AS Roma - Real Madrid preview: Visitors expect a tricky test for first knockout hurdle

In the first knockout stage of this year's UEFA Champions League, Real Madrid travel to Italy - with a tricky test against strong opponents AS Roma ahead in the first leg.

AS Roma - Real Madrid preview: Visitors expect a tricky test for first knockout hurdle
Picture source: AFP

Real Madrid are set to face Italian side AS Roma in the first knockout stage of this year's UEFA Champions League. The first leg will be held in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico.

Hosts Roma, in encouraging form

The opponent from Italy, AS Roma, are actually in very good form in Serie A. Roma have won the last four meetings in the league against Frosinone, Sassuolo, Sampdoria and promoted team Carpi. The club from the capital have benefited from their positive run of consecutive victories as they're currently in fourth place, with a fairly good chance of qualifying for Europe's elite club competition again next term. They've got a strong team, with key players such as Miralem Pjanic and Mohamed Salah intent on helping the tie's underdogs spring a surprise against the might of Madrid. Both are having a great campaign personally, and manager Luciano Spalleti will be thankful to have inherited a side with players such as them in his ranks.  

In the Champions League group-stages, Roma were in a tough group - with Bayer Leverkusen, BATE Borisov and the competition holders, Barcelona. After the six matches the Italians were positioned on four points behind Barça and level on points with Leverkusen. Because of the 4-4 draw in the first group game and 3-2 victory over Leverkusen in the corresponding group fixture, the Italians progressed to the knockout rounds based on head-to-head results, despite a worse goal difference. 

Real and Roma faced each other in a pre-season tournament back in July | Image: Getty

Real Madrid eager to go to Milan

For Real Madrid, Roma is a hurdle on their way to the final in Milan, where the Madridistas want to win their next title. Barcelona might be too strong in La Liga, whilst the Copa del Rey disqualification means that Madrid may not have another opportunity to win a title this season - which'll be their second consecutive campaign without a piece of silverware. As a result of this, their prime focus is to win the Champions League, like they did in the 2013/14 campaign.

The first hurdle for Zinedine Zidane's side is Roma - who'll be a strong opponent, albeit a lesser favoured one when comparing the two teams' quality. In their last five away matches, Real have left a lot to be desired recently. Two wins, two draws and a loss - certainly can be improved. Furthermore, the Italians might play defensively against the attacking brilliance of Spain's second-strongest trio. So, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema need to find a way through the hosts' backline.

The second-best attacking side from Serie A are set to face a Madrid defence whose frailties have been exposed plenty of times in recent months. Real may be strong, but they're certainly far from unbeatable. With all of that in mind, Real will be hoping a positive first-leg performance can boost their chances of progression into the last-eight of this season's Champions League.