Roma’s attack is directionless, their defense clueless and their manager under assault from (if you believe it) the club president himself. While other fans might bristle at such chaos, this is your average Tuesday in Romaland. However, if last season was any indication, Eusebio Di Francesco and the boys won’t be distracted in the European theater. Despite a few hiccups and a couple patches of stale play, Roma were resolute in their Champions League campaign last year, winning their group en route to advancing to the semifinals for the first time in thirty years.
While we can simply assume Roma will follow the same road map this time around, if EDF’s time at the helm has shown us anything, it’s that he has a knack of getting his guys up for midweek matches (at least in Europe), so if nothing else we can at least say that Roma won’t be lacking for motivation.
Real Madrid v. Roma: September 19th, 21:00 CET/3 PM EDT. Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid.
Motivation is all well and good, but in and of itself it doesn’t win matches; EDF will still have to scheme a way to defeat Luka Modric and the rest of Real Madrid, who, despite no longer employing Cristiano Ronaldo, are off to a hot start in La Liga, grabbing ten points through four matches, which must be nice.
While Madrid went through their own upheaval this summer, not only losing Ronaldo by Zinedine Zidane on the sidelines, but this is a squad that still boasts not only Modric but Isco, Toni Kroos, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Thibaut Courtois. Thanks to that impressive assemblage of talent, Madrid have run out to a +8 goal differential and have a perfect slate through their first two home matches.
Given the unequal distribution of talent between these two sides, Roma’s best bet tomorrow is to simply frustrate Madrid in the middle of the park. While this is obviously easier said than done, especially with Modric in the equation, slotting Daniele De Rossi and Steven Nzonzi side by side should...I repeat...should give Roma enough muscle to put a muzzle on Modric, Casemiro and Kroos.
In many ways, we have to view this like any number of the matches we’ve seen Roma play against Madrid and Barcelona. Roma will have to be practically perfect in their orchestration—closing down lanes, winning 50/50 balls, and tackling with poise and precision—because, in terms of pure class, they can’t compete with Real Madrid.
I know I’ve made this comparison many times, and sure it ages me, but Roma has to approach this match like they’re the 1995 New Jersey Devils; they weren’t the most talented team, but through hustle, scheming and physicality, they were able to dominate the neutral zone, choking out or simply bullying opponents the minute they made an attacking move.
It won’t be pretty, it’ll be tense and arduous to watch, but if Roma play an ugly, clutching match tomorrow, they may walk out winners.