Just like in the first night of the Champions League knockout stage, we have one match which everyone seems interested in with Roma hosting Real Madrid, and another, between Gent and Wolfsburg, catering to a more local taste.
The big difference, it seems, for Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane isn’t the reconstruction of the team’s midfield, but the fun players seem to have, and actually liking their manager. Real Madrid haven’t been the best team possible when they’re playing away from home, winning just one match out of their last five, not to mention usually finding it very difficult to make things go their way in Italy. But most of their European letdowns against Italian teams come when it’s Juventus (like last year) they’re facing. This time, it’s only Roma.
And why only Roma? Because no matter how much the Giallorossi try, it seems that in this era, they’re destined to see others win the championship in Italy, while they remain a fun team to watch at times, but also an unhinged team that loses its head at the first sign of things not going their way. A season that should have signaled their return to the top ended up being a collapse of sorts and a return to an old concept with an old manager. They have won their last four matches since losing to Juventus, but it hasn’t gotten them any closer to the top 2, and making it into the Champions League will be the best they can hope for.
But what about the matchup between the two teams? There’s no defensive approach in Roma’s bones. There’s only adventurous and calculated. Concede an early goal, and it might become too hectic for them and we’ll be reminded of losses to Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Real Madrid aren’t perfect, but the finishing or Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema against a not too impressive defense could be lethal, even without getting too many chances.
Speaking of Ronaldo, the media was able to get to him by asking him a lot of questions that had nothing to do with this specific match, instead concentrating on annoying him with questions about Lionel Messi and Barcelona. Whether it helps him find motivation to finally “influence” a win or will it shut him down, like in a lot of big matches for Real Madrid this season, might determine if Roma have something to play for in the second leg.
For Gent and Wolfsburg, this is their first ever meeting in a European competition. Yes, it’s 2016, and two teams from leagues that have been competing in the different cups for 60 years can still find each other for the first time. Gent are slightly depressed about losing the top spot in Belgium to Club Brugge after losing to them twice in five days. Wolfsburg have been quite poor when playing away from home recently, which should mean anything but a two goal loss or more would be fine by them.