Roma's frenetic fall continues on Tuesday with a trip to Germany. Fresh off a rather convincing win versus Empoli, Roma will look to gain a leg up in the Champions League when they take on Bayer Leverkusen, the current second place residents in Group E. A victory tomorrow would assure Roma sole possession of second place, barring some sort of massive miracle in the BATE Borisov-Barcelona match, so this isn't your average Tuesday night.
The history between Roma and Bayer is rather brief, only two-competitive matches and one pre-season friendly, so don't cue up the Taylor Swift while you're prepping for this match. That was a Bad Blood reference, for your information. If you don't like Taylor Swift, that's fine, I get that, but you're wrong and I hate you.
Roma and Bayer met in the group stages of the 2004-2005 Champions League and for the Giallorossi, it was a pretty ugly affair. Germany's lesser known team dispatched Roma by a combined score of 4-2 over the two legs, though Roma won the red card battle, with Daniele De Rossi and Christian Panucci both being sent off in the first leg.
But that was a decade ago, let's take a quick look at what to expect on Tuesday evening.
Looking at Leverkusen
Bayer are somewhat stuck in neutral at the moment, having drawn two consecutive matches and dropping down to eighth place in the Bundesliga table, 13 points behind Bayern Munich. Germany is creeping on a laughable La Liga level of parity at the moment, in case you hadn't noticed.
Bayer has been plagued by a somewhat dormant offense, which has only amassed eight goals in nine league matches, playing to a -1 goal differential. Quite simply, they have no alpha male leading the charge. Their current leading goal scorer is 19-year-old German midfielder Julian Brandt with two goals, while new signing Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has only found the back of the net once. The Little Pea has been around for so long, it's hard to believe he's only 27, but he remains a very dangerous player, one I certainly would've loved at Rome.
Leverkusen lines up in a base 4-4-2 with Chicharito and Stefan Kießling leading the line, though Karim Bellarabi has made a handful of starts. If you're looking for familiar faces, you may be hard pressed to find one. We all know about Tin Jedvaj, the one that got away, but he's played all of 31 minutes in the Bundesliga this season.
However, if you look in the executive suites, you'll see Rudi Voller, Leverkusen's technical director. Voller played parts of six seasons for Roma, scoring 45 goals in 142 appearances.
But that's about it, Leverkusen is about as unfamiliar as an opponent can be, but they're the proverbial team you don't want to face, particularly not under these circumstances. Make no mistake, this is a do or die scenario; if Roma loses tomorrow, their Champions League campaign is effectively done.
What's French for Tinkerman?
Whether they were genuine changes or just subtle tweaks on his beloved 4-3-3, Rudi Garcia channeled his inner Claudio Ranieri over the past couple weeks, shifting towards a 4-2-3-1 hybrid, with Mohamed Salah playing second striker to Gervinho. The results, as we've seen, have been pretty conclusive, though the quality of the opponent has to be considered.
With Francesco Totti and Edin Dzeko slowly on the mend, and with Ezequiel Ponce being neither over the age of 19 or French, Garcia's options up top remain limited, so don't be shocked if Gervinho, Salah and Iago Falque all reprise their roles in this new setup. Although, with four goals and an assist over his last four matches, Gervinho is scorching hot. He is very much a streaky player, but this is the cresting portion of that wave, so Rudi will most likely hang ten and ride that bad boy to the shore.
Really, the only lineup questions we'll have to ponder are in the midfield and defense. After 90 emotional minutes in his 500th career appearance for Roma, does De Rossi have enough left in the tank to repeat that performance on the road or will Radja Nainggolan or possibly William Vainqueur get the nod?
Who starts alongside Kostas Manolas is the other point of contention—is Leandro Castan ready to play back-to-back matches, or will Garcia opt for Antonio Rüdiger and his Bundesliga experience to pair with Manolas?
These questions will all be answered in due time, of course, but between this trip to the Bay Arena and Sunday's voyage to the Artemio Franchi, Roma is already facing two season-defining road matches.
So set aside all your worries about lineups and squad rotations, the only question that matters is are they ready? Does Rudi Garcia have the confidence of this squad? Has the soft schedule leading up to this one given us a false sense of security or has he finally righted the ship?