When AS Roma take on Spanish opposition, it is impossible not to think of last season’s stunning Champions League quarter-final comeback. That was when the Giallorossi beat Barcelona 3-0 at home after a 4-2 defeat in the first leg, to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1983/84. This year, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side are ready to go again, but face an extremely tough opening fixture away to Real Madrid.
Los Merengues may have lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, but still have enough in their arsenal to beat a Roma side that are still in transition following a number of high-profile player sales in the summer. Not for the first time this season, the Giallorossi let a lead slip on Sunday when 2-0 advantage over lowly Chievo slipped to 2-2.
Transfer wizard Monchi sold goalkeeper Alisson to Liverpool for a then World Record fee, while star midfielder Radja Nainggolan left for Inter and Kevin Strootman joined up with former boss Rudi Garcia at Marseille. This is the second campaign in a row that Roma have done so, the summer before seeing Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger also leave for the Premier League.
Selling high and buying for less is all part of what Monchi does, however Di Francesco is still puzzling over exactly how to draw the best from his new-look side. Steven N’Zonzi, Javier Pastore, Justin Kluivert and new goalkeeper Robin Olsen are all yet to fully settle in, and the Giallorossi looked weak defensively in early domestic encounters with Atalanta and AC Milan where they shipped five goals and only came out with a point.
The forthcoming match with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu may have come along too soon for them, however the Serie A outfit will understand that it is more important to garner positive results from fellow Group G opponents CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen in order to progress to the knockout rounds.
While the teams may bear no resemblance to the past thanks to the constant turnover of players, there are some interesting facts to consider when it comes to previous meetings. Roma and Real Madrid have gone head-to-head on a number of occasions, with the most recent coming in the 2015/16 knockout stages.
That clash saw the Spanish side progress 4-0 on aggregate, and their record versus the Giallorossi at the Bernabeu is especially strong, although Roma can call back to 2007/08 when they eliminated Real by winning both legs of their last-16 clash by a 2-1 scoreline.
However, Los Merengues are not much stronger and have made this competition their own, making it difficult to look beyond a home win here and Sportnation are offering a best price of 2/5 on Real Madrid winning outright.
While it is difficult to predict a winner of the match when neither side has yet played in this competition, it is almost guaranteed that this clash on Wednesday will deliver a surprising number of goals.
Indeed, there have been over 2.5 goals scored in Real Madrid's last ten UEFA Champions League games and they have scored at least two goals in eight of their last nine European matches. Meanwhile, there have been over 2.5 goals scored in Roma's last four European outings, and the Giallorossi have scored at least two goals in their last three matches in the continent’s elite competition.
As a result, it is well worth backing that trend to continue with Bet365 offering odds of 12/25 on both teams to score, while the same bookmaker has odds of 23/25 on there being more than 3.5 goals in the match.
While he rarely garners the attention of some of his more illustrious team-mates, Karim Benzema remains an important figure in the Real Madrid XI, his contribution even more vital since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
With the Portuguese star now at Juventus, his former partner has enjoyed a fine start to 2018/19, netting in the UEFA Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid before scoring twice in two of his side’s first four La Liga outings.
A goal in last season’s final against Liverpool in Kiev made the 30-year-old Frenchman the fourth-highest scoring player in Champions League history, a tally of 56 goals putting him behind only Raúl (71), Lionel Messi (100) and Ronaldo (120).
Backing him to continue that good start is therefore an intriguing option, with 888Sport offering odds of 17/4 on Benzema to score the first goal of the game, while the same bookmaker is giving 1/1 that he will find the net at anytime.