Despite their run of seven straight league victories, Roma faces an entirely different animal Tuesday evening when they travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16. With a two goal deficit, Luciano Spalletti's men face a nearly insurmountable task, overcoming that deficit on the road against one of the strongest teams in the world.
Making matters worse, Madrid is suddenly hot (not they were ever that cool), having torched Celta Vigo 7-1 over the weekend, a match in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Gareth Bale also joined in the fun, returning to action for the first time in several weeks, and scored a goal for good measure.
During the first leg, Roma managed to keep Real at bay for the first 45-50 minutes of the match, giving us all hope of a gut it out scoreless draw, one that would have exponentially increased our hopes in tomorrow's second leg. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be as Madrid's class ultimately proved too much for Roma too handle; there was very little any defender could do to stop Ronaldo's 57th minute goal, let alone a forward in a fullbacks clothing like Alessandro Florenzi.
Well, wouldn't you know it, Roma's defensive concerns have doubled since then, as Spalletti's squad list is not only missing the still-injured Daniele De Rossi, but also Antonio Rüdiger, who was a late scratch with muscle tightness. While the club has managed well enough in the midfield without De Rossi, Rüdiger's absence robs Roma of one of the few defenders on the planet capable of keeping up with Madrid's bevy of attacking options.
Rüdiger and friends have played a large role in Roma's recent run, but there's no debating it, this winning streak has been fueled by Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti, each of whom has injected fresh blood into Roma's once dormant attack. This trio has ran roughshod over domestic defenses, keeping them honest with a balance of speed, playmaking and fluidity.
Now, that chaotic coordination would have a much greater chance of success were Roma not staring down the barrel of a 2-0 deficit, but, considering how much Roma has changed since these sides last met, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that they grab an early goal causing Real to lose their composure and the match in the process.
And that's really our best hope. Somehow, someway, Roma has to catch Madrid napping, hoping that their new look throws just enough confusion into the mix that Salah or El Shaarawy can sneak one past Madrid's impressive backline and start the Santiago Bernabeu shaking in their boots.
It's a long shot, but nothing about Roma's season has gone according to script anyway.