Tomorrow afternoon, AS Roma's first taste of this year's edition of the Champions League will finally get under way. Roma look to eliminate the nasty taste last year’s edition left us, one that saw us look like a sleeper powerhouse after the debut versus CSKA. And then our fomented hopes came crashing down. After our 5-1 mauling of CSKA, Gervinho looked like the Freccia Nera that we had come to love/love-to-hate the year before and Juan Manuel Iturbe looked like he would exceed the steep 30 million euro transfer fee. How things have changed, eh?
For the sake of reminiscing:
A positive drawback from an otherwise disappointing European outing was that the Champions did give our Lord and Savior, Francesco Totti some added exposure, thanks to this stunner of a chippie at the Etihad which handed him the record for oldest goalscorer in Champions League history. This goal epitomized the footballing genius of Er Pupone, as well as the severe lack of appreciation for his skills and longevity outside of the boot. I know that years ago he was voted most popular footballer in Europe, but my tiff lies with the media. Outside of the peninsula too few media sources talk about Checco with the respect he deserves. It is shameful in my opinion.
In any matter, there were few Champions League positives after the City-Roma clash. The group of death was too taxing on our boys, especially with no Strootman or Castan to lead the charge in the back. The awful score-line against Bayern Munich in our first match dealt a terrible blow to our egos, one which resonated throughout the rest of the season. In all fairness, having three league champions in Bayern/City/CSKA would have been a tough task for anyone and we were just shy of making the group stages. As a pot four team, that is already exceeding expectations.
Thanks to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s defeat of Basel on away goals yesterday, our "streak" as a pot four club will officially end Going forward, I hope last year’s experience will be remembered as nothing more than an anomaly. Pot three, however, still puts us at risk of a tough group, let that be clear. But it saves us from teams like Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla and CSKA and replaces them with the likes of Astana, Malmo and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Beggars can’t be choosers, and given our two-year absence from European competition (still in our team coefficient for the next 2/3 years) we have to take that as an improvement. From a coefficient standpoint, it also gives us the chance to help the Italian cause, as we could face either of two German teams in pot four that I think we can take; I am referring to Wolfsburg and especially Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In my perfect world, our group would be the following. Feel free to disagree, of course
PSV Eindhoven: my beef with the Dutch after last year’s shenaningans in Rome will last a while PSV Eindhoven.
Valencia: I know that the preseason amichevole scorelines mean nothing, but I like how we match up against Los Che this year, and we have had good luck in facing them in the past. In 2002/03 we trashed them, and a few years later our beloved Grumpy Old Man River Christian Panucci beat them to help us reach the knockout rounds. Plus, the similar colors would make for a wonderful combination on the pitch.
Astana: I cannot be faithful to the Chiesa by saying that I know much of anything about the Kazakh side prior to a few weeks ago, but playing them? Very nice! Astana
Conversely, my worst-case scenario group would be as follows:
Worst Case Scenario
Barcelona: Luis Enrique is a coach that I will never forget/stop loving, but this squad is too stacked. You never want to play the Champions.
Manchester United: This is because I absolutely hate this club, as much as anyone who has followed this club for at least 7 years can vouch for. They are also on the up and up and have so much experience in the Champions despite their brief absence last year.
Dinamo Zagreb: Because an ideal pot four class should not include a reigning-league champion.
Who is in your ideal group? What team do you fear most? Do you hate Gent as much as Colin Farrell hates Bruges? Answer any of these questions and more below as we wait for tomorrow!
Sempre e solo forza Roma!