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Roma vs. Porto, Leg 2: Showdown at the Olimpico

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Roma’s first playoff match against Porto went reasonably well, with the Capitoline side securing a crucial away goal. Can Luciano Spalletti guide i Lupi to the group stage, or will Roma once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio - Serie A
Can Roma shoot its way into the CL group stages?
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Fresh off a 4-0 thrashing of Udinese, Roma now look to stamp their ticket for the UEFA Champions League group stage by holding off F.C. Porto. Make no mistake: this is a crucial match for the Giallorossi, with a reported windfall of €30 million set to enter the club’s coffers if they successfully advance. Yet it’s undeniable that there is a sense of unease among many Romanisti, as if they’re almost expecting some sort of disaster, or as some might put it, waiting for the moment when “Roma happens”. But why is so little expected of Roma when all the marbles are on the line?

In short, Roma’s problem is that they too often ignore Alec Baldwin’s maxim, “Always Be Closing”. The first thirty minutes of the Giallorossi’s previous match against Porto displayed a side that, quite frankly, outclassed the Portuguese side. Yet following Thomas Vermaelen’s second yellow card, Roma was barely able to hold on against the Dragões, securing the vital away goal but not impressing in any respect. The clean sheet defeat of the Zebrette just days ago is certainly encouraging, but only time will tell if Roma’s attack can carry their early success in the league over to continental play.

Coach Luciano Spalletti certainly understands the importance of this game, both for Roma’s financials and for the fans on the whole:

“We wanted this for eight months, (it’s) what we wanted since last year. (Winning) can give us the keys to the most treasured competition in Europe. We are ready to play the match because what we have so desired for eight months will be here tomorrow night.”

The determination on display in that quote hopefully has trickled down to each and every player in the squad, because Porto are certainly no pushover.

What To Look For

AS Roma v AC Chievo Verona - Serie A
Other than Spalletti’s piercing eyes.
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

A couple of Roma players will reportedly not be called up for this match due to injury. Alessandro Florenzi, Leandro Paredes, and Vasilis Torosidis all have picked up knocks, and although none of their injuries are serious, Spalletti has decided to rest all three to make sure that a very long first week of the season does not derail Roma’s long-term goals. These injuries imply that new signing Bruno Peres will almost certainly start the game at right-back, while also nearly guaranteeing a Nainggolan – De Rossi – Strootman midfield.

Spalletti has also declined to inform the press of his planned starting goalkeeper, but most news outlets have said that Wojciech Szczęsny will get the nod ahead of new signing Alisson. This isn’t too surprising considering Szczęsny’s history in European competition (or rather, Alisson’s lack of history), but it’s safe to consider this a major test for the Pole. If Szczęsny is unable to perform in this match, Alisson may be handed the starting goalkeeper position sooner than expected.

Roma’s success in this second leg will most likely rely on Roma’s league-best attack (as outlined in bren’s most recent article). Perotti, Dzeko, and Salah certainly showed their stuff versus Udinese, and if they are able to replicate their attacking success against a better side, this match may be over before it begins. If not, well, some last-minute magic may be required.

This is arguably Roma’s most important match of the year. Win, and €30 million is set to buoy the club (at least until next summer’s transfer window). Lose, and funds are suddenly a lot more scarce, most likely leading to uncomfortable sales and a much trickier path to silverware. You know what they say: no pressure, no diamonds.