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Totti Today #125: C stands for Challenge

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How will Roma fare in one of this year’s toughest groups?

Chelsea v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Roma and the Champions League draws, it rarely disappoints. Real, Bayern, Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United and City, Arsenal... The Giallorossi have played almost every European powerhouse since 2006 or so. Because Roma were drawn into pot 3, you just knew we would get two big names and a smaller yet dangerous/tricky third team. Roma’s CL campaign 2017-2018 doesn’t disappoint as we’ll entertain Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Qarasomething from Azerbaijan, you know, everyone’s favorite destination for a nice sunny holiday (hey, they do have a coast!).

While Roma won’t face a real tour de force just yet (I rate Real, Barca, PSG and Bayern a bit higher), Chelsea and Atletico are two exciting challenges for Eusebio and co. The third one, Qarabag, is an unknown in the CL. It’s their first time but the Giallorosso can’t risk underestimating them, like Slovan Bratislava or Astra Giurgiu in the past. After all, Qarabag beat Copenhagen to qualify for this year’s CL so they won’t be simple pushovers, at least not in Azerbaijan. 4/6 should be the minimum Roma needs to collect against them, preferably 6/6 to at least secure third place and Europa League after New Year. But the long trip could prove an obstacle, while this is Roma we’re talking about after all. Easy opponents never are.... errr, easy. So I go for a 4/6 against Qarabag, one win at home and a draw away, including seven cardiac arrests in 90 minutes.

Now, let’s look at the other two clubs of this famous group C. The C from Chelsea, the current Premier League champions. They host one very familiar name, and it also starts with a C: trainer Conte. Yeah, the guy who won 3 Scudetti with Juve, of which 2014 probably stings the most. Roma played arguably the best football in Italy under Garcia and with guys like Gervinho, Benatia, Strootman, Florenzi, De Sanctis, Maicon and Destro. 85 points didn’t suffice though, as Juve won the league with a massive 102 points and some bribery here and there.

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea reminds me of Juve last season. A machine. In the Premier League they gathered 93 points and went on a 13 consecutive wins between October and December. Conte used a 3-4-3 system and had a backbone of about 15-16 players who shared all minutes in the league. Hazard, Kante, Courtois, Fabregas, Pedro, David Luiz,... There’s no shortage of stars at Stamford Bridge. Among them one former Roma player: defender Rüdiger, sold only a couple of months ago by Monchi. Morata (Real) and Bakayoko (Monaco) are the other new faces worth mentioning. Yet Conte’s team isn’t that stacked unlike a Real Madrid or Manchester City. If they want to compete in three competitions they’ll need another 2-3 good additions. Conte has publicly criticized his management for this, especially after losing his no 1 target, Lukaku, to Manchester United this Summer.

Chelsea recently lost its opener at home to Burnley so they might receive a recoil/down-to-earth from last season, but they are undeniably a class act and also favorites for this group. If, and that’s a big if, all players stay healthy of course. Roma’s current team will have a hard time in Chelsea, but in a packed Olimpico they can at least fight for a draw or even a surprise win. Their defense (Luiz and Cahill) isn’t waterproof while we all know Rüdiger during his Roman career is talented but not immune for brain farts every now and then. Plus, top scorer Diego Costa (20 goals in 35 games last season) did a ‘Cassano’ (what’s with all these C’s in this post???) and is in a row with team and trainer right now.

Conte’s side are quite unpredictable at times but play some decent free-flowing football, which usually benefits Roma. They perform better against those sides than against teams who put up a wall and defend like their life depends on it. I predict a narrow win at home but unfortunately a heavy defeat in London: 3/6.

Last up: Atletico. I can’t remember the last time Roma faced this Spanish side, but boy they have made a name for themselves since Diego Simeone took over. He’s a former Lazio player (approx. 90 appearances) so you can bet your house on it he’ll want to defeat Roma even more than Chelsea. Since 2011 he’s won five prizes at Madrid, something the American ownership of Roma will surely be jealous off. La Liga in 2014 and the Europa League in 2012 stand out, but two finals in the CL in 2014 and 2016 is a damn achievement. However, both were lost against neighbors Real. Ouch. Last season they ended third in La Liga, lots of miles behind Real and Barca.

The Frenchman Griezmann of course is the most dangerous asset of Atletico (aaah at last, no more C’s), but keep an eye out for Koke, Torres, Vietto and Radja’s countryman Carrasco as well (damn it).

Simeone likes a strict organisation and Atletico always fight tooth and nail on the pitch, a matter of life and death. Therefor I think Roma will suffer against them and I can’t see the Giallorossi winning at home, let alone in Madrid. A Totti or Pjanic could have caused a headache to Atletico’s defence, but I’m afraid Dzeko, Defrel or Perotti will have two very frustrating nights ahead. Keep in mind this is the first time Eusebio will coach in the CL and this is a totally different playground than EL or even Serie A. My prediction: A painful 1/6.

Those who had an A (and no C) for mathematics, have already done the math by now: Roma will gather a total of 8 points in this group. That will give them third place without a problem, second place will be very difficult and only possible if all other results go our away. Chelsea or Atletico losing points at Qarabag for example.

All those predictions aside, one thing is certain though: It’s gonna be a fun group to watch with some high-octane games and displays. And hell, that’s why we all want the CL so bad, right? To play alongside the best of the best of the best. Oh, and the money that comes with it is also a nice bonus.

First game: September 12, AS Roma - Atletico. Finally it’s time to heal the wounds from that Porto disaster one year ago.

In bocca al lupo, Eusebio!