletti. “They have so much individual quality, but we also have the ability to cause them problems. We are going to need two big performances because we are playing a great team.”
Roma are unbeaten in eight Champions League home game and welcome back defender Juan. However, they may require talismanic striker Francesco Totti to rediscover his best form if they are to secure an advantage tonight.
“I have complete faith in Francesco’s ability,” said Spalletti, hoping his captain can lead Roma out of their recent dip.
Although they are five points clear at the top of the Spanish league, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Real Betis was Madrid’s second successive slip-up on their travels, and coach Bernd Schuster said: “There are moments where we take things too easy and pay the price. We cannot make the same mistake again here.”
The German is ready to gamble on the fitness of defender Gabriel Heinze, out for six weeks with a thigh strain but expected to partner Fabio Cannavaro in the centre, with Miguel Torres filling in for the newly injured Marcelo at left-back.
“I don’t know if he can manage the whole game,” admitted Schuster, “but it is important to have him at our disposal.”
Schuster described Roma as a “typical Italian team”, adding: “I don’t see a particular attacking philosophy. They work hard and are very compact. It is very difficult to score here in this stadium and against this team.”
“We are going to try and ensure we have the chance to finish the game in our own stadium,” said Schuster.