It doesn't get much more do-or-die than this. Although there are some subtle permutations that suggest otherwise, Roma is essentially facing a win or go home scenario when they host Manchester City in the final match of the Champions League group stage on Wednesday. With Bayern Munich's perch atop Group E secured, Roma, CSKA and City, all level on five points, will be vying for survival Wednesday evening.
While facing City is never an easy task, Roma are doing so under the best possible circumstances, at home and against an extremely depleted Citizenry. City, who are only three points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, may be fighting for the Champions League survival without Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, David Silva, Stevan Jovetic, Vincent Kompany and possibly...just possibly, Sergio Aguero, he of 19 goals in 21 appearances this season. Aguero limped off the pitch over the weekend and is extremely unlikely to feature against Roma Wednesday.
El Kun has been one of the hottest players on the planet this season and drew first blood from the spot in the first leg back in September. Despite their depleted squad, Manchester City won't roll over and play dead, so let's take a quick look at how they stack up.
But first, the advancement scenarios.
Roma Advances if...
- They defeat Manchester City
- They draw with Manchester City, provided that CSKA also draws with Bayern Munich
- CSKA Moscow loses AND Roma plays City to a scoreless draw
Roma Goes Home if...
- They lose (duh)
- CSKA loses BUT Roma draws at anything other than 0-0
Which all essentially distills to this; Roma wins and they're good, while City must win or play Roma to a scored draw, while hoping that CSKA loses.
Got it? Good, moving along...
Conscripting the Citizens
With the sheer amount of names on their injured and/or doubtful list, City might have draft some local Mancs into service Wednesday. But, hey wouldn't you know it, when you have a lot of money, your waters run deep, so don't cry for City, they still have a loaded roster.
But let's take a quick moment to soak in what Aguero has done this season. Aguero's 14 goals not only leads the Premiership, but they account for 44% of City's league haul this season, a full 12% more than his closest one-man wrecking crew competitor, Chelsea's Diego Costa, whose 11 goals account for 32% of Chelsea's total. Beyond his ability to bend the back of the net, Aguero leads City in shots per match, dribbles per match and is second in assists.
So, while the presence of Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and James Milner should soften the blow somewhat, City will be without one of the five-to-ten best players on the planet right now.
Without El Kun and Jovetic, you'll want to keep an eye on Nasri and Dzeko, a less prolific but still incredibly talented tandem who will surely test Davide Astori and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa on Wednesday.
Nothing Left to Lose
We spent so, so much time in these spaces discussing and debating Rudi Garcia's squad rotations this season, and this is precisely where it all comes to a head; there is no more planning, no more next week, there is nothing left to lose; this is it.
Of course, that doesn't mean Rudi's XI is cut and dry.
There is no more in-form player at the moment than Adem Ljajic. Nutella has accounted for four goals and two assists over his past five matches, with two of those four goals coming as equalizers; so not only is he doing big things, he's doing them in big spots. But he also played the full 90 on Saturday, so we can rightly question how much he has in the tank on such short rest, though we can certainly be thankful that the Giallorossi have not had to leave the Eternal City since their ill-fated trip to Moscow on the 25th
However, given his form, one would imagine he'll start and play at least 60 minutes, but who, pray tell, will join him?
Last Time Out
Last Time Out
Looking at the remaining ten selections, we can probably pick out four areas ripe for controversy: Goalkeeper, leftback, central midfield and central defense.
Morgan De Sanctis, god bless his heart, has been putrid lately, but what can you do, and what should you do in a much as important as this, rely on his age and experience or hope that Lukasz Skorupski is ready to prove his mettle? Skorupski, you might recall, was between the sticks for the first leg draw, so he's at least familiar with City's attack.
Leftback...ah, left back. What can we even say? Ashley Cole, while not as horrible as the voices around here would have you believe, has not been effective this season, while Jose Cholebas has certainly titillated the fan base from time-to-time, and I'm not talking about his piercings. But this scenario is akin to choosing between the bottom half of the broccoli and any part of the Brussel sprout; it's a no win situation.
Central defense is a little less combustible; it's simply a matter of who slots in alongside Davide Astori, Mbiwa or Kostas Manolas, but central midfield is an entirely different animal.
In his short time in Rome, Seydou Keita has proven to be, if nothing else, a steadying influence on the midfield; one who keeps his wits about him, calmly moving the ball from back-to-front. A job he's done so well, that it's led some to claim he should start over Roman stalwart Daniele De Rossi, who, while not at the depths of his ZZ days, has suffered some bouts of inconsistency this season. Despite what the match ratings may say, something seems amiss with DDR lately, perhaps the non-stop football from the past several seasons has caught up to him a bit.
However, as the old saying goes, you dance with who brung ya, so I can't imagine De Rossi would miss out on Roma's biggest match of the season.
Tools for Survival
In a match as monumental as this, you look for the advantages anywhere and everywhere you can find them, subtle or otherwise. Despite falling behind to an inferior side over the weekend, Roma did storm back to grab a last second equalizer, which surely buoyed their spirits in the face of what otherwise would have been a horrific loss. While he hasn't been as scorching as Aguero, few players in Serie A are enjoying a better month than Ljajic, who has the looks of a young man finally starting to figure it all out.
Then there is, of course, the simple matter that Manchester City will be without several key players on Wednesday, none of whom loom as large as Aguero, but the likes of Toure, Silva, Jovetic and Kompany have made their imprint on many a match this season. So if you have to face City with your Champions League life on the line, you probably won't do find better circumstances.
But, even if all other things are equal, Roma's homefield advantage should be enough to break any emotional deadlock into which this match might fall. The confluence of a well-rested squad (in terms of travel) and fifty-some-odd thousand screaming Romans might be more than Manchester can handle.
While other permutations may exist, we'll rely on the immortal words of Al Davis on this one...Just win, baby.