Madrid’s Champions League flame still burning

Real Madrid secured safe passage through to the last eight in the Champions League with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory over Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday night. Having won with a similar scoreline in the first leg in Rome, the result was not unexpected for Zinedine Zidane’s side.
The Primera Liga title is already all but out of reach for Los Blancos, and with their Copa del Rey disqualification meaning an absence of domestic silverware, an eleventh Champions League is now a pre-requisite to avoid history recording the season as anything other than a total disaster at the Bernabeu.
Tuesday’s win and the 4-0 aggregate outcome sounds emphatic and in many ways it was. Zidane’s men had 38 shots on goal compared with their opponents’ 11, with 11 on target against Roma’s four. Edging possession by 55 to 45 per cent, Los Blancos completed 557 passes to Roma’s 375.
Roma had been soundly beaten 6-1 by Barcelona in the group stage at Camp Nou, with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi each scoring twice, but never looked like succumbing to a similar fate at the Bernabeu. Less wasteful finishing by Luciano Spalletti’s men might even have led to a very different scoreline as Madrid rode their luck.
Midfielder Mohamed Salah had an excellent game for the Italians, exploiting to the full the wide-open spaces left by the high defensive line played by Madrid’s back four. Marcelo was especially guilty of sacrificing defence at the expense of attack. Better sides than Roma, with more ruthless strikers – Barcelona or Bayern Munich, for example – would have punished them.
In the event, it was Madrid who punished Roma’s profligacy. Salah missed two great goalscoring opportunities and Edin Dzeko a third as second-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez saw Los Blancos through to the quarter-finals for the sixth consecutive season. Madrid also put an end to a run of eight defeats by Serie A teams in two-legged European ties.
Ronaldo’s strike took him to 90 Champions League goals in his 57th appearance in the knockout stages – a competition record – with his 13th strike of the current campaign. The Portuguese hitman also showed his lesser seen selfless side, supplying the assist for Rodriguez to seal the win.
Another plus for Madrid against Roma was the form of Keylor Navas, as it has been throughout the season. The Costa Rican goalkeeper has yet to concede a goal in eight Champions League appearances and made some crucial saves to keep Roma at bay, but he will need better protection from his defensive colleagues against more potent opposition, with two difficult ties to be one to reach the final in Milan at the end of May.
Ronaldo, who has hailed Navas as one of the team’s best players, has said publicly that he and his teammates are “ready” to lift the European Cup this season to achieve an unprecedented Undecima. Much could depend on the draw, the full contents of which remain uncertain with four last 16 ties yet to be completed.
Of the sides already having booked a quarter-final berth, Zidane will no doubt consider either Benfica or Wolfsburg as beatable opponents, while Paris Saint-Germain – already narrowly beaten by Madrid at the group stage – pose the greatest threat after eliminating Chelsea on Wednesday night.
Real Madrid are by no means the strongest side remaining in the Champions League, but the Coach and the players have to believe they are the best, if only to maintain a pulse in a season that may already have expired for them.