Luciano Spalletti has called on AS Roma to shrug off their recent torpor and produce the "big performance" needed to gain the upper hand over Real Madrid CF.
Luciano Spalletti has called on his AS Roma players to shrug off their recent torpor and produce the "big performance" needed to gain the upper hand in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round meeting with Real Madrid CF.
'Not at our best'
With two defeats in their last three Serie A outings, including Saturday's 1-0 reverse at Juventus, Roma's preparations have been less smooth than Spalletti would have wished. "We have to recover our energy, our desire, our belief and our fighting spirit," said Spalletti. "There are ups and downs in any team's performance over a season. We've not been at our best but we just have to keep going."
Size of task
"Tensions" in the home camp were highlighted by a training-ground dispute between Christian Panucci and Alberto Aquilani on Monday, and Spalletti certainly appreciates the size of the task facing Serie A's second-placed team. Madrid have beaten Roma on their three previous visits here – most recently a 3-0 success in 2004/05 – and Spalletti said: "[Madrid coach Bernd] Schuster has put together a very well-balanced side, one that can open you up easily. They have so much individual quality, but we also have the ability to cause them problems. We are going to need two big performances because we are playing a great team."
Though top of the Spanish league, Madrid have not had things all their own way recently either. Saturday's 2-1 loss at Real Betis Balompié was their second successive slip-up on their travels, and Schuster said: "There are moments where we take things too easy and pay the price. We cannot make the same mistake again here." The German is ready to gamble on the fitness of defender Gabriel Heinze, absent since 6 January with a thigh strain but expected to partner Fabio Cannavaro in the centre, with Miguel Torres filling in for the newly injured Marcelo at left-back. "I don't know if he can manage the whole game," admitted Schuster, "but it is important to have him at our disposal."
'Typical Italian team'
Schuster describes Roma as a "typical Italian team", explaining: "I don't see a particular attacking philosophy. They work hard and are very compact. It is very difficult to score here in this stadium and against this team." Madrid found the Stadio Olimpico net twice in a 2-2 draw with S.S. Lazio in the autumn – Ruud van Nistelrooy, fit to start after his substitute's appearance against Betis, got both – yet their record of just one win in nine UEFA Champions League away matches does not augur well. "We are going to try and ensure we have the chance to finish the game in our own stadium," said Schuster.
Roma are unbeaten in eight UEFA Champions League home games (and have won their last six matches here in all competitions) and also welcome back defender Juan. However, they may require talismanic striker Francesco Totti to rediscover his touch following struggles for form and fitness if they are to build the first-leg lead they covet. "I have complete faith in Francesco's ability," said Spalletti, hoping his captain can lead Roma out of their recent dip.