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Oppressing The Citizens

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One goal scored. One goal conceded. One Point.

Laurence Griffiths

That doesn’t really seem adequate.

For a match that expended as much emotional energy as this one shouldn’t there at least be a parade or like a free small coke with every burger purchase?

The build-up for this fixture began back in the final weeks of stagione 2013-14 when Roma secured 2nd spot on the table and in doing so a berth in the Champions League.

The Champions League is the ducks nuts for two things, white sacks filled with $ signs and exposure on the worlds biggest stage. Playing at the home of the defending champions of the most watched league in the world on a Tuesday night, certainly ticks the second box. Manchester City is a marquee team and recognised around the world as one of the best (and most expensively) assembled squads of talent.

This is what both James Palotta and the tifosi have yearned for, seeing our team standing up to and taking on the best of the best. Sure beating Sassuolo and Palermo has its place, but you don’t spend weeks thinking about it.

The lead up to this match was as nerve wracking as a trip to the dentist. Add to that, the galling injuries to Morgan De Sanctis, Leandro Castan, Davide Astori, Daniele De Rossi, Juan Iturbe (I’m running out of breath here), Salih Ucan and Kevin bloody Strootman! This was looking more and more like a batten down the hatch and weather the storm job.

To make matters even worse, during the time of the match in question I had to attend to my job. You see, I am a regular and avid consumer of both food and shelter. As such my zero figure salary at CDT necessitates an alternative source of income to fund my extravagant lifestyle.

Therefore, as I’m sure the proletariat masses throughout the internet can empathise, I had to place a digital ban upon myself for the hours I had to endure before I could observe this match, lest my viewing experience be cruelled by the burden of knowledge of the final score.

If you’ve ever successfully negotiated such a digital blackout, you’d understand when I tell you this ratchets up tension like letting a snake loose in a room with people after you’ve turned the lights off and locked the doors. No? Just me?

After weeks of anticipation and hours of fretting the teams marched out into the inexplicably quiet and unfilled Etihad Stadium. I’m sorry Manchester, was there something exceptionally important going on Tuesday night in your famed city of dreary weather and gardening television shows? Surely the defending champions of England can muster more than 37,509 people to a critical midweek Champions League clash, even if was against the champions of Moldova?

Alas, the 1500 travelling Roma fans did their best to restore a fitting atmosphere to the occasion easily drowning out the home supporters. De Sanctis’ late withdrawal meant Roma started with the horrifyingly inexperienced defensive block of Skorupski, Manolas and Yanga-Mbiwa (MB, its going to stick I’m telling you!).

This surely had Aguero, Dzeko and Toure licking their lips at a chance to charge at the Roman backline. And this is pretty much what happened for the first two and a bit minutes which must have inspired Dougie Maicon to escalate a rather innocuous Silva lofted ball into a penalty by latching onto Sergio Aguero’s arm. Perhaps he had something he desperately had to tell Sergio, or maybe he saw a spider and tried to put the Argentine between himself and the danger. Either way, you can’t get away with that kind of play in the Champions League and sure as hell not when you are playing in another country’s backyard.

The poor mohicanned Skorupski had barely seen the ball before Aguero sent him the wrong way and had City 1-0 up within four minutes.

From here, something beautiful happened. Miralem Pjanic calmly picked up the ball as the City players celebrated and marched on back to the half-way line with a steely look in his eye. From the kick-off Roma started moving the ball around with a sense of purpose and soon forced their way forward into the City half.

While this occurred, City just sort of shuffled backward and sat there. There were plenty of blue shirts about the place but none of them seemed intent on actually doing anything about the Italian team in the black (or is it dark brown?) jerseys with the ball. Undeterred by the defensive anomaly confronting him, Totti lifted a delightful ball over the top to the onrushing Maicon who blasted it with a trademark outside of the boot shot onto the crossbar. The adrenaline was obviously coursing through Dougie’s veins a touch too quick.

The Citizens had been warned.

I dunno about the rest of you, but that miss sent me flashing back to Arsenal in late 2008 when our right back at the time, Marco Motta, saw his shot come off the crossbar as well. This flashback did not comfort me.

Roma’s midfield, however, had no such flashes (mainly, I assume, due to the fact none of the men on the field bar Totti were playing for Roma when that shit went down). As Keita, Nainggolan and Pjanic began passing the ball comfortably amongst each other in the opposition’s half, the defensive tactics of Man City began to stand out. This was mainly due to Pellegrini’s inexplicable naivety in confronting Rudi Garcia’s system.

Of course Roma weren’t going to storm the Bastille like Stoke or Sunderland with an army of longballs. Nor was the team going to sprint straight towards Demichelis and Kompany and hope the ball deflected into their path from the tackle.

Pjanic and Totti are spectacularly effective in tight spaces, but the indifferent City approach to blocking the midfield made them look like wizards. It was like they didn’t expect Roma to actually play and retain the ball against them. Totti was playing the false nine position to an absolute tee. Yaya Toure is probably the least man likely in the footballing world to be able help his defence by breaking up Roma’s play in the centre of the park. Meanwhile, Nainggolan bossed the shit out of anyone close enough to see the finer colourings of his Mohawk.

City’s tactical approach showed an intolerable lack of respect to the Romans and particularly to talisman Francesco Totti, who was time and again given more room and time on the ball than he would ever hope to encounter on the peninsular.

The bizarre thing was that the inept play on the field was being mirrored by the Manchester crowd. Rather than fire up and inspire their team with a wall of noise, they just sort of amplified City’s mistakes on the ball with groans and occasional shouts of displeasure at the referee. It was almost like it was Roma who had gained the early lead and was in the box seat for the three points.

The bubble was building. It was only a matter of time until it burst. And burst it most certainly did.

In the 23rd minute, Keita held the ball in a rather innocuous area of the pitch. In front of him stood a lumbering Toure and a mass of space including Roma’s worst haircutted Ninja. Before Keita played the ball both Totti and Nainggolan started forward runs, increasing the room available. As Keita swept the ball forward quickly into the space, Ninja knew Totti was in front of him so toed a quick through ball. In a split second prior to this Totti completely lost his marker in Kompany and continued his run forward. Kompany was committed to closing his fellow Belgian which provided ample room for Ninjas’ pass to his captain.

What followed was a thing of true beauty. Totti dashed onto the pass as Joe Hart slipped in the goalmouth, controlled the ball and spooned it with the most exquisite of touches with his right boot over the onrushing keeper and into the open goal.

Shakespeare doesn’t write passages as poetic.

As the ball rolled to a stop, tucked snugly into the side netting, Il Capitano faced the crowd and offered them his signature celebration. He didn’t do this to goad them, nor did he strut like a grossly overpaid NFL player celebrating a routine tackle. For a timeless moment, the oldest scorer of a goal in the Champions League stood alone, assuming the perfect gladiator pose allowing all who witnessed this act of greatness to appreciate the legend and the gifts he has given the footballing world since 1992.

Il Re di Roma non e` morte. The King of Rome isn’t dead.

Now this is traditionally the point in the Champions League story where the giants at home wake up to their senses, make the necessary tactical switches and grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Yeah, about that. City kept doing exactly the same shit and Roma kept coming at them.

Time after time, Totti was given the room to provide delicate through balls to Florenzi and Gervinho charging into the area. Both Maicon and Cole kept the pressure up by pressing forward and pinning city back in defence. Pjanic, Keita and Nainggolan were utterly masterful in exploiting the excessive space around them and it is at this point Roma really should have capitalised on its dominance and tested Joe Hart more.

On one blistering counterattack forwards Gervinho drew the defence like wasps to honey as he did his customary stumble on the ball before passing out to Ninja a good 3 seconds after he should have. Ashley Cole screamed forward in support and was just a yard offside for Ninja’s cross which wrong-footed the defenders. Cole was still unable to gain a solid contact on the ball as he slid through for the strike on goal. It was exactly this lack of cutting edge and poise in the oh so critical final third that left one lamenting what could have been.

I suppose at this stage I should place in an honourable mention the patchwork defence. Manolas and MB are still very, very raw, but they have the makings of solid defenders. MB is about the most typical Premier League schooled defender you are likely to see as his initial instinct is first to attempt a flying karate kick at the ball followed by booting it into row Z. Should someone get in the way during his attempts at doing this, well tough titties. Still despite these horrendously obvious shortcomings, he regularly got his body or limbs in the way at critical moments to thwart the sharp City attacks.

Manolas had a shit of a task in muzzling Aguero all night and for the most part did a very effective job. I’m still not convinced he is the second coming of Christ and see Astori as the superior option, but the boy has good pace and strength and can only get better the more he plays in this team. I’m so optimistic about his future I’m not even going to bring up the hand ball he was absolutely 100% guilty of that could have killed the game for us.

Both centrebacks (and the keeper) were well protected by Keita and Nainggolan who busted their guts in breaking up attacks, while Maicon and Cole demonstrated their experience to keep Navas and Silva relatively subdued on the flanks. While doing this they also pinned their opposite numbers back through marauding runs forward. Maicon was particularly effective on the right flank in the first half.

But the most impressive thing to see was the sheer amount of territory being covered by both Florenzi and Pjanic in defence. These guys were sensational and caused countless turnovers by putting themselves in the way of City passes. And while I’m at it, what about Il Capitano! The man hustled Kompany and Demichelis whenever he had the chance and covered far more ground than is reasonable for a 38-year-old demi-God.

The first half ground to a close with Rudi obviously the more happy of the managers and with momentum firmly in favour of the good guys.

Pellegrini woke up to himself in the second half and brought on Milner (to keep Cole company and) to plug the gaping holes in midfield at the expense of Jesus (no relation to the guy with the fishes) Navas.

The second stanza was certainly a tale of two halves.

Roma continued right where they left off, counterattacking with purpose while holding out the Blue shirts with ease. Both Totti and Pjanic fired fizzing warning shots that went uncomfortably close for the City keeper.

Roma’s best chance for the half, however, was agonisingly wasted as Florenzi opted to cross rather than shoot from inside the area, deflecting off Demichelis to Pjanic. Sadly for the Bosnian man, he was unable to squeeze his shot past the spread out Joe Hart.

Pellegrini then dragged off Dzeko for Lampard, in an attempt to rest control of the match from the Roma mids and Totti dropping back. The change had an immediate impact and it took a desperate (but well timed) block from Keita and MB to deny Ferandinho who was fed a nice ball from the former Chelsea legend.

The game then got a little unpleasant. Well lets just say that apart from a nice opportunity for Mira to shotgun an inviting centred ball, Roma lost their cutting edge.

Nainggolan, Keita, Maicon and Totti were visibly tired and the City subs effectively put them on the back foot.

Rudi reacted as best he could with the depleted bench at his disposal, bringing on Iturbe for Totti and Holebas for Florenzi to try and maintain some speed on the flanks and to help both Cole and Maicon. This was a solid tactical move that maintained our counter-attack threat however also resulted in requiring Gervinho to hold up the ball more. By this stage Gervinho had sizably increased his number of detractors by displaying worse vision than a fruit bat when in possession of the ball and an apparent need to run into dead ends when in an attacking position. Whilst replacing him for Destro would have been a nice option to have, Rudi had to try and bail out his defence who by this stage were entering into panic mode, subbing Maicon for Torosidis late.

It is an absolute tribute to the men on the field that City were not able to bundle over a winner for the final 30mins of the match. Roma fans around the world (except for maybe the Manolas worshippers in Greece) cried out for the return of Castan and the other guy we aren’t allowed to talk about anymore, as wave after wave of sky blue attacks crashed upon the fatiguing defence.

But hold out they did against a team boasting some of the best depth in the world and a fearsome attacking record.

So it has now been well over 24hrs since the game. What can we deduce from this in addition to the broken apparatuses we destroyed when throwing them at the window or coffee table during the more tense moments of the final 30mins.

I don’t think it is a stretch to argue that had Roma managed to convert an additional chance and come away with a 2-1 win, it would have been our finest victory since the American regime took over the club. Perhaps this draw still is our finest point?

Roma was missing an astounding number of first-choice players, players who would have most certainly been an asset on that field against that oddly complacent City side. Their names rhyme with Fluteman, Pe Nossi, Le Ranctis and Tastan.

Optimists amongst us will be pleased to see the boys prove that Rudi’s gameplan can be devastating in Europe and when our attack is humming it can strike fear into the heart of any defence. Champions League games mightn’t mean an awful lot to the men in light blue, but last night we proved Roma (and her fans) will step up and attack that field like Caesar’s army.

Roma is alive and kicking in the group of death and is not all that concerned about whose reputation they have to trash to survive it. This is what we’ve dreamed about during those years in the European wilderness. The Chaaaaaaammmpioooooonnnnssss!!

We’re back!