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Spalletti relishing United test

AS Roma and Manchester United FC may be assured of qualification but home coach Luciano Spalletti still expects a "tough contest" with the Group F winners.

Sir Alex addresses the media on the eve of the fixture against Roma
Sir Alex addresses the media on the eve of the fixture against Roma ©Getty Images

Rome is at a standstill. A lorry drivers' strike has sparked general panic among motorists, who have spent most of the day clogging up the highways and byways of the Eternal City queuing for fast-diminishing supplies of petrol. But if there is alarm on the streets there are no visible signs of disquiet at the Trigoria training ground, where AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti rests safe in the knowledge that his side are already through to the UEFA Champions League first knockout round ahead of the visit of Manchester United FC.

No charity
A 4-1 success against FC Dynamo Kyiv two weeks ago secured Roma's qualification from Group F as runners-up behind Wednesday's opponents United, who themselves clinched first place on the same evening thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's added-time winner in the 2-1 defeat of Sporting Clube de Portugal. Their progress assured, both teams will likely rotate their squads with United – visitors to Liverpool FC on Sunday – expected to give Danny Simpson, Jonny Evans, Gerard Piqué and Chris Eagles further experience on the European stage.

'Best situation'
Yet while Roma's Spalletti may have promised to return Sir Alex Ferguson's Matchday 2 hospitality by "sharing a good bottle of Chianti after the match", he is prepared to take his charity only so far. "If we aren't up for a match like this, against one of the best sides in the world when under no pressure, then we are not a top-quality team," he said. "It's the best situation a player can ask for – there is nothing to fear because there is nothing to lose." Spalletti will have to do without suspended defender Marco Cassetti and the injured Simone Perrotta (groin), while Matteo Ferrari, Antunes and Mauro Esposito are all hopeful of starting places.

'Tough contest'
Roma slipped five points behind Serie A leaders FC Internazionale Milano after Sunday's 1-1 draw at AS Livorno Calcio, Diego Tristán cancelling out Daniele De Rossi's early header. Conversely, United – who, like Roma, are second in their domestic standings – moved to within a point of Premier League leaders Arsenal FC following a 4-1 win against Derby County FC. Although Sir Alex has left Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo and Wes Brown at home ahead of the weekend trip to Anfield, Spalletti predicts "a tough contest".

Bad memories
"Luciano is right," said Sir Alex. "Manchester United will be 100 per cent committed. That's always our demand whether we're playing our young players or old ones." With the Giallorossi attempting to avenge the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford in October, not to mention their 7-1 humbling in last April's quarter-final, an exciting match is in prospect. "A good display will help us forget that defeat," admitted Spalletti. "Bad results can weigh heavy on the mind and carry over into subsequent games."

Captain Rooney
The United manager has made Rooney, who boasts three goals from as many appearances against the Giallorossi, captain for the first time. "He's been pestering me for weeks but I've no qualms because he has similar qualities to Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane in terms of his determination and spirit," said the Scot. "He's developing all the time."