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Qarabag Preview: Anxious in Azerbaijan

Roma travel to a land far far away, to gain their first away win in the CL since 2010

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The club AS Roma has the honor to be the first team ever that will plays CL at the Qarabag People’s Stadium For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Azerbaijan (dunno how their stadium is officially called but that seems a pretty good gamble, no?). It’s Qarabag’s first outing in the Champions League and after their ugly defeat in Chelsea, they now welcome Roma in search of a point, or even three points, which would be seen as a stunt and grand achievement in Azerbaijan.

But that’s not how things work in Rome. They are not the clear favorites this time like Chelsea. This seems a daunting and tricky test for a side like the Giallorossi, who are famous for self-destructing during such fixtures. The players will have rarely made a trip so far away from the Olimpico (not counting pre-season in America because that’s leisure and seen as a prolonged holiday), as more than 4000 km separates both countries. Or in case you’re flying: roughly seven hours. Courtesy of Google Maps.

So: difficult transfer, small yet deceptive opponent and last but not least: It has been seven years since Roma last won an away game in this competition. Seven. November 3 2010, Basel was beaten in Switzerland 2-3. To put things in perspective: Rosella Sensi was still at the helm of the club and both Menez and Greco scored that evening. Only De Rossi and Lobont passed the test of time in today’s squad.

Okay, Roma didn’t qualify each season for the CL so that seven years seems a bit harsh, but it does show that the Giallorossi are a different side when they are on the road. And boy, those European roads have been pretty bumpy for some time now. Manchester United, Bayern, Barcelona,... Even against lesser sides like BATE, Cluj or CSKA they found it hard to go home with three points in the bag. Long gone are the days when we beat Real 1-2 (lots of love for Taddei) or Valencia 0-3.

Enter Eusebio. Di Francesco’s train finally seems on track after three convincing wins in a row and a goal record of 10-1, but keep in mind the teams we faced. Qarabag may not be Juve or Napoli, but at home they can frustrate a lot of opponents. Let’s hope Daniele and co can keep a cool head and not get fired up or nervous. I’d happily take a 0-1 there because it not only means we finally have that precious win after seven years, we also leapfrog one of Chelsea/Atletico and leave a gap of four points with last place. A win in Azerbaijan will secure at least Europa League football after New Year.

The predicted formation: Alisson / Peres Manolas Jesus Kolarov / Radja Dani Strootman / Defrel Dzeko Perotti

Karsdorp, Nura, Schick, Moreno are all out due to injuries. I expect no real surprises from Eusebio. Florenzi gets some rest, Jesus replaces Fazio and Kolarov keeps being awesome at left-back. A strong, combative midfield to play a tough, physical game. And Dzeko up front who remains in red-hot form. After his two goals last weekend SES probably deserves a place in the starting line-up as well, but some sites say Defrel gets the nod over The Pharaoh. With also Florenzi, Pellegrini and Ünder on the bench, Roma has enough options to break the defense of the Azeri’s after minute ‘70.

It may sound cliché but it really doesn’t matter who starts or is benched. Roma need to win, period. This is the perfect opportunity to snatch a win and jump to second place in the group, or even share first place together with Chelsea (if they draw against Atleti). Roma’s on a roll and it would be a shame to lose momentum right now, especially with the clash in Milan this upcoming weekend.

Eusebio’s Roma has already shown some pretty and free-flowing football these last weeks, but we can only be content with a win tomorrow. The long flight could be a handicap for the players, but damn it, they are professionals and get paid a lot to do this kinda thing. Seven years is a long wait, it’s time to harvest in Azerbaijan.

Oh btw, let’s win this one for Il Capitano as well, shall we? Give him a reason to party. Happy birthday Francesco, from everyone here at Chiesa! Mi manchi, Er Pupone!