We'll start out this campaign with a quote from one of the most respected minds and adjudgers of talent in football today, Arsene Wenger:
With his side preparing to face Sevilla in the first round of group matches, Wenger was asked who he thought could come up on the rails to mount a surprise challenge for the Champions League.
"It could be Roma," said Wenger.
"They were very disappointing against Manchester United last year but they were very, very surprising against Lyon. It was the first year they were in the competition and have learned a lot. They have basic technical quality to do well."
Now, this isn't the first time M. Joga Bonito has praised Roma's quality to the high heavens. In fact, at this point he may well be a card-carrying member over at Popolo Giallorosso. It's no small thing to have Arsene not only continuously compliment your team, but also pick you to make a run for the Champions League. This coming from a guy who sees the likes of Liverpool, ManYoo and CSKA London on a regular basis - and one who made it to the final only 15 months ago.
So, with Wenger's nut-hugging aside, we move onto the squad taking the field at the Olimpico this evening. Missing is the rock solid old man and his overlaps, but luckily enough, a few of the big boys are finally back in the equation.
Curci, Julio Sergio, Doni, Cicinho, Juan, Mexes, Antunes, Ferrari, Tonetto, Cassetti, Pizarro, Aquilani, Taddei, Giuly, De Rossi, Esposito, Perrotta, Barusso, Mancini, Brighi, Totti, Vucinic.
Christian Panucci is out, but Doni has recovered enough to play, and that's no small miracle. The defensive pairing will be Philippe Mexes and Juan, with Max Tonetto out on the left. One would guess tonight calls for the full debut of Cicinho, but who the hell knows with TGIP. We would also assume Daniele De Rossi and King Alberto will get the starts in front of the back four, but David Pizarro has to get out the kinks sometime and Dynamo is certainly the weakest team Roma will play over the next 2 weeks, so it's possible he either starts or plays beaucoup minutes. Simone Perrotta will start, and the wings could be a question. Two of Taddei, Mancini and Ludovic Giuly will start, and given TGIP's recent reluctance to use players who haven't adapted to the squad 150% due to either recent arrival of injury, I'm beginning to think it will be Lulu Gulu and The Aurelio. Up top is, well, that Totti guy. He should be ok.
Predicted Roma XI:
Cicinho, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto;
De Rossi, Aquilani;
Taddei, Perrotta, Gulu;
If you don't know by now, you will after about 5 minutes.
Динамо Київ Comes To Town
The fellas from Ukraine step up as Roma starts that 7 week gauntlet from calcio hell. While it won't be an easy game, it will be the easiest game of the next two weeks, which I suppose is some sort of consolation. More of the "Hey, you don't have a brain tumor, which is good news, but you do have testicular cancer and we're going to have to commandeer a nut" variety (I have no idea how you could get one diagnosis from tests for the other, nor do I have any idea how one would go about commandeering a nut). But anyways, here's what I know about Динамо Київ, which isn't much:
i) They are the "4 seed", but they still have a ton of experience and guile to fall back on. They're one of the perennial favorites in the Ukrainian Premier League and currently stand 3rd after 9 games - even though they will eventually finish second to Shakhtar Donetsk for the title (not much of a guess, Shakhtar is damn good and it's not because of The Commie).
ii) Their defense is just not looking good. Not only have they given up 10 goals in 9 games in a league not exactly teeming with depth, they've also lost one of their best and most physical defenders in Pape Diakhate, who joined from Nancy this year (you know, the obvious Ligue 1 leaders). If you didn't know who Diakhate is, he's good. He's real damn good. Not only that, but he's a massive physical presence and he looks more suited for an early 90's Schwarzenegger flick set in some African jungle than as a football player. His loss is real bad news for a team going up against The Grand Imperial Poobah's killer attacking system (this is NOT a game where you want David Pizarro slowing the tempo down).
Oh, and last year DK conceded 16 goals in 6 games. Seriously, don't blink.
iii) Somebody's going to have to mark Ismael Bangoura. Really well. Dude's a beast.
* - I apologize for whatever the hell song that was in the soundtrack.
iv) The wily vets Serhiy Rebrov and Valentin Belkevich. While most people remember Rebrov for his Sheva-like failure in the Prem, dude's sick. Back when he was a forward he was bagging goals galore in the UPL (a goal every 2) and had Tottenham throw up beaucoup pounds for him (like €17.7m big). Now he's an attacking mid/playmaker/forward with enough experience to make the back line look foolish at times. Ditto for Belkevich. Rebrov will/should start; how much Belkevich plays is a toss-up.
v) They have a trio of youngsters that are going to warrant significant attention: Artem Milevskiy, Ruslan Rotan, and Oleh Gusev. Gusev is pace on the wings, Rotan is one of Ukraine's most gifted young midfielders and Milevskiy is the resident tall targetman up top, with skills to boot. The last two are questionable due to injury, and their loss could make this game real ugly real quick.
vi) They have Goran Gavrancic, part of that Serbian (& Montenegro, at the time) "Famous Four" defense that conceded one goal in World Cup qualifying then shat the bed against Argentina with 6 lollipops behind them during the actual tourny. Still, he's pretty good.
vii) Best wiki fact ever, for Andriy Nesmachniy: It should be noted that "Nesmachniy" is a homynym for the Ukrainian "not tasty".
Predicted Dynamo XI:
(Disclaimer: this is a complete guess and probably complete bullshit - per usual - but this is from reading the official Ukrainian website; and I'm decent with Russian, which isn't that different from Ukrainian, but I'm definitely using it as an excuse. So there.)
Fedorov, Nesmachniy, Gavrancic, Kaddouri;
Gusev, Rebrov, Correa, Rotan;
Whatever lineup Dynamo puts out it's clear their strength will be their midfield, and on a lot of days that would be good enough to hold their own. However, in Roma they will see one of the premier and most dynamic midfields Europe has to offer. Throw in a less-than-ideal back line and this game may be just tailor-made for Roma, provided they can stop Dynamo's quick-hitting speed, attacking width and midfield maestros. If Roma can play defense as they have been over the last few weeks, this game will get very ugly, very quickly. Dynamo won't roll over, but they're overmatched, and that defense is going to get hit in the mouth all day long - this could be Roma's coming out party. In fact, I'll go ahead and say I think this will be a statement game. Once the boys can start up those patented overlapping runs and push the ball past the midfield, shit will hit Dynamo's fan.
Prediction: 4-0 Roma
Goals: Totti (22), Totti (47), Taddei (61), Vucinic (86)
Time: 20:45 Italian time, 2:45 US EST
Location: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Alain Hamer (LUX)
Francis Crelo (LUX)
Christian Holtgen (LUX)
Luc Wilmes (LUX)
UEFA Referee Observer:
Bo Karlsson (SWE)
...one of these things is not like the other....
And is anybody else questioning a refereeing crew from Luxembourg?
• A quality story about DDR and the demons that are Old Trafford and have now been laid to rest
• The Grand Imperial Poobah wants the boys to read between the lines and understand what they are capable of this year
• Overall just very cool match coverage from UEFA - which I'm sure Platini played no part in
• Streaming options
• goal.com preview, which kinda sucks, but whatever - it's better than working.
And that is that, should be Roma-heavy and an exciting game to watch, but save the sick time for ManYoo.