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AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti described Manchester United FC as "the best side in the world" on the eve of the teams' UEFA Champions League quarter-final rematch – but he is determined that the generosity ends there. Nobody connected to the Italian club needs reminding of the Giallorossi's fate 12 months ago, their 2-1 first-leg advantage swept away in a 7-1 drubbing in Manchester. Given United got the better of their rivals in this season's group stage too – winning 1-0 at home then drawing 1-1 away – it is little wonder Spalletti was so lavish in his praise.
"On paper, Manchester United are the best side in the world. They have quality everywhere, not only in attack but also in defence. They are good in choosing their players – they can pick the best ones because of their financial power, but they are also good at getting the best out of all of them." Citing the Premier League leaders' speed on the counterattack as a particular menace, Spalletti added that they "can be more dangerous away than at home" but stressed that his charges would provide tougher resistance this time. "We are not mere spectators, we want to show we deserve to be here," he said. Joking about the fine Tuscan wine he presented Sir Alex Ferguson with last term, the coach said that he would "stop making gifts on and off the pitch" – and certainly Roma's impressive elimination of Real Madrid CF in the last round lends weight to Spalletti's conviction that "we are more mature".
Sir Alex agreed with that view – "they are without question a better team this year" – but the big question for Roma, second in Serie A, is how they will cope without injured talisman Francesco Totti, who complained of a thigh problem after Saturday's disappointing 1-1 draw at Cagliaro Calcio. "We will miss his goals and the extraordinary things he can do on the pitch but I'm sure the team are ready to take greater responsibility as they've done in the past when the captain was missing," said Spalletti, who also misses injured defender Juan and suspended midfielder Simone Perrotta. "Mirko Vučinić has helped us to win several games when he has been called on," added the coach of Totti's replacement Vučinić, the Montenegro forward who struck the winner in Roma's first-leg victory over United on 4 April last year.
Ronaldo on song
By contrast with Totti, United's own talisman Cristiano Ronaldo could not be in ruder health, scoring his 35th goal of a remarkable campaign in Saturday's 4-0 success against Aston Villa FC. "We're absolutely delighted with his incredible improvement and goalscoring performances - it is a big advantage to us," said Sir Alex of the Portugal forward, who had not scored in the UEFA Champions League prior to last season's quarter-final but who is the present campaign's joint-leading marksman with six goals. It is not just Ronaldo on song either: United have won seven of their last eight games. "Form is important and I think our form is very good," said the Scot, who is missing the injured Nani but can call on the fit-again Edwin van der Sar. Looking ahead to his eighth UEFA Champions League quarter-final as United manager, Sir Alex added: "The only advantage we have is we have been here twice in the last year. The first time we came here, the first 20 minutes we found very difficult - it took time to adjust to the way they really pressed the game." He will hope for third time lucky at the Stadio Olimpico but United's record of just two wins in 14 previous visits to Italy suggests not all the history is against Roma.
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