Roma: Italians have tools to shock Barcelona in Champions League
Few will give Roma a chance as they prepare for a UCL quarterfinal with Barcelona, but a surprise could be on the cards.
Eusebio Di Francesco might have expected more of a fuss in the summer. A legend for Roma as a player, he departed in 2001 after helping the club to its first Scudetto in eighteen years.
On his retirement in 2005, he began a coaching career that eventually saw him drag lowly Sassuolo all the way into Serie A.
Five years of consolidation had cemented the Neroverdi’s place amongst the elite, but it also made Di Francesco’s reputation.
Coiffed and bespectacled, he was a virile and youthful manager joining Roma as they embarked on an upward trajectory of their own.
There was only one name on everybody’s lips, though. Monchi’s arrival from Sevilla as Director of Football was greeted with the pomp and bombast of a world-class signing. More column inches were devoted to the Spaniard’s nous in the transfer market than anything about Roma’s new, understated coach.
Still, there was room for cautious optimism at the Stadio Olimpico.
The departure of Francesco Totti had been handled masterfully, whilst the club had moved early to replace Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger. In Rick Karsdorp and Maxime Gonalons, they had acquired two burgeoning talents with the potential to fire them beyond their second placed finish of last season.
The ensuing months, then, have been somewhat of a disappointment.
Roma have been mere observers in the closest title race for a decade, watching Napoli and Juventus duke it out for the Serie A crown. At the time of writing, Il Giallorossi are 17 points off the pace, but hold a five-point cushion inside the top four.
A win in the Champions League, however, would absolve the club of its domestic troubles.
Roma might have been given the most difficult opponent in the quarterfinals in Barcelona, but they have more than enough to progress and even win the competition outright.
“Lost its way”
“We’ve been extremely balanced over the past month,” admits John Solano, the editor of AS Roma Press.
“The club lost its way in attack from November to mid-February and found goals difficult to come by. After an adjustment to his tactics and approach, Di Francesco now has a much more fluid Roma.”
The recent results certainly support the hypothesis. The Romanisti have won their last four games, knocking Shakhtar Donetsk out of the Champions League before steamrolling Napoli 4-2 away at the San Paolo. Only AC Milan and Juventus have been in better form over the past two months.
According to Solano, Individual talents have blossomed, too.
“Radja Nainggolan is slowly rediscovering his world class form while Daniele De Rossi has turned back the clock,” he says.
“If Roma can continue with this balance and approach, they can be very dangerous.”
Edin Dzeko, widely linked with a move to Chelsea in January, is the team’s chief attacking threat. The Bosnian is ably supported by the bustling Diego Perotti and the magic of Cengiz Under.
The 20-year-old Under has been the revelation of Roma’s season, scoring six goals in 22 appearances and winning the club’s player of the month award for February.
Big Barca ask
In midfield, Dutch patroller Kevin Strootman looks to have put his injury ravages behind him, and Alessandro Florenzi’s engine just runs and runs and runs.
Alexander Kolarov remains one of the most devastating wing-backs on the continent, and Alisson Becker’s form in goal has him leading Manchester City sweeper keeper Ederson for a starting spot for Brazil at the forthcoming World Cup.
Everywhere you look in this Roma squad, there is talent with a point to prove and room to get better.
Nobody, however, is pretending that beating Barcelona is anything but a big ask. Los Cules are reinvented under Ernesto Valverde, stern and uncompromising whilst able to call on the brilliance of Lionel Messi.
Every Roma player will need to play the game of his life – over two legs – if an upset is to be secured.
The Giallorossi, however, should never be written off. They might be an underdog, but they have more than enough quality to surprise Barcelona and any other opponent to fails to treat them with suitable respect.
How can Roma upset Barcelona in the Champions League? Let us know in the comments section below.