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Totti Today #7: A Champion’s return

The chaaaampioooooooons. Tell me the truth, how many times did you hear that sound in your dreams for the last three years? Yearn no more, my fellow Giallorossi. This week we celebrate a return. The return of AS Roma in the biggest and most prestigious club competition on the world.

Gabriele Maltinti

A dark grey evening in March, 2011. Shaktar Donetsk– AS Roma 3-0. Aggregate score: 6-2. That was the last time Europe witnessed the Giallorossi in the Champions League. Hardly a nice farewell. What followed were disappointing seasons under Luis Enrique and Zeman, leading to anything but a European return. So thank you Garcia and co, for bringing our beloved Maggica back to the big stage. But that was only the easy part…

Our joy was big to see Roma back among Europe’s elite, our disillusion was even bigger when we saw the draw on August 28. Roma sit in group E and play the Russian, German and English champions: CSKA, Bayern and Manchester City. Gasp. But the disappointment quickly turned into hope when I read Pallotta’s words: "If you don’t want to compete with or play against the big guns, then you have nothing to see or do in the Champions League." True that, boss. You’ll meet them eventually and better yet: Roma and the fans have at least two big clashes to look forward to. We start as underdogs and we can only try to be the surprise package of the group. A situation Garcia will probably dig and so do I. No stress, just enjoy, hang on for the crazy ride, let the money flow in and gather experience for the (hopefully) next CL campaign in 2015-2016.

But first things first: the group. Since Roma came out of pot 4 (among ‘little ones’ like Ludogorets, Malmö and Maribor), let’s start with the one from pot 3: CSKA. It’s safe to say a lot of Roma’s CL hopes depend on the double confrontation with CSKA. It’s the opportunity to gather points in this group. The home game should and must be a threepointer. Away is something else though, Roma travel to Moscow on November 25. Yup, it’s gonna be a cold night for Totti and co. A draw is doable but a win is actually necessary for to keep the dream of progressing alive. Maybe with a bit of luck and warm socks and thick Garcia turlenecks? If we presume both Bayern and City progress to the next round, it’s gonna be a tight affair between CSKA and Roma for that third spot (and Europa League after New Year). They boost a lot of firepower: Tosic, Musa, Doumbia, Dzagoev, Eremenko and have a very sturdy Russian defence: Akinfeev, the Berezutski brothers and Ignashevich. Do not underestimate them at Russian Roulette. Then again, Roma should and must rely on their own strength if they play their cards right.

Prediction: 4/6 (Home win, away draw)

Next up: the probably most difficult team from pot 2, Manchester City. To tell the truth, I hate English teams ever since ManU annihilated Roma between 2007 and 2008 (losses in two knockout phases and in one group stage). Roma did fairly well against Chelsea (remember the 3-1 at home) but there’s also the penalty drama with Arsenal in 2009 (Riise, Diamoutene, Tonetto, enough said). So yeah, I would have preferred to avoid an English team until New Year. Alas. This time we have the honor to face the blue and not red side from Manchester, the Citizens. Does it remind you of another big European city with a heated rivalry and red-blue derby? A list of the curent City players: Dzeko, Nasri, Aguero, Lampard, Silva, Toure and Jovetic. Their attack is insane but I honestly see Roma overthrowing their midfield and even defence. My countryman Kompany is the captain and leader of the defence but he’s error prone in big games. A young Mangala, old Demichelis, mediocre Richards,.. Their CB’s don’t offer that much resistance if Totti, Pjanic and Gervinho are on fire. Their backs (Sagna, Zabaleta, Kolarov,…) however are much better than ours. Chances Roma win in City are slim but I foresee an upset and narrow win at the Olimpico with the help and chants of the Curva Sud. Not an easy task, we will struggle but as Pallotta said: Man up if you want to play with the big boys.

Prediction: 3/6 (Home win, away loss)

For those who are already giving up on the CL after reading this, it’s not over yet as Roma finally drew one of the biggest and baddest teams from pot 1: CL finalist of 2010 & 2012 and winner of the 2013 edition: Bayern München. Aka: Benatia’s team. What a coincidence. But it's not only Mehdi. The talent at Bayern’s disposal is indescribable: Neuer, Alonso, Müller, Robben, Lewandowski, Götze, Reina, Ribery, Alaba, Schweinsteiger,… They even have their own version of Florenzi with Philipp Lahm (oh no I didn’t)! And of course the excellent coach Guardiola. Some fans might remember the famous 3-2 win against them in 2010 groupstage but that’s nearly four years ago. Only four players from that squad are still here: Totti, Lobont, Daniele and Borriello. A lot has changed since then, both teams have strengthened. That said, Bayern simply overpower Roma in all departments and will give us a lot of headaches along the road. A repeat of the 2010 trick seems a hard task but a draw at the Olimpico is the least Roma can promise and give to its fans. Every point we take from Bayern is profit. Yes, they’re that good.

Prediction: 1/6 (away loss, Home draw)

So if my calculations and inner Dhawstradamus are correct, that leaves us with 8 points in group E. That’s a sure third spot but maybe too little for a top 2 place. That depends on the other results, if they go our way or not. Like a CSKA upset in England or Germany and two draws between City and Bayern. Then there might be hope after all. Yes, that big four letter word called 'hope'. Because why not? One year ago, who would’ve thought Roma would make a grand comeback like this in the CL? Don’t let this wolf catch you on surprise again.

Uncle Pallotta’s right. It’s time for us to hang out with the big boys. It’s time to banish that ugly 3-0 from Donetsk once and for all. It’s time to prove 2013-2014 was not a coincidence. After all those years and shedded tears, we can say our Roma’s back. Our champions are back. Totti, King of Rome, invades Europe once more. Bring on Bayern. Bring on City. Bring on the anthem echoing far beyond the Stadio Olimpico. The wait is finally over. Right here, right now. AS Roma, make us proud.

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