As we mentioned earlier today, no club on earth has mastered the art of capriciousness quite like AS Roma. Wouldn't it be just like Roma to throw away two points against a lowly side like Bologna, only to come back, out gunned and undermanned, to turn that same trick on mighty Barcelona, in the Camp Nou no less?
Can't you just picture it now, Roma down 2-1 in the 80th minute with 90,000 crazed Catalonians on the edge of their seats clamoring for victory, but just as they're about to receive that sweet release, Miralem Pjanic, with a subtle flick of his toe, springs Alessandro Florenzi into the only crevice available on the entire pitch, giving Ale the faintest of windows in which to crush those Iberian aspirations, forestalling Barca's advance towards the finals for just one more week.
Sure, tomorrow's match probably won't unfold like that (not even close), but it might, and here are a few men and/or match-ups that could make that fantasy a reality.
Juan Iturbe vs Barca's Fullbacks
Let's start with the obvious and perhaps most overmatched candidate on this list. Many of us, myself included, remain enamored with Manu's seemingly limitless potential. His innate talent, despite his tactical shortcomings, is enough to make you believe he can still pull it all together at some point and become, at the very least, a serviceable footballer.
Will that happen? Who knows, but one thing is for certain, that talent, sporadic though it may be, can turn the tide of a match. Any match. If Iturbe is given freedom to roam, if he seeks out the ball and if he's aggressive, his sheer athleticism is enough to overwhelm the likes of Jordi Alba and Dani Alves, neither of whom are exactly defensive dynamos.
It's a long shot, I'll grant you that, but with Roma missing so much in attack, if Iturbe's head is right tomorrow, he might provide the spark Roma needs to at least steal a point on the road. Football is a game of inches and seconds, parameters in which, for the briefest of moments, Iturbe can be unparalleled.
Lucas Digne and Maicon vs Everyone
The flipside to that argument is, of course, Roma's own defensively deficient fullbacks. While Digne and Maicon have been offensive revelations, they haven't exactly rewritten the book on defending the wing, and with the likes of Neymar, Luis Suarez and (possibly) Lionel Messi bearing down on you, the respective positioning (both horizontally and vertically) will go a long way in determining the extent to which Roma can contain Barca's otherworldly attack. Given his conditioning issues, the larger concern rests with Maicon, but you'll want to take note which flank Barca seeks to exploit first, as it will necessarily impact the flow of the entire match.
And in that same vein...
Roma's Defensive Shape
We witnessed it in the first leg, but it certainly bears repeating. Roma was relentless in their 1-1 draw at the Olimpico in September, hounding the Barca attack every step of the way, not only keeping their shape, but maintaining composure, never allowing themselves to be overwhelmed or deviate from their gameplan. And despite the fact that they were massively out-possessed, outshot and out-created, they held the line, keeping the vaunted Barcelona attack at bay (to the extent possible). That frustration, coupled with Florenzi's jaw dropping goal, was enough for Roma to win the match in the only manner possible; by doing the unthinkable.
If Roma has even the dimmest of hopes tomorrow evening, it rests on the shoulders of Antonio Rudiger, Kostas Manolas, Lucas Digne and Maicon. Roma won't win the possession battle, they won't create as many chances and they'll probably be outshot by a 2:1 ratio, but if they confront the Barca attack with the same level of defensive commitment and cohesion, they might...might...just open the door for another miracle.
This is one instance in which we should all be praying for a Garcia SpecialTM