19:45 BST, Tuesday 10th April, Stadio Olimpico (Rome, Italy), Sky Sports
Eusebio Di Francesco will feel somewhat aggrieved that his side are all but eliminated from the Champions League before their second leg against Barcelona has even kicked off.
With the first two goals coming through almost tragicomic own goals, Barcelona’s path to the semifinals seemed to be fated. Even an Edin Dzeko goal at 3-0 down offers little hope going into the second leg with Luis Suarez picking up a late goal to take the final score to 4-1.
Of course, where there is life, there is hope. But in this case, the hope is fading fast. Barcelona, for all their new-found pragmatism, continue to find themselves unbeaten in La Liga.
While you might fancy that a 4-1 lead is not impossible to overcome, you might also feel that the only chance of it being pulled off would be if the teams were reversed and it was Barcelona not Roma who had the mountain to climb.
Last Time Out
AS Roma 0-2 Fiorentina (Serie A)
Fiorentina’s recent revival under Stefano Pioli continued with little heed to Roma’s Champions League pretentions, running out 2-0 winners at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Goals from Marco Benassi and Giovanni Simeone – whose powerful run between Kostas Manolas and Bruno Peres will have Di Francesco worried about the effect Lionel Messi could have on Tuesday – put the game out of the reach of the Giallorossi.
Fortunately for the home side, results around the league went their way with many of the teams pushing for Champions League spots dropping points.
Barcelona 3-1 Leganes (La Liga)
Lionel Messi warmed up for the Champions League quarterfinal second with a hat trick against lower table Leganes on Saturday evening.
Scoring one of his characteristic free kicks, the Argentine put his side two goals up in the 32nd minute with a smartly taken finish at the near post which evaded Ivan Cuellar in the Leganes goal.
When Nabil El Zhar deflected the ball in for the away side off the helpless Sergi Roberto, the Blaugrana will have been fearing the worst.
However, although Leganes clung onto a one-goal deficit for the next twenty minutes, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened, Messi nipping in between two defenders to poke the ball past Cuellar to wrap up his hat trick.
AS Roma Lineup
Di Francesco will be pleased to have Radja Nainngolan back to fitness to control the midfield for Roma.
Elsewhere, Rick Karsdorp and Diego Perotti are both out through injury. Beyond that, the Roma squad no suspensions to contend with.
Although Sergio Busquets is set to make a return to the team, Ernesto Valverde will make a late decision on his inclusion in the matchday squad. If he doesn’t get selected, expect to see Paulinho replace him.
With Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta being rested on Saturday, they will return into the starting XI on Tuesday.
Key Battle: Kostas Manolas (AS Roma) vs Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Whenever Lionel Messi plays, the opposition’s key battle will be with him. Often, though, the question is not “Who will stop him?” but “How will they stop him?”
One thing that is often overlooked about Messi is how economical he is with his movement. At times, the Argentine virtuoso finds space not through intelligent movement but through an intelligent lack of movement that tricks his opposition into leaving him alone.
Once finding space in the middle in this way, the Barcelona man drifts into dangerous areas, popping up in the least expected places.
For Kostas Manolas, the real trick will be tracking Messi from defence as he looks for pockets of space in the midfield area.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It is hard enough to track the player you are marking without thinking about the movement of another.
If he can do this, though, Roma could have a chance of keeping Messi quiet. That only leaves the business of scoring three goals to contend with…
How do Roma judge this one?
The beauty of dual-leg football is that by the time the second leg comes around team’s tactics are decided somewhat by external factors.
On Tuesday, Roma need to score at least three goals. As a result, Di Francesco is forced to adopt an attacking mentality. However, this must be balanced with a need to avoid conceding.
With Barcelona likely wanting to come out strong and put the game out of reach early on, Roma would do well to adopt a more cautious approach for the early stretches of the game before looking for the goal.
It’s a fine balance to strike, though, and Barcelona will be doing everything they can to upset Di Francesco’s plans.
Do Barcelona look to rest players?
Whilst Barcelona are not out of the woods yet, there is no one who would argue that they are not strong favourites to go through.
As a result, Ernesto Valverde will be thinking long-term, looking to ease past Roma with minimum effort and with maximum return on player fitness.
With Philippe Coutinho cup-tied, there is a sense that Valverde knows he doesn’t need to worry about Andres Iniesta. However, elsewhere the Barcelona manager will be looking to rest key players where he can.
Sergio Busquets has recently come back from injury so expect to see him come off early if Barcelona score early on. Jordi Alba, too, with his high workrate, could be brought off in the second half if the job is done.
Predictions: AS Roma 1-2 Barcelona
Although this is a strong Roma side, their need for goals will be their undoing. As they push forward, they will eventually cede good counter-attacking opportunities and Barcelona will not let them pass easily.
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