I’m like most of you in that I, to an extent, schedule my real world activities around Roma matches. So, when Roma plays at 9 am my time, I know that whatever errands I have to run will have to wait until at least 11:30 or so, or those lunch plans I might have with friends get the boot when Roma has a noon kickoff. For the most part, working around Serie A’s weekend schedule is no issue, but those damn Champions League matches with their middle of the day and middle of the week kickoffs are an entirely different story.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great problem to have, but back in August I certainly didn’t envision having to debate burning a sick day well into April to watch Roma in the Champions League, but thanks to the Manolas Miracle, I’m faced with that delightful dilemma.
We’ve been trekking through this Champions League campaign for so long that I nearly forgot where this road started, and how we reacted when the path was revealed:
Was Roma cast into the prohibitive group of death? Yeah, probably, though you can certainly argue that Group H is slightly tougher; though that depends on the relative weight of Roma v. Tottenham. In any case, Roma drew the short end of the stick, as they’ll run smack against two of the world’s most dangerous sides in Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, while Qarabag, the competitions first Azerbaijani side, remains very much a mystery.
We’ll have a more detailed analysis of each of the opponents when the time comes, but suffice it to say, Roma has a tough road to hoe. Despite that seeming doom and gloom, bear one thing in mind: Group C is the group of death because Roma is there too, they won’t simply rollover.
For those who wish to paint me as unfailingly negative, I think I was quite measured in my response to Roma’s Group of death, but I never in my wildest dreams imagined they’d make it this far, but they just kept chipping away, carving out their Champions League legacy through blowouts and nail biters, through warm Spanish summer nights and in the middle of the Ukraine winter. Roma’s road was a rough one, but they haven’t yet reached the final destination.
With that in mind, I thought we’d take a quick look at Roma’s would be semi final opponents, weighing and measuring each of these potential detours to destiny.
Path to the Semifinals: Defeated Manchester City 5-1 (agg)
League Position: 3rd
In waxing league leading Manchester City, Liverpool pulled off their own upset, exacting a small measure of revenge against the likely Premiership champions. While Liverpool are one of the historic heavyweights in this competition, they haven’t exactly lit up the Champions League in recent seasons. However, propelled by Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and most importantly Mohamed Salah, Liverpool have been one of the more prolific sides in this year’s competition, banging home 33 goals in 10 appearances. We can dissect this one multiple ways, but at the end of the day, when you have a player like Salah, who is among the world’s best at this point, the rest is irrelevant—Liverpool is as dangerous as any team on the planet and Salah can rescue them on their darkest days.
Can Roma Win?
Absolutely—if, like they just did against Barcelona, they can cut the head off the snake. While Liverpool has oodles of talent, Salah is the one steering this ship. Roma’s defense (at least domestically) has been suspect to wing-oriented teams, and the combination of Salah and Sane is as lethal as you’ll find, but as we just saw Eusebio Di Francesco is quite skilled at removing threats like Salah from a match. And while he wouldn’t necessarily follow the same blueprint that rendered Lionel Messi useless on Tuesday, with several tactical options now at his disposal, EDF is sure to find the right formula.
Favorability Rating: Like a really expensive meal. The taste and the ambiance draw you in, but you’re still weary of the bill at the end.
Path to the Semifinals: Defeated Sevilla 2-1 (agg)
League Position: Duh
Bayern Munich are, for the...I don’t know, 234th time...champions of Germany, and as such find themselves in an awkward position wherein their remaining seven matches are completely and utterly pointless, but what will they do? Use those matches as a testing ground for their youth, or press on in the manner that made them champions? Odds are it’ll be a bit of both, but while the rest is nice, they run the risk of accumulating rust in the interim. No matter their domestic approach, their four horseman—Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez— are quite formidable and can probably be dropped into any match anywhere in the world at anytime and still do wonders.
Can Roma Win?
Well, Sevilla just played them to a scoreless draw at home. Sevilla! And they’re coached by Vincenzo Montella for crying out loud. Furthermore, Sevilla only lost the first leg due to an own goal, so it’s not as if Bayern steamrolled their way to the semi-finals. The German champs are obviously a deep and multifaceted team, but they are susceptible to creative teams like Roma. It’ll be a tough task, but this Roma won’t suffer any 7-1 embarrassments.
Favorability Rating: Like doing a home renovation. It’s going to be a costly kick in the balls, but if you make it through, well worth it.
Path to the Semifinals: Defeated Juventus 4-3 (agg)
League Position: 4th, though not by much
Well, I’m writing this about an hour or so after Real Madrid knocked out Juventus thanks to a controversial penalty call on Mehdi Benatia, but fuck that guy. What was unfair to Juventus was probably just the Champions League universe correcting itself at the 11th hour. Real Madrid are the kings of this competition, taking home 12 European Cup/Champions League titles, including the last two and three of the past four. Cristiano Ronaldo may have been relegated to second best player ever status over the past few seasons, but at 33-years-old, he’s still getting the job done, to the tune of 38 goals and 8 assists between La Liga and the Champions League this season, and with Isco, Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos behind him, Real are loaded per usual.
Can Roma Win?
Well, Roma has had some success against Real in the past, albeit a decade ago, but I’m not sure that’s relevant in 2018. For my money Real and Bayern are essentially a wash—they’re both historically dominant sides, they’re both laden with talent, yet they both looked mortal in the quarterfinals. And while Lewandowski, Robben and even Arturo Vidal are fine players, they’re not Cristiano Ronaldo—when the chips are down, he’s the best player remaining in this competition, and that alone should make Real favorites.
Favorability Rating: Like going on a museum field trip with a horde of nine-year-olds who haven’t taken their ADHD medicine. Sure, they might learn something from the experience, but they’re likely to break something or run away, they’ll annoy the hell out of you and you’ll come home wishing you never woke up that morning.
It goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway—all three of these matchups are potential nightmares. Liverpool (on paper) seems like the safest path forward, but as we know too well, Salah can turn a match in an instant, using his speed to cover up his teammates shortcomings. Bayern are well rounded, have the wingplay to give Roma’s fullbacks headaches and have a legit number nine in Lewandowski, while Real have practically written the history of the Champions League.
Few among us gave Roma a chance when they were cast in the same lot with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, and fewer still once they fell behind to Barcelona last week, but as we warned back in August, those fixtures were so intriguing and so noteworthy, in part, because Roma was there too.
At this stage in the game, there is no script. Roma are both protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, underdog and overrated, Cinderella and the stepmother.
The agonizing part is that we have to wait two weeks to read the damn thing.
Who would you rather face in the semifinals?
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