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Roma v CSKA Moscow Champions League Preview

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With a shot at securing second place in Group E, Roma face a must win match Tuesday when they must brave the cold of Moscow in late November.

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Rudi Garcia will attempt to succeed where another diminutive Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte, failed; sacking Russia in the dead of winter and coming out alive. Bonaparte led hordes of ill equipped and ill motivated French soldiers into mother Russia in the winter of 1812 before ultimately being felled by lack of provisions, hypothermia and simple megalomania. The cost of Napoleon's gamble, beyond the Grand Armée's 500,000 casualties, was that it sowed the seeds of his own demise; within two years, Napoleon would be exiled to Elba and all his imperial gains torn asunder.

Roma's own French commander leads an army of an entirely different sort into Moscow. Rather than an amalgam of international conscripts, Garcia will marshal two-dozen multi-millionaires into Moscow Tuesday night. And while no blood will be shed, global conquest of a different sort is still on the table. With a victory tomorrow, Roma's passage to the knockout stages will be all but a certainty, which will go a long way to securing James Pallotta's Napoleonic aims

Roma v.CSKA MoscowNovember 25 18:00 CET, 12:00 EST Arena Khimki Khimki, Russia

So, with each side desperate to survive the group of death, how can Roma hope to emerge victorious in what is sure to be a hostile environment?

Advancement Scenarios

Group E Standings

Through the first four matches in Group E, Roma and CSKA have been hauntingly similar. Each side has managed one victory, one draw and two defeats, and each side currently sports a -4 goal differential. Of course, Roma's lopsided ledger is the result of their 7-1 defenestration at the hands of Bayern Munich, while CSKA was done in by Roma on matchday one, losing 5-1 at the Olimpico.

So with four points each, the advancement/survival scenarios are pretty simple. In order for CSKA to simply survive they need to defeat Roma on Tuesday, while Roma can actually secure their spot in the knockout stages with a victory in Moscow and a Bayern victory or draw with Manchester City.

Essentially, it's a win-and-you're-in scenario. No equivocation, no excuses.

Checking in With CSKA

While we're all rightfully wary of travelling to Moscow this time of year, CSKA is actually reeling at the moment, having lost three straight matches--CSKA hasn't tasted victory since their November 5th take down of Manchester City. In terms of their domestic fixtures, they've gone winless since their 6-0 destruction of Kuban Krasnodar on October 18th. All told, CSKA has won only three of their past ten matches.

Last Time Out

Yet, somehow someway, they're third in the Russian Premier League, and that somehow is due to their sterling home record. In the comforts of the Arena Khimki, CSKA has six victories against two defeats, while outscoring opponents 20-4, marks only bested by league leaders Zenit St. Petersburg. In Champions League play, their home field advantage hasn't been quite as sharp as they've only managed two points in two matches.

Against Italian sides at home, CSKA has only managed two victories in seven matches and actually sports a better record on the Italian peninsula than at home.

Strange yes, but factor in the weather, the distance and the sure to be ravenous fans, and I'm sure Roma feels anything but comfortable heading into this match.

The Fight For Survival

As we just discussed, Roma needs a win plain and simple, so we can throw the aesthetics out the door. The good news is, of course, that Francesco Totti will be available for this match, while there is an outside...and I mean outside...chance that Maicon will be fit for duty. While he has his own ups and downs and he's certainly not the man he once was, one needn't look any further than the first leg to see how important this Maicon is to this Roma. In fact, one could argue that he was Roma's most effective player in that 5-1 victory in September. Maicon was dominant on both ends of the pitch, chipping in a goal and four chances created in addition to his six tackles and two interceptions.

Needless to say, Roma's defense is aching for his return, especially with the, shall we say, scattered performances of Roma's remaining fullbacks. As we saw on Saturday, the defensive pairing of Ashley Cole and Vasilis Torosidis leaves much to be desired, a matter made worse with the continued absence of Leandro Castan; you simply cannot say enough about the calming influence he had on Roma's backline last year, a fact we've found out the hard way this season. For lack of better options and because of Maicon's continued physical shortcomings, look for the Cole, Torosidis, Kostas Manolas and Davide Astori combination once again.

Update: Neither Maicon nor Torosidis will make the trek to Moscow, so we might see Alessandro Florenzi reprise his role as a fullback, one he fulfilled with Crotone as a young loanee and several times during the summer, its either that or Jose Cholebas. Your pick.

As far as the rest of the XI is concerned, it's going to be awfully hard to keep Adem Ljajic off the pitch, he's simply been too hot lately, scoring two goals and contributing one assist over Roma's last two matches. While Garcia's offense was well enough Saturday against Atalanta, one couldn't help but notice that Mattia Destro and Juan Iturbe weren't quite up to snuff, which may have accounted for some of the lackluster player early in the match. Iturbe was just getting manhandled while the Atalanta defense did a masterful job at keeping Destro away from the penalty area. With that in mind, look for Ljajic to swap sides, moving over to the right of Totti with Gervinho occupying his usual spot on the left flank.

In terms of the midfield, it would be hard to imagine Miralem Pjanic or Radja Nainggolan being usurped by anyone in such an important match. But, you may have noticed that Daniele De Rossi wasn't exactly the DDR we all know and love over the weekend, which may or may not open the door for Seydou Keita, who has been nothing if not a steadying influence this season.

One Small Step...

I'm sure there is a sizeable portion of tifosi who harbor imaginations of Roma actually winning the Champions League, but let's be real, the goal here was always twofold: survive the group stage and secure a spot in next year's competition. While the latter depends on their domestic performance (and seems like a safe bet, knock on wood), the former was far from a guarantee given the poor pot into which Roma was drawn.

But here we are, Roma's destiny is in her hands. It might be Roma, not the well-oiled machine in Manchester, which joins Bayern atop the Group E ladder to advance to the sweet 16. In terms of Pallotta's master plan, this is really the next logical step. Maintaining that annual influx of Champions League cash is essential to Roma's financial aims and ability to compete on the transfer market, without it, Roma runs the risk of operating in the red, and we all know how that ends up.

In terms of the here and now, in the bitter cold of Moscow in late November, Roma must simply hold firm, attempt to snatch an early lead and then play it safe. They were able to pull that trick in September, but can they do it once more?