Real Madrid took control of their Champions League last-16 tie as goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jese Rodriguez secured a 2-0 win at Roma on Wednesday.
Marcelo recovered from a shoulder injury in time for the trip to the Stadio Olimpico, with Isco coming in for Mateo Kovacic to constitute Los Blancos’ only other change from the side which defeated Athletic Bilbao 4-2 over the weekend.
Roma, on the other hand, were without their midfield general Daniele De Rossi, who was only good enough for the substitutes’ bench, while former Sevilla man Diego Perotti started as a false nine, despite Edin Dzeko and Francesco Totti’s presence in the matchday squad.
The Italians came out on top the last time these two teams locked horns competitively, back in 2008, when they prevailed 4-2 on aggregate at the same of the competition, also under boss Luciano Spalletti, but their most recent matchup with a Spanish team resulted in a 6-1 defeat to Barcelona during the tournament’s group stage.
Nonetheless, Madrid were knocked out from last season’s Champions League semi-finals by Juventus and had not beaten an Italian team in the knockouts since 1987, and their barren run looked to continue on the basis of their first-half showing.
Both teams adopted attacking tactics in a bid to gain early control of the tie, but with patience eluding them and possession continually breaking down, they ultimately cancelled one another out.
Marcelo came closest for Madrid with a speculative attempt on the volley, which whistled just wide of Wojciech Szczesny’s left-hand post, while Roma were left to rue Stephan El Shaarawy’s hesistance when being released in the clear as Raphael Varane dashed out of nowhere to slide the ball from under his opponent’s feet.
Madrid’s defending was not vintage by any means, but the wastefulness of El Shaarawy – who lacked the composure to test Keylor Navas one-on-one a second time – and Salah, the Egyptian continually squandering good positions, came in stark contrast to what was being offered by Los Merengues’ wide men.
So good was it, that Ronaldo proceeded to cut inside from the left with his trademark flick after he latched onto a perfectly-weighted Marcelo through ball, before bending a thunderous drive past Szczesny, albeit aided by a deflection.
Ronaldo then almost doubled Madrid’s lead, but his chipped pullback, having beaten the Polish goalkeeper, failed to be tucked away by a teammate, while his header at the backpost from James’ deep cross whistled a matter of centimetres wide of the target.
Roma remained in the game thanks to the Portuguese’s profligacy, but neither William Vainqueur’s cannoned effort, which swerved inches wide of Navas’ top-left corner, nor a potential penalty on Florenzi, who had been upended by Dani Carvajal’s follow-through in the box, proved worthy of an equaliser.
It was then left to Jese, moments after coming off the bench, to run at his marker Lucas Digne and fire an angled drive across Szczesny and into the bottom-right corner of the Pole’s net.
Roma 0-2 Real Madrid
Ronaldo 57, Jese 86
Roma: Szczesny; Florenzi (Totti 87), Manolas, Rudiger, Digne; Vainqueur (De Rossi 77), Nainggolan; Salah, Pjanic, El Shaarawy (Dzeko 64); Perotti
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco (Kovacic 64); James (Jese 82), Benzema, Ronaldo (Casemiro 89)
Referee: Kralovec [CZE]