Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde braced for Roma 'intensity'

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Monday he expects a Roma backlash in their Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday.

The Spanish league leaders have one foot in the semi-finals after romping to a 4-1 first leg victory in the Camp Nou last week as Roma proved partly the architects of their own downfall in scoring two own goals.

But Valverde isn’t counting his chickens against a side that hasn’t reached the semi-finals since 1984.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that extraordinary things can happen in a game,” said Valverde at Monday’s pre-match press conference in Rome.

“It’ll be the same kind of game as the first leg, but they’ll have even more intensity.

“History says that, at our level, it’s hard to score against us, but we can’t think that they don’t have a chance or they won’t try.

“A mistake, an excess of confidence, they could cost us dearly and we are at the doors of the semi-finals.”

He added: “We can’t think we’ve already won, it’s all to be decided. We got a good result at Camp Nou, we have the advantage, but we need to play as though it were 0-0.”

Roma managed to stifle Barca star Lionel Messi in the first leg, which was a source of pride for their coach Eusebio Di Francesco.

“Everyone was saying he wasn’t fit and suddenly he scored a hat-trick (in La Liga) on Sunday,” said Di Francesco.

“This means we managed to limit his movement between the lines. We have to reduce the space around him as much as possible, wherever he pops up on the pitch.”

Di Francesco has been boosted by the return of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who missed the first leg due to a muscular problem, and Turkish winger Cengiz Ünder, who was not in Barcelona either.

“I’m someone who always wants to play, even in pain,” said Nainggolan. “I decided to leave room for others, who were in a better condition than me, but now I’m better again.”

Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets is a doubt as he recovers from a fractured toe, but Valverde can count on the attacking duo of Messi and Luis Suarez.

“Every team and coach wants to stop the best players from hurting them. We have Messi, and that has an effect on the opposition,” said the Barcelona coach.

“They did well in the first leg, but we know he can always find the key to be decisive. Then of course we’ll have to be wary of (Edin) Dzeko and others.”

Barcelona last reached the semi-finals in 2015 when they won the title.

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Samuel Umtiti, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba set to return to Barcelona starting XI to face Roma

David Cooper 10/04/2018
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Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is faced with a selection dilemma despite a 4-1 advantage over Roma in their Champions League quarter-final clash.

Sergio Busquets remains a doubt after limping off during the last-16 clash with Chelsea due to a fractured toe.

The Spaniard trained last week but may not be fit in time to face the Italian side, meaning Paulinho is likely to partner Ivan Rakitic in central midfield.

Ousmane Dembele may be selected out wide although Valverde could opt for Sergi Roberto.

Meanwhile, Samuel Umtiti, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba are set to return to the starting XI after being rested during the 3-1 win over Leganes on Saturday.

LIKELY LINE-UP: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez

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Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo looking better than ever ahead of Juventus return

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Cristiano Ronaldo has already broken one record in this year’s Champions League but against Juventus in their quarter-final return on Wednesday he can edge closer to beating a bigger milestone of his own.

Ronaldo’s bicycle kick in Real Madrid’s 3-0 first leg victory last week ensured he passed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s feat by scoring in 10 consecutive Champions League games.

But the Portugese also now stands just three goals short of his best ever tally in a single European campaign, an achievement that would suggest this Ronaldo, aged 33, may even be the finest version yet.

His 14 goals so far have come over nine matches and featured doubles against APOEL, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

It means this is Ronaldo’s third most prolific Champions League showing to date already and, with Real almost certain to reach the semi-finals, he is unlikely to finish here.

When he posted 16 goals in the 2015-16 tournament and his personal best of 17 in 2013-14, both times Real were crowned champions.

“Cristiano is Cristiano, it’s always been like that,” coach Zinedine Zidane said after Ronaldo opened the scoring against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

“There’s no other player in the team that scores like he does.”

There is no doubt Ronaldo’s game is now more streamlined and therefore more geared towards goals than perhaps it has ever been before.

To preserve his fitness and energy, he accepts less touches and covers less ground. The touches he takes and the spaces he finds are aimed at creating the greatest chance of hitting the net.

Even Zidane’s system is suited to accommodating this predatorial Ronaldo, a 4-4-2, with Karim Benzema playing the supporting role and wingers, instructed to supply deliveries into the box.

When Ronaldo volleyed in from eight yards against Atletico, it was a simple cross to the back post from Gareth Bale that provided it.

In this mould, Ronaldo could be terrorising goalkeepers for a fair few years yet.

Zidane withdrew his star player in the 64th minute last weekend, despite the match being delicately poised at 1-1 after Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser.

The draw keeps Atletico four points clear of Real, and favourites for second place in La Liga, but Ronaldo going off early in a Madrid derby, without any protest, is a measure of how the Champions League is now all-encompassing for Los Blancos.

“He is intelligent,” Zidane said about Ronaldo’s substitution. “There are moments where he does not play and others where he does. He needs it, he knows that and he is better every day.”

Luka Modric and Karim Benzema were also left out of the starting line-up at the Santiago Bernabeu while Bale played 90 minutes, an indicator the Welshman is set for another European snub in midweek.

Bale’s first choice is still to regain favour under Zidane and then stay at Real this summer but his coach is showing little sign of softening.

Zidane made three substitutions last week in Turin but Bale remained rooted to the bench.

If Real score one, which they have not failed to do in 24 Champions League games, Juve will need four.

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