Who: Roma v Real Madrid
What: UEFA Champions League, Group G, Match Day 5
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
When: Tuesday, November 27 at 3:00 EST
How (to watch): TNT
The roller coaster ride that has been the first three plus months of Roma’s 2018-19 campaign went down another big drop on Saturday when the Giallorossi fell 1-0 at the Dacia Arena to Udinese. As surprising as Roma’s Serie A struggles have been, Tuesday’s opponents, Real Madrid, have shockingly followed a similar trajectory in La Liga; both sides currently have 20 points through 13 domestic fixtures. Los Blancos seemed to be turning things around under their new boss, Santiago Solari, until a 3-0 defeat at Eibar on Saturday has raised more questions of the three time defending Champions League winners. Thus, Tuesday’s match up at the Olimpico will feature two sides looking to right the ship before it veers uncontrollably off course.
Despite their domestic struggles, Roma and Real have been better in Champions League play this season and sit joint top of Group G on nine points. Both sides are in a strong position to progress with third place CSKA Moscow only on four points. Roma would be through to the knockout rounds with a draw, while Madrid would go through as a group winners with a victory. Meanwhile, both sides would go through, if CSKA does anything less than win. With the slim chances of either of these teams not progressing, in all likelihood, this match will determine who tops Group G.
Since the beginning of last season when EDF took over the reins, Europe’s elite competition has brought the best out of Roma. This has been especially true at home where the Olimpico has been an indomitable fortress. The Lupi have defended their home ground to the tune of seven straight wins, including six clean sheets. Meanwhile, Roma has won three straight in the Champions League, after a 3-0 thumping at the hands of Real in Madrid on match day one.
The team’s Jekyll and Hyde form has manifested itself more in the shape of Edin Dzeko than probably anyone else in giallorosso this season. Dzeko, who has struggled to find the back of the net in Serie A, has been a world beater in the Champions League. The Bosnian Bomber has five goals and two assists in just four European matches this season; the most goal involvement of any player in the tournament. If Roma are to win a club record fourth straight Champions League match, Dzeko will likely be highly involved in any offensive success.
On the opposite end of the pitch, Roma will likely receive a big boost with the returns of Kostas Manolas, Alessandro Florenzi, and Robin Olsen. All three players missed out on Saturday’s match; Manolas was recovering from an ankle sprain suffered playing for Greece, Florenzi was under the weather, and Olsen pulled out with discomfort during warm ups. The Greek will be heavily relied on to led a Roma rearguard tasked with keeping Real Madrid’s attack, featuring Karim Benzema, at bay; the Frenchman has scored six goals in his last six Champions League matches.
One player that EDF still won’t have his disposal is Daniele De Rossi. The Roma captain has been sorely missed over the last month with a balky knee. Despite his advanced age, the thirty-five year old De Rossi was heavily relied on in the center of the park before his injury. Finding a suitable replacement for DDR, sitting deep alongside Steven N’Zonzi in Roma’s 4-2-3-1 set up has been an ongoing problem for EDF. Bryan Cristante was employed there on Saturday, but again failed to impress in the role.
De Rossi’s heart, soul, and football IQ will be sorely missed in the center of the park against an elite opponent, leaving the Roma manager with a big personnel decision to make. Will he run out Cristante again? Could he drop Lorenzo Pellegrini deeper into midfield? But with Javier Pastore still out, that would likely mean running out youngster Nicolo Zaniolo in the treqaurtista position. Di Francesco gave Zaniolo a surprise start in Madrid and it backfired. EDF has, at times, been a tactical genius in the Champions League, while at others outsmarted himself and looked the fool. We can only hope he doesn’t do the latter while trying to cover for De Rossi’s absence.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s captain, Sergio Ramos, has issues of his own at the moment. However, unlike De Rossi they aren’t of the injury variety. Reports revealed recently that Ramos tested positive for a banned substance during a pre-match anti-doping screening prior to the 2017 Champions League Final against Juventus. Ramos vehemently denies the claims, but one wonders just how much distraction they are for Ramos and Madrid.
For Roma there could be no better time to welcome in a struggling and potentially distracted Real team to the Olimpico. However, there could also be no worse time given Roma’s own struggles. This is the kind of match that could pull Roma out of the doldrums or sink them deeper into the depths of despair.