Champions League preview: All eyes on Zidane as Madrid take on Roma, Wolfsburg go up against Gent - Firstpost
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Champions League preview: All eyes on Zidane as Madrid take on Roma, Wolfsburg go up against Gent


The prospect of spoiling Zinedine Zidane's Champions League coaching debut with Real Madrid may be formidable, but Roma midfielder Seydou Keita believes his side can upset the 10-time record champions in their last 16, first leg clash.

"How we line up against them is down to the coach, but for me, we have to believe in ourselves and go on the pitch convinced," said the Malian ahead of Wednesday's tie in Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

Former Barcelona midfielder Keita knows his opponents well having won 11 matches with the Catalans in the 17 times he played against the arch Liga rivals.

"This game will be difficult, but not impossible," added Keita of Real's miserable record against Italian teams in the competition.

Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane and forward Cristiano Ronaldo address a press conference. AFP

Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane and forward Cristiano Ronaldo address a press conference. AFP

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, brought back to the club recently following the sacking of Frenchman Rudi Garcia, was at the helm when the Italians prevailed over two legs in 2008.

Roma beat Real 2-1 at home, a score they would repeat at the Santiago Bernabeu before being humbled 3-0 by eventual winners Manchester United in the quarter-finals.

Real have made it to the semi-finals of the competition the past five seasons, claiming their historic 10th title, 'La Decima', in 2014 when current manager 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 there is little chance Zidane is entertaining another early exit and the former France and Juventus great comes to Rome with only one defeat from his six-game tenure so far, during which Real have scored 23 goals.

Despite it being his Champions League debut as coach, Zidane's past experience in the competition gives him the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in Europe's premier club competition.

"When you're a player, you dream of playing in the World Cup, but you can dream of the Champions League every year," said Zidane.

"We are prepared and we want to do something important in this competition."

Although Welsh winger Gareth Bale remains sidelined with a calf strain, Real 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.

With central defender Pepe sidelined, Raphael Varane will keep his place alongside Sergio Ramos despite being sent off in a poor display at the weekend when Cristiano Ronaldo hit a brace and James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos added their names to the scoresheet.

Karim Benzema, who set up Ronaldo for his first on Saturday, admits it won't be all plain sailing. "The key to the tie is us. If we are on top form we will win," said the French striker.

"We have to take into account the speed of their forwards, but we are Real Madrid, for me the best team in the world, and we have the best defenders in the world."

Roma, it seems, have been warned. Despite Keita's call for confidence, fans will be hoping Roma at least produce the kind of display that held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the group stages earlier this season, and not one that led to a 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in Rome last year.

On the plus side, Roma claimed a fourth consecutive league win last weekend for the first time since October.

Argentinian midfielder Diego Perotti admits, Bayern, Barcelona and Real are "all favourites for the title".

But it seems Keita's words are already rubbing off: "They're not going to find it easy against us. We'll be giving it our all, and we have possibilities to cause an upset in this tie."

Resurgent Wolfsburg head to Gent

VfL Wolfsburg head to Belgian league side Gent for Wednesday's Champions League last 16, first-leg, with renewed confidence after Germany's Julian Draxler helped break their six-match winless streak.

Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking. AFP

Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking. AFP

German cup holders Wolfsburg powered their way into the knock-out stages by beating Louis van Gaal's Manchester United 3-2 at home last December to condemn the Red Devils to the Europa League.

Germany midfielder Draxler ran riot while Brazilian defender Naldo headed two goals to put Wolfsburg in the last 16 of Europe for the first time in the club’s history.

But since beating United, the Germans failed to win any of their next five games until Draxler scored in Saturday's 2-0 win over Ingolstadt to stay eighth in the Bundesliga.

The 22-year-old World Cup winner finished the move he started before defender Robin Knoche added the second after the break.

Having been booed in losing at Schalke the week before, Wolfsburg's victory gave the side much-needed confidence ahead of the trip to Belgium.

"The fans were right to criticise us," said Draxler, who cost Wolfsburg 35 million euros ($39.4m) from Schalke last August.

"We hadn't shown for a while what we could do.

"We've drawn a line under things now and got the three points we needed."

But Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking has warned his side to expect a much tougher test at Ghent than Ingolstadt provided.

"We mustn't make so many mistakes," said Hecking as 124 of his side's 377 passes went astray last Saturday.

"We need more ball possession to make the opponent chase after us.

"Julian had his moment, he looked dangerous in front of goal, which is why we signed him," added Hecking.

"But he is also struggling for form.

"What applies to him also goes for the whole team: we can still do better."

Knoche is expected to start in Ghent at centre-back for Naldo, who is suspended after picking up his third European booking in the win over United.

Ghent's 1-0 defeat to title rivals Brugge cost them top spot in the Belgian league a week ago to leave them second.

But they warmed-up for Wolfsburg with a 2-0 win over Mouscron-Peruwelz last Friday thanks to goals from Mbark Boussoufa and Danijel Milicevic.

The Swiss midfielder is doubtful with an ankle injury, but Ghent need their top scorer in Europe with Milicevic having scored three goals in their six games.

Naldo expects his team to endure a tough night at the Ghelamco Arena as Gent try to make the quarter-finals fo the Champions League at their first attempt.

"They're a team that won't lie down, a team that always look for goals," said Naldo.

"They took out some big teams along the way, like Valencia and Lyon.

"We have to be ready because they will come out fighting to make history in the Champions League."

Roma v Real Madrid factfile

Form: Roma have rediscovered their form since the return of Luciano Spalletti for a second spell as coach, stringing together four straight wins in Serie A including Friday's 3-1 victory at Carpi. Their recent European record makes for sorry reading, though, with just one victory in their last 11 attempts. Real Madrid have also changed their coach since last their last Champions League outing, with Zinedine Zidane overseeing five wins and a draw in his first six matches since replacing Rafa Benitez in the Spanish capital. The goals continue to flow for Real, with Cristiano Ronaldo on target twice in Saturday's 4-2 win at home to Athletic Bilbao keeping them just about within sight of Liga leaders Barcelona.

Coaches:

Roma - Luciano Spalletti (ITA) -- 56 yrs

Real Madrid - Zinedine Zidane (FRA) -- 43 yrs

Leading scorers in all competitions:

Roma - Miralem Pjanic (10 goals)

Real Madrid - Cristiano Ronaldo (32 goals)

Domestic league performance:

Roma - Fourth in Italy's Serie A, 10 points behind leaders Juventus. They are two points behind Fiorentina in the race for the third and final Champions League berth.

Real Madrid - Third in Spain's La Liga, four points adrift of Barcelona who also have a game in hand. Unbeaten in nine league games, averaging over four goals per outing during that stretch. Key game at home to neighbours Atletico, a point clear of Real in second, awaits them on February 27.

Group stage performances:

Roma - Second in Group E behind Barcelona

Real Madrid - Winners of Group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain

European Cup/Champions League best performances:

Roma - runners-up 1984

Real Madrid - winners 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014

Other honours:

Roma - 3x Italian champions, 9x Italian Cup winners, 2x Italian Supercup winners

Real Madrid - 32x Spanish champions, 19x Spanish Cup winners, 9x Spanish Supercup winners, 2x UEFA Cup winners, 2x UEFA Super Cup winners, 3x Intercontinental Cup winners, 1x Club World Cup winners

Previous meetings:

Roma 1-2 Real Madrid - 2001/02 Champions League first group stage

Real Madrid 1-1 Roma - 2001/02 Champions League first group stage

Roma 0-3 Real Madrid - 2002/03 Champions League first group stage

Real Madrid 0-1 Roma - 2002/03 Champions League first group stage

Real Madrid 4-2 Roma - 2004/05 Champions League group stage

Roma 0-3 Real Madrid - 2004/05 Champions League group stage

Roma 2-1 Real Madrid - 2007/08 Champions League last 16, first leg

Real Madrid 1-2 Roma - 2007/08 Champions League last 16, second leg

Gent v Wolfsburg factfile

Form: Gent remain firmly in contention to retain their Belgian league crown, with Friday's 2-0 win over Mouscron leaving the title-holders level on points with leaders Club Brugge. In Europe, Gent showed plenty of resolve as they rebounded from a slow start to register three straight wins to keep their Champions League adventure alive. However, the winter months haven't been kind to Wolfsburg whose 2-0 victory against promoted Ingolstadt on Saturday snapped their seven-match winless run in the Bundesliga. The Wolves have struggled mightily away from the Volkswagen Arena, with the Germans' defence breached three times in each of their last three away games.

Coaches:

Gent - Hein Vanhaezebrouck (BEL) -- 52 yrs

Wolfsburg - Dieter Hecking (GER) -- 51 yrs

Leading scorers in all competitions:

Gent - Sven Kums (13 goals)

Wolfsburg - Bas Dost (9 goals)

Domestic league performance:

Gent - Second in the Belgian Pro League, level on points with leaders Club Brugge with four games to play before the title-deciding play-offs. Have won four of their last five matches.

Wolfsburg - Eighth in the German Bundesliga, but just five points outside the top four despite a seven-match winless run prior to Saturday's defeat of Ingolstadt. Solid at home, but have won just once on their travels all season.

Group stage performances:

Gent - second in Group H behind Zenit St Petersburg

Wolfsburg - Winners of Group B ahead of PSV Eindhoven

European Cup/Champions League best performances:

Gent - last 16 2016 (first appearance)

Wolfsburg - last 16 2016

Other honours:

Gent - 1x Belgian champions, 3x Belgian Cup winners, 1x Belgian Supercup

Wolfsburg - 1x German champions, 1x German Cup, 1x German Supercup

Previous meetings:

None

With inputs from AFP

First Published On : Feb 17, 2016 16:29 IST

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