AS Roma probably had aspirations of getting beyond the Champions League Round of 16 this season. Then they landed in a group with Barcelona, and they've drawn Real Madrid in the first knockout stage. Poor Roma. It's really not going according to plan for them.
Given how far they are off the pace of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it's hard to believe Real Madrid won this tournament only a couple of seasons ago. However, when they completed La Décima in 2014, they did so under the management of Carlo Ancelotti, football's outstanding pragmatist and a three-time Champions League winner as a coach.
Alas, they replaced him with Rafael Benítez, a man rather more dogmatic than his predecessor, despite being considerably less creative. The upshot is Madrid now play rather rigid, predictable football, and the players are reportedly unhappy as a result. Rumours of a rift between the coach and star player Cristiano Ronaldo sound more than plausible. Madrid certainly have the personnel to make a deep run into this tournament, but with their current playing style, it's hard to see them resisting the might of Europe's very best.
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Even an unhappy Cristiano Ronaldo scores goals, and plenty of them. The records have continued to tumble for the Portuguese attacker this season, including overtaking Raúl as the club's all-time top scorer. He's still got the power and the pace to terrorise opposing defences, and not even the shackles that Benítez seems to have placed on this team are enough to keep him quiet. When he's on form, they've got a chance of beating anyone, though that reliance says as much about their current predicament as Ronaldo himself.
Roma repeatedly made life hard on themselves in the Champions League group stage. They threw away a two-goal lead against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 10 minutes of their away fixture, went down three goals inside of 30 minutes away to BATE, and drew BATE 0-0 on the final day when a win would have guaranteed their progression. But despite those slip-ups, Bayer Leverkusen couldn't capitalize, and Roma ultimately got the best result they could have hoped for by finishing second in a group that contained Barcelona.
While Roma are among the most talented teams in the runners-up pot, Real Madrid won't be too concerned about drawing them. They've failed to win in their last four consecutive Serie A matches and currently find themselves in fifth place, seven points behind an Inter Milan team they were expected to finish above this season.
Key player: Radja Nainggolan
Roma's defense has been poor this season, and it's only going to get better if Nainggolan is at his best. The Belgian box-to-box midfielder can look like Roma's best player when he's on form, but he's had a couple of nightmare games this season. Against Madrid, Roma will need him to be spectacular in both transition phases.
Rafa Benítez might be having an awful season, but he's still a very good coach in knockout soccer, and Roma have been shaky. Madrid by multiple goals.