MADRID: Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is preparing for his biggest game since taking charge as the Spanish giants eye a place in the Champions League quarterfinals against Roma on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Madrid hold a commanding 2-0 lead from the first leg in the Italian capital three weeks ago, but have little room for error with the Champions League their last realistic hope of a trophy this season after a poor domestic campaign.
“For me it is the most important game because it is the next one,” said Zidane.
“The only thing we have to do is win the game tomorrow. That is our goal, we need to think solely about tomorrow’s game.
“Many people think it is going to be easy and it won’t be.”
Indeed, Roma have won their last seven Serie A games since coach Luciano Spalletti’s return to the club in January to propel themselves back up to third.
Spalletti believes his players are capable of the “impossible” and will be encouraged by the fact Real scraped through after losing 4-3 at home to Schalke at the same stage of the competition last season having also won the first leg 2-0 away.
“All coaches are demanding, but I ask for the impossible,” said Spalletti.
“Yesterday in training I saw the team was open to this chance, although it appears impossible.
“They have the advantage that we have to force something because the result of the first leg penalized us too much for what you saw on the pitch.
“We had bad luck in the small details, so we will play like we did in the previous match.”
Madrid also sit third in La Liga, 12 points adrift of runaway leaders Barcelona and four behind city rivals Atletico.
However, Zidane’s men did at least bounce back from their derby defeat against Atletico last weekend with a 7-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo on Saturday with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring four.
‘I want Cristiano’
Ronaldo also opened the scoring in the first leg against Roma to take his tally in the Champions League to 12 in just seven games this season.
Nevertheless, the three-time World Player of the Year was jeered by his own fans early in the second half against Celta before exploding with four goals in 28 minutes.
And Zidane laughed off suggestions Ronaldo could be entering his final few months at the Bernabeu before a big-money move at the end of the season.
“I am the coach and I want Cristiano,” said the Frenchman, who also played for Madrid between 2001 and 2006.
“They whistled me and everyone else. It is not questioning the player, it is a fan base that always wants more from their players and that is good for the players to improve and always do well.
“In the end, the fans love the players and that is the most important thing. I always see a full stadium and that says a lot.”
Ronaldo is expected to be joined in attack by Gareth Bale on Tuesday after the Welshman came off the bench to score against Celta in his first appearance in six weeks after a calf injury.
Bale wore socks with holes ripped out around his calves in an attempt to ease the pressure on his muscles after suffering a slew of injuries during his three years at Madrid.
“I’m very happy after a few difficult weeks. It is great to win in this way, to come back, play and score,” said Bale.
Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Marcelo are also expected to return to the starting line-up after injury as all three featured in training on Monday.
French international Karim Benzema remains sidelined by a thigh injury, so Jese Rodriguez — who scored the crucial second goal in Rome — looks set to deputise alongside Ronaldo and Bale.
Roma are without Daniele De Rossi and German defender Antonio Ruediger, who are both sidelined due to injury.