19:45 KO (BST); September 12th; Stadio Olimpico (Rome, Italy)
Getting off to a good start in the Champions League is pivotal if your team is to have any involvement in the post-Christmas stages of the competition.
Atletico Madrid have become almost Champions League specialists in recent years, with Diego Simeone’s side having a defensive resilience that makes them hard to break down.
Roma failed to make the group stages last season, losing to Porto in the play-off, so this is already an improvement in terms of performance in 2016/17.
Roma are 10th in Serie A after two games, with a game in hand on many teams both above and below them. Losing Mohamed Salah and failure to secure the signing of Riyad Mahrez will surely impact the fortunes of Eusebio Di Francesco’s team.
Atlético put five past Las Palmas between draws away to Valencia and Girona, respectively. Arguably, Atlético have had a good few months. Diego Simeone has just signed a contract extension, they kept hold of Antoine Griezmann and have some stellar young players breaking into the first team.
Admittedly, they didn’t sign Diego Costa, but he wouldn’t have been able to play until January, so they may well go back in with another bid in the winter window.
Last Time Out
ROMA 1-3 Inter Milan [Serie A]
Roma haven’t played since the 26th August due to their game this side of the international break, against Sampdoria, being postponed after flash flooding in Italy.
Mauro Icardi put the Giallorossi to the sword, scoring twice as the ex-giants came from behind to take all three points.
Eusebio’s side hit the post twice when looking to extend their lead but Spalletti’s Inter were the better side and grabbed a deserved victory.
Valencia 0-0 ATLETICO MADRID [La Liga]
Simeone’s side were left frustrated after this fixture as they failed to put the ball in the Valencia net, even with 13 shots at goal.
They have some serious firepower, however, and it is almost certain that failing to score won’t be a regular feature of this Atleti side.
Emerson and Patrik Schick are both expected to miss out, but the versatile Alessandro Florenzi could make his return from injury after almost twelve months out.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
The likes of Godin and Gimenez were both rested against Valencia at the weekend, so both of them are expected to start on Tuesday night. Antoine Griezmann missed out through suspension against Valencia but is available for this game.
Key Battle: Kevin Strootman vs Saul
Roma manager Eusebio has already stated that Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman will be crucial to their chances not only in this game but of progressing in the Champions League. His passing ability is a danger to many sides, particularly if they do not press highly or quickly enough.
Given the time and space, Strootman will control the tempo of the game, something Atlético cannot afford to let him do.
One player responsible for ensuring that this doesn’t happen is Spanish prospect Saul Niguez. He was immense for the Spanish U21 side over the summer and will hope to continue his fine form after agreeing to a nine-year contract extension with the side from the Spanish capital at the start of the summer.
However, Strootman has not enjoyed an amazing start to the Serie A season, with an average rating of just 6.52, according to WhoScored.com. Saul is averaging four tackles per game, and 2.7 interceptions, contributing to an average rating of 7.45.
Whoever wins this midfield battle will stand their team in good stead.
Atlético’s defensive resilience
Roma may have a lethal striker in the shape of Edin Dzeko, but Atlético are expected to play their strongest centre-back pairing tomorrow with Oblak in goal, so it could be a very tough night for the Giallorossi. The Bosnian forward will look for crosses into the box from his teammates, but he may end up being almost bullied by Godin and Gimenez.
Simeone’s successful teams, both European and domestically, have been built upon for a high-quality backline, including the likes of Godin with several centre-back partners across his time in charge. They have always had that top class forward and winger to drive the team forward, but the defence has been the basis for the success with the combination between Griezmann and Carrasco not yet on an elite level.
Staying level with Chelsea
It is highly unlikely that Chelsea won’t win tomorrow in their group game. Conte’s men face a side far inferior to their own, but these two teams need to keep pace with the London side and therefore try to get through and avoid one of the first placed group teams in the last sixteen round.
This will either lead to a very cagey affair, which will suit Simeone’s men perfectly.
They are used to sitting deep in tight encounters and grinding out a small win which can be just as crucial as hammering a team 4-0. A more open affair will be slightly more concerning for the Madrid side, with Godin’s obvious lack of pace. I would still expect them to win, but it will be more difficult that way.
Aside from being winless in their last six Champions League fixtures, Roma will also have to deal with the fact it is 17 days since they last played a competitive fixture. They should be fitter in terms of condition, but that lack of match sharpness may do them some damage.
They wouldn’t have had a friendly planned in place of the Sampdoria postponement and, even if they had, it isn’t the same and players would still not have been as sharp. Atlético have played more recently, albeit in a 0-0 draw, but also have the added incentive of trying to ensure a place in the team for this Saturday as they play their first game in the new stadium.
PREDICTION: Roma 0-2 Atlético Madrid
Atlético just have that extra quality when compared to the Italian side. Griezmann, Godin and Oblak are on another level compared to Dzeko, Manolas and Alisson, for example.
Roma are likely to be nervous with their recent European record and combining that with a huge gap between competitive fixtures could spell disaster for the Giallorossi.
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