If you found time in between milking the cows and checking in on the chickens before sunrise Monday morning (depending on where you live), you no doubt know by now that Roma learned their Champions League Round of 16 fate. The Giallorossi were able to avoid perennial heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, nor will Monchi have to wrestle his inner-demons watching Roma play Sevilla, but they were drawn against a familiar foe, one who has gotten the best of them in the past.
Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk aren’t exactly strangers, having squared off four times in the the past, with the Ukraine side besting Roma in this same round during the 2010-2011 Champions League. So while Roma did indeed breathe a sigh of relief after avoiding the conglomerate clubs, they have by no means been gifted passage to the quarterfinals.
Speaking on their round of 16 opponents, Francesco Totti preached prudence:
Given what was there, it went well...Don’t underestimate them though, because they’re technically and physically strong and play well at home. It’ll be an open game, but the further you go the harder it is...With respect for the Champions League, we know that the further we go the more we’ll face strong teams, stronger than Roma...Football is about big surprises though, and we’ll cause problems for any side we meet.
Hard to argue with any of that, after all Totti was a part of the side that was bounced by Shakhtar back in 2011. The Roma name may hold more cache, but they’ve split points with Shakhtar in their four prior encounters, so success is far from assured.
Eusebio Di Francesco was next to chime in on Roma’s Champions League opponents:
Over the last few months I have followed Shakhtar Donetsk closely: they are a well-organised side from a tactical standpoint, thanks to the work of Paulo Fonseca, who I believe is a great coach.
They qualified from a tough group – eliminating Napoli, who are one of the best sides in Italy. There are a lot of reasons to respect them as opponents, but there are just as many reasons why we must go out on the pitch and give everything to qualify for the next round.
The more this man speaks, the more I like him; he’s so measured in his words—offering no hyperbole nor doubt—so I don’t doubt that he’s been tracking Donetsk at least tangentially over the past few months. However, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Roma’s attack is grinding to a halt, so let’s hope he can light a fire under their ass before those cold Donetsk nights chill Roma to the bone.
There is, obviously, another team involved in this tilt, and Shakhtar’s higher ups seem to be approaching this from the same vantage point; it could have been much worse, but don’t overlook the man standing across from you.
Speaking about the prospect of facing Roma, Donetsk CEO Sergei Palkin cited the club’s prior success against their Italian opponents:
Roma is not the worst option, given that the possible rivals included Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United. I reсkon this is a good draw for us
Shakhtar already met with the Romans in the Champions League round of 16 in 2011, and we advanced back then. We’ve got some successful experience with this team, and we should take advantage of that to display the kind of football our fans will enjoy, and to do our best to make it through to the next round.
It’s worth noting that the Italians advanced from the group being in the top spot, ahead of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. This is a very revealing fact, which confirms the opponents’ high class.
In addition, Roma currently features a number of strong players such as Radja Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko, the goalkeeper Alisson. These days, those are high-level players.
We must prepare very and very seriously for the match, especially since that’s one of our team’s opening games next year - immediately after a two-and-a-half-month break.
So what we essentially have here are two teams thankful for not facing one of the marquee teams, yet not stupid enough to admit publicly that they’re glad they’re facing the weaker teams, a/k/a one another; we’ll call it polite politicking.
The Round of 16 kicks off on February 21, 2018 when Roma travels to Donetsk, with the return leg set for March 13th at the Olimpico. Suffice it to say, facing Donetsk on the road in February when they’ve had two months to prep will be daunting for EDF and his crew.
While both clubs are happy to avoid the Reals and Munich’s of the world, nothing in the Champions League is easy.