Real Madrid begin the defence of their third successive crown when Roma visit the Santiago Bernabeu in the UEFA Champions League proper on Wednesday.
UEFA Champions League
19 September 2018
Group G, Matchday 1
Kick-off: 21:00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu
Referee: B. Kuipers
Assistants: S. van Roekel, E. Zeinstra
Fourth official: J. van Zuilen
TEAM MATCHES WIN DRAW LOSS
Real 10 6 1 3
Roma 10 3 1 6
Real Madrid 2-0 Roma (Champions League) 08/03/2016
Real goalscorers: C. Ronaldo (64′), J. Rodriguez (68′)
Players to watch:
Karim Benzema seems to have benefitted most from Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus. The French striker has scored four goals in four La Liga starts, with braces against Girona and Leganes. Benzema will be hoping to surpass his tally of 10 in the league last term.
Roma will be looking to the experience of Edin Dzeko against the European juggernauts. The Bosnian striker bagged eight goals on the Italian club’s run to the semi-finals in 2017/18, although he has found the back of the net just once in four Serie A appearances this season.
Team form and manager quotes:
Los Blancos continued to raise the bar in Europe’s elite club competition last season by lifting the trophy for the third year running, having defeated Liverpool in the final.
Real have made a positive start to life under Julen Lopetegui, going unbeaten in their opening four La Liga matches to sit second in the table behind arch-rivals Barcelona.
They picked up three consecutive victories over Getafe (2-0), Girona (4-1) and Leganes (4-1), before Athletic Bilbao halted their 100 percent record with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Lopetegui will be hoping to get off to a good start, but he’s expecting Roma to take the game to his team in the Spanish capital.
“Last season Roma knocked Atletico out in the group stage, Barcelona in the quarter-finals and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League,” the Spaniard said in his pre-match press conference.
“They’re a side that has improved and the squad is more complete and has more depth. They also have the same coach and continue to consolidate the way they play.
“I expect a stronger opposition than last year and a tough game. They’ll make things difficult for us and force us to work hard to beat them.
“I expect an ambitious and aggressive team. They’re ready to play that way. They look after the ball well and are ambitious.”
The Giallorossi’s Scudetto challenge has stuttered in the early stages after recording just one win from their opening four Serie A outings.
They kicked the new campaign off with a 1-0 victory over Torino, but have since played out to draws with Atalanta (3-3) and Chievo (2-2), while suffering a 2-1 defeat to Milan.
Eusebio Di Francesco guided his troops to the Champions League semi-finals last time out, and he knows that expectations will be high for them to perform well again this term.
“It’s been a great ride and we have arrived where we arrived with great merit. We hope to repeat it again,” Di Francesco told AS.
“The comeback against Barcelona is now written in the history books. Everyday I realise what we’ve done; the fans remind me every time they meet me on the streets.
“We know that everyone is expecting a Roma, with the desire, with the mentality to pick up where we left off. We shall see the results.”
Lopetegui has a full-strength squad to choose from and could recall Casemiro in midweek after the midfielder started on the bench against Bilbao at the weekend, but replaced Dani Ceballos at half-time.
Di Francesco is missing just two players in midfield duo Ante Coric (thigh) and Javier Pastore (calf).