Real Madrid roll over Roma as Cristiano silences his critics
A second-half screamer from Cristiano Ronaldo and a fine finish from Jesé Rodriguez make los blancos firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.
Real Madrid haven't knocked out an Italian opponent over two legs in Europe since 1987 when they put Napoli to the sword, but Roma will have to perform miracles in Madrid if they are to stretch that hex any further.
Cristiano Ronaldo answered his critics with a golazo away from home to tilt this tie in favour of Los Blancos; second-half substitute Jesé Rodriguez doubled the visitor's advantage on 85 minutes.
Zidane's Champions League debut as Real Madrid manager came against Roma, just as his Champions' League debut as a player did. Zizou faced the challenge with the same understated ease as he has all the other challenges he's faced so far on the blanco bench.
His opposite number Spalletti is enjoying a second coming with Roma and has had a similar transformative effect on the local side, who have been woeful of late. Roma kicked off with a cagey first five minutes, allowing Madrid to have all the ball as Benzema linked with James and Cristiano buzzed dangerously around the box.
The Roma phalanx started by falling back and allowing Real Madrid to play in front of them in what was either fear or a tactical ploy by Spalletti to spin a web 20-30 yards out and allow los blancos to over-commit.
Obviously, he's been watching Madrid, who can attack with such enthusiasm that their 4-3-3 can sometimes become a 4-0-6, worse still when wing-backs Marcelo and Carvajal voyage forward.
Zidane was on his feet and applauding when Cristiano flicked impudently to Marcelo who volleyed from an unusual angle, inches wide. Inches from a fantasy goal. Real Madrid felt like they were in control.
Classic catenaccio in casa for Roma, packing their defence and breaking through the speed of Salah, El Shaarawy, and Florenzi, chosen for purpose by Spalletti, and they concentrated attacks down Marcelo's wing, who had just returned from injury.
It nearly worked too. El Shaawary had the best chance of the game as he controlled a pass perfectly into his own path, putting him behind the madridista defence but Navas was saved an intervention by a superhero recovery by Raphael Varane. It seemed Spalletti had gotten his tactics spot-on.
In truth, there were few clear-cut chances in the first half, but Ronaldo stepped up with something spectacular in the 56th minute to power Madrid ahead. Receiving the ball wide of the box with his back to goal, he worked his way into a shooting position and welted it from outside the box.
The slightest of deflections took it spectacularly into the top corner, a goal of the highest quality, but it wasn't just the goal that mattered, it was the celebration; it was the way Ronaldo ran straight for Zidane and celebrated with the entire team piling in.
It's been a while since Real Madrid experienced a moment of unity like this.
Roma might feel a little hard done-by though, they had a legitimate penalty claim waved away when Carvajal steamed straight through Florenzi, and they worked themselves into scoring positions time and again but lacked precision.
A successful Champions League managerial debut was marked also with effective substitutions from Zidane - something that augurs well for the future - Kovacic had another quietly effective performance from the bench, Casemiro saw the game out and Jesé came on and sealed it in the 85th minute with a fine low finish across Szczęsny.
There was a sense that things seem to be coming together at the right time for Real Madrid, it was without doubt Zidane and Cristiano's night; but at times this match left you wondering if Zizou's exhilarating you-try-we-try style will be fatal against superior opponents.
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