While Roma hasn’t exactly bowled over the competition lately, three successive 1-0 victories is a win-streak nonetheless and has emboldened the squad with a new found ability to win ugly. However, Roma are facing a decidedly different opponent tomorrow at the Olimpico, English heavyweights and Group C leaders Chelsea. Antonio Conte’s crew isn’t exactly lighting up the Premiership either, but you underestimate them at your own peril.
With injuries piling up left, right and center, Eusebio Di Francesco may be forced to tinker with his lineup ahead of this critical fixture. In addition to the usual cast of ACL characters, EDF may be without Bruno Peres, Patrik Schick and Kostas Manolas. If that is indeed the case, look for a backline of Aleksandar Kolarov, Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio and Alessandro Florenzi, the latter of whom may move to right wing if Peres is deemed fit for service. Peres may not be the man he once was, but the impact Florenzi has as a forward versus a fullback is monumental—his off the ball runs as a forward could make the difference in this match.
Due to some timing issues and our real world duties, we’re going to have to keep this one brief, but let’s start with a quick look back.
October 18th: Roma 3, Chelsea 3
Following a near miss from Diego Perotti (what a run, though!), Chelsea capitalized on a Roma error, as David Luiz pinged in a goal following a careless/accidental(?) clearance from Juan Jesus. From there, it was wide open as Chelsea doubled their early advantage after Eden Hazard struck in the 37th minute.
With the usual doom and gloom setting in, Roma turned to their own Eden....Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian Batistuta nearly delivered a shocking upset, levelling the match at 2-2 with a goal in the 64th minute before putting Roma ahead in the 70th. While Roma ultimately capitulated late in the match, this was a signal of intent from the Italian club—there was no sign of intimidation playing at Stamford Bridge and no quit when they fell down two-nil.
What Needs to Happen Tomorrow
Well, we spent the day basking in the memories of Mirko Vucinic leading Roma to a 3-1 victory over Chelsea the last time they came to the Olimpico, and while Daniele De Rossi is the only holdover from that squad, Roma needs that same spirit to bridge the decade to this match.
With Dzeko, Perotti, Florenzi and Stephan El Shaarawy all good to go, Roma should have enough firepower to mount a similar challenge to Chelsea’s shaky defense, though it remains to be seen exactly how much energy Dzeko and Florenzi have after going the full 90 against Bologna over the weekend. Nevertheless, Dzeko is in fine form, while the rest of Roma’s frontline remains enough of a mystery to fool the Chelsea backline once more.
And really, the keys to victory remain the same—Roma needs to establish a presence in the box, pumping the ball into Dzeko early and often, while the movement of SES, Perotti and (depending on where he plays) Florenzi must complement Dzeko’s position, they simply can’t let the defense collapse on Dzeko at the point of attack.
Take this and sprinkle in a bit of magic from Kolarov, and Roma could win this thing handily.
At the other end, the patchwork defense must remain resolute. Juan Jesus and Fazio must be firmly moored to the center of defense, as any ill-advised gamble or sin of spacing could leave the door open for Hazard to steal the show again. Whether the man mark or play a functional zone, Roma absolutely, positively has to win the battle of space in their own end—close down, clear out the ball and build from the back.
While Chelsea may be the reigning champions of English football, there are most definitely cracks in their exterior. To paraphrase the now disgraced Rick Pitino, Didier Drogba ain’t walking through that door. Yes, this is Chelsea, but is it really Chelsea?
The Blues may win the PR battle, but this match is eminently winnable. Roma have the horses to win this race, they just can’t get caught dreaming about oats or salt lick. If all else fails, Roma needs a draw tomorrow to stay ahead of Atletico.