Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said he won’t sacrifice players in a bid to shut down the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo when they host Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
And the Italian insisted the belief and ambition of his players, and not the past history of either club, will be key they look to upset the formbook at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday.
Real, who claimed a record 10th Champions League trophy in 2014, are among the favorites for this year’s title alongside Bayern Munich and holders Barcelona.
Although Welsh winger Gareth Bale is missing due to a calf strain, the world class trio of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez lead their three-pronged attack.
Real have also welcomed left-back Marcelo, who missed a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend due to a a dislocated shoulder, back to their matchday squad.
Ronaldo hit a brace at the weekend, when Toni Kroos and James were also on the scoresheet. But Spalletti said the Portuguese forward won’t come in for special attention, a tactic that could theoretically create space elsewhere on the pitch for Real to exploit.
– Ronaldo –
“Ronaldo is one of the strongest players in the world and always makes a difference. He’s a modern day footballer, strong and fast and capable of scoring lots of goals,” said Spalletti.
“But I’m not going to use three of my players to close him down.”
Spalletti is in his second spell at Roma after replacing sacked Frenchman Rudi Garcia recently, and, among his other achievements, boasts the feat of steering Roma to consecutive 2-1 wins over Real in the last 16 in 2008.
Real have made it to the semi-finals of the competition for the past five seasons, claiming their historic “Decima” two years ago when current manager Zinedine Zidane was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti.
Efforts to go one step further last year were rebuffed when Juventus claimed a 2-1 win in Turin and booked their final place against Barcelona thanks to a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.
But Spalletti said past experience will count for little.
“People are talking about experience, but that doesn’t matter in games like this. What’s important is having the determination and courage to go out there with some ambition,” he said.
“We won’t feel sorry for ourselves if we get beat, but we will if we don’t give it everything.”
Roma’s patchy domestic form has seen them concede 27 times in 25 games, an unenvious statistic that does not leave their defensive game in a positive light.
But Greek defender Kosta Manolas said: “We defend and attack as a unit, but we have to try and not concede tomorrow so we’re still in the tie come the second leg.”
Spalletti admits it would be a surprise if they repeated their feats of 2008.
But the confidence that waned during the final weeks of Garcia’s tenure is re-emerging, especially after a 3-1 win at Carpi at the weekend that allowed Roma to secure a fourth consecutive league win for the first time since October.
“In 2008 we went through and created a surprise. This year, it would be an even bigger surprise, but we like this kind of challenge,” he added.
“We’re back to winning ways and I can see us making a further leap forward. I expect to see us battling all the way to the finish in Madrid, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for me either if we went through.”
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