Zinedine Zidane’s storied history in the Champions League will feature a new chapter when his Real Madrid side travel to Roma for the first leg of their last-16 tie.
The World Cup-winning Frenchman scored a spectacular winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen as Madrid lifted the famous trophy in 2002 and was later Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in the club’s historic 10th Champions League success during the 2013-14 campaign.
Zidane has enjoyed a strong start to management at the Santiago Bernabeu since replacing Rafael Benitez last month – dropping only two points in six La Liga games.
But Madrid’s expulsion from the Copa del Rey and their four-point gap to in-form leaders Barcelona both heighten the need for a strong European finish, with French defender Raphael Varane hailing his new coach’s impact.
“He’s a coach who loves the sport and who likes to play attacking football. He likes to play quick possession football,” Varane told UEFA.com.
“He’s added in more physical work in the training sessions, which is allowing us to press higher up the field. He’s close to his players. He likes to chat with us and show us videos so that we can improve the finer details.
“The fact that he was a player and that he’s a young coach means that we have a close relationship. When I was a child I saw him play and he’s got an excellent reputation throughout the world and especially in France.”
Zidane is without Pepe (foot) and Gareth Bale (calf), although Marcelo is back in the squad following a shoulder problem. Experienced pair Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi are expected to return for Roma following calf troubles.
De Rossi and Totti both played when the sides last met in competitive action as the Serie A side progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2008 courtesy of a 4-2 aggregate win.
Roma have not reached the last eight since then and scraped into this season’s knockout stage after winning just one group game under Rudi Garcia.
However, Roma are much improved following Luciano Spalletti’s return to the dugout in January – only tasting to defeat to in-form champions and leaders Juventus since the Italian was confirmed as Garcia’s successor.
After Friday’s 3-1 win at Carpi, Spalletti said: “The players know which road they need to go down. This was a real performance and it will help us identify some key strengths that will take us far.
“The Champions League gives us extra motivation, so let’s keep hold of the buzz from this match and use that extra level of conviction that perhaps we’ve been missing.
“It’s going to be a very tough game but we want to go for it. We’ll definitely make sure we show up.”