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Roma Need Another Miracle to Move Past Liverpool

Does lightning strike the same spot twice?

Well, here we are...again. If you’re having deja vu, don’t worry, it’s not a glitch in the Matrix and Agent Smith won’t be pounding at your door. It’s just that history is repeating itself—extremely recent history. For the second time in less than a month, Roma find themselves facing an uphill battle against one of Europe’s more storied clubs, needing three goals to survive and advance in the Champions League, only this time, it’s the final step.

While dispatching Lionel Messi and company was always a daunting task, Roma was really playing with house money. If they fell flat on their face, no big deal; they weren’t supposed to make it this far. And considering that Roma just barely qualified (directly) for the competition to begin with, crashing out to Barcelona in the quarterfinals was no reason to hang one’s head.

But the funny thing about constantly defying odds is that it tends to raise expectations, making the previously unbelievable almost palpable—Roma actually has a chance to make the Champions League finals. And slim though it might be, that chance is real and it just so happens to be the biggest thing to happen to this club in 17 years. So while in time we might view this season as one in which Roma got just a bit ahead of themselves in their grand project, in the here and now Roma are so tantalizingly close that falling short could be crushing.

In a sense it’s like finally landing a date with that person you deemed “out of your league”—you’re thrilled, you can’t believe they said yes and you’re more nervous than you’ve been in your entire life. But then the big night arrives and you freeze. You’re stumbling over your words, your previously killer anecdotes fall flat and you’re pretty sure you’ve got food in your teeth.

So, yeah, in the grand scheme of things you’re ahead in the game simply for trying and getting to that date, but that doesn’t soften the blow when you’re ultimately rejected. In a way, getting so close only deepens your despair.

That’s Roma, and the Champions League final is their dream man/woman, and I suppose the debate between the 3-4-1-2 and the 4-3-3 is like agonizing over what outfit to wear ahead of time. Only in this instance, Roma put on a stained button up that smelled like cheap cologne.

So now what? Roma has been gifted a second date as it were—will they get lucky or are they facing another lonely night with {redacted adult website}?

While that wasn’t a perfect analogy, Roma has, in every way, shape and form, defied expectations in the Champions League this season, but to reach this point, once again facing such long odds in the second leg, is the epitome of agony. That agony is only made worse when you look at Liverpool’s domestic form. In their past two turns, Klopp’s men have been held in check by West Brom and Stoke, and you know what each of those clubs were wise enough to avoid? A three man backline.

And that’s really the most pressing issue heading into tomorrow’s match—has Eusebio Di Francesco learned his lesson? What was so transformative against Messi and Barcelona was destructive against Mohamed Salah and Liverpool. Pressing and harrying Barca with a highline was a stroke of genius against Barca, but it simply left Roma far too susceptible to Liverpool’s speed.

Then again, Roma are really a blown offside call and several ignored fouls away from a 3-2 deficit, so perhaps we’re making too much of the tactical aspect of last week’s match. Nevertheless, all eyes will be on EDF’s team sheet tomorrow afternoon, and thanks to injuries to Diego Perotti and Kevin Strootman, Di Francesco has even fewer personnel options at his disposal.

With that in mind, and considering last week’s disaster, EDF really has no other choice but to revert back to his preferred 4-3-3. In the absence of Perotti and Strootman, chances are Patrik Shick, Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy up top with Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini behind them, with Alessandro Florenzi, Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov holding the fort down ahead of Alisson.

No matter who EDF rolls out there, we have to hope that Roma can follow the Barcelona blueprint in one key aspect—they absolutely have to grab an early goal. Dzeko’s sixth minute strike three weeks ago changed the entire tenor of the match, adding more fuel to Roma’s fire.

If last week’s defeat proved anything it’s that Liverpool isn’t Barcelona, and that following that same tactical road map was a disaster, but Roma can look back to that fixture for one thing—a sense of belief.

And hey, just like in romance, sometimes you have to just fake it till you make it.