Real Madrid begin their defence of the Champions League as they entertain Roma at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on Wednesday night.
An unbeaten start to La Liga, scoring eight while conceding only three, means that Julen Lopetegui’s side are clear favourites for the Group G clash – at least that’s what the paper suggests.
Roma, however have work to do in Serie A, winning only one of their opening four games, conceding seven in the progress. They travel to Madrid a very different side to the one that reached the semi-finals of this competition at the expense of Barcelona just a few months ago.
Here are four key battles which could determine the outcome of this one.
4. Edin Dzeko vs Sergio Ramos
Pivotal in Roma’s brilliant run last season, Edin Dzeko will once again be called upon to produce magic. Scoring eight and assisting a further five in last year’s competition Dzeko has the ability to run defences ragged with his bullying physique and lethal finishing.
Starting the season with a goal and assist, Dzeko will eye the Bernabéu as the perfect venue to kick start his season.
The man looking to stop him is Sergio Ramos. The hardened defender is certainly no pushover and although has a tendency to lose his temper, he is up there with the worlds best.
Dzeko will know he has to be at his upmost best to get anything out of Wednesday night.
3. Steven Nzonzi vs Luka Modric
Nzonzi often goes under the radar. Linked with a move to Arsenal after winning the World Cup with France, the former Seville man opted for a summer move to Roma.
Despite only appearing in two of Roma’s opening four Serie A matches, the dogged midfielder has a successful pass completion rate of 90.8% and will need to replicate this on Wednesday night to prevent his opposite number seeing much of the ball.
Modric, fresh of the back of outstanding World Cup exploits, leading Croatia to the final is one of the worlds best in possession. Capable of playing a defense splitting pass this midfield maestro has all the tools to unlock the Roma defense and it will be up to Nzonzi to stop him.
2. Stephan El Shaarawy vs Dani Carvajal
Once lauded as one of Europe’s brightest prospects, the fairy-tale career hasn’t quite worked out for Stephan El Shaarawy.
However he is now enjoying something of a renaissance in the Italian capital. Despite, having been left out of the Italian national squad for over a year, the 25-year-old still has time to change his fortunes.
Known for his skill and ability to play on both the right and left of the attack, El Shaarawy can cause significant problems for the Madrid defence.
Known for his attacking prowess, Carvajal will need to have his defensive wits about him on Wednesday night.
1. Gareth Bale vs Aleksandar Kolarov
Gareth Bale has always possessed the tools to be a world beater. Now he has the license. Blessed with blistering speed, power and the ability to do the unthinkable on instinct, he truly is one of the most dangerous players on the planet.
The flying Welshman has already netted on three occasions this season and not many would bet against him to netting again on Wednesday night.
However, one area not as distinguished is Bale’s defending. The man looking to take advantage is the well-traveled Kolarov. Formerly of Manchester City, Kolarov has started all four of Roma’s Serie A matches this season.
A powerful yet rugged fullback, Kolarov will certainty not give Bale an easy ride. Positive in possession, Kolarov often favors a darting forward run and is not afraid to take opportunities to shoot at goal with his powerful strike.
Whoever comes out on top in these key battles may very well end up having the final say in Wednesday’s match.