Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen. I think it’s safe to say AS Roma and its fans are quite happy with this draw. One prestigious showdown with the current title holders of the Champions League: check! Two clearly inferior opponents who should be no match for Roma: check! It’s a win-win. Anything less than second place is a downright failure.
Why? Because last season Roma topped a group with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. And not so long ago they beat CSKA 5-1 and Plzen 4-1 at home. Plus Real lost Zidane and Ronaldo so they’re not the same juggernaut anymore, they can be beaten. Advancing to the next stage should pose no problems after we saw the draw. Try to limit the damage with Real and quickly take care of both the Russian and Czech teams and poof, before you know it, it’s Christmas! After that, we’ll talk again. For the Giallorossi, the tournament will start for real after January, in the CL knockout phase.
Well, so far so good. That was the optimistic JonAS speaking. But can we also look at it from a less pink-fluffy-unicorns-dancing-on-rainbows-inspired view? Perhaps a less popular view.
To start: The current Roma, the one sitting with a meager 4/9 in Serie A and without Alisson, Radja, Strootman or Totti, should be happy to get one point from the two Real Madrid encounters. The first group game is their toughest, at the Bernabeu. So Roma can realistically be fourth of the group after matchday 1 (if Roma lose and CSKA and Plzen draw). After that, the Giallorossi play the two easiest fixtures: two home games against the minnows. But Roma will immediatly be put against the wall: a 6/6 is necessary to secure that second place as soon as possible. Going to Moscow in November in search of a win isn’t a stroll in the park.
The sooner they advance, the better so Di Francesco and co can focus on Serie A and we’ll feel less pressure in those last two games, at home against Real and in Plzen. Anyway, let’s pray both Real and Roma are already safe by then or can settle for a draw if both teams will progress automatically. If Roma’s fate is still up in the air until the very last matchday, in Plzen, well then it’s gonna be another old-school Roman style shivering and shaking event until the final whistle. My heart coronary artery is looking forward to it.
*sarcasm detector just went through the roof*
Anyway, compared to Juve, Napoli and Inter, Roma have the least tough schedule by far. All the other Italian teams have two or more clubs who can put up a fight. PSG, Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester United, PSV, Tottenham or Valencia are no pushovers so Roma can feel relieved with CSKA and Plzen. I would have preferred Young Boys though (pun intended, don’t tell my girlfriend).
Or would you rather have a Group of Death, for instance Real, Roma, Liverpool and Galatasaray? (Well, ironically yes, because Roma’s the ultimate Jeckly & Hyde team of Europe, they can beat the best or lose against the worst of the bunch)
Still, expectations around Europe will be high for this AS Roma side, because of last season’s CL campaign. Rightfully so. A truly memorable and spectacular campaign with goals galore. A long and winding road going all the way until the final minutes of the semifinal second leg against Liverpool. With some better finishing, a bit of luck and a referee with an IQ higher than 30, Roma would have been in the final. The FINAL.
Everyone witnessed their miraculous comeback against Barcelona or their two performances against Chelsea. They’re slowly working on their reputation in Europe after some horror results in the past (Bayern, ManU, anyone?) so this season they’ll need to build on that of 2017-2018.
So what if they don’t beat Real 3-0 at home, as long as they don’t fall flat on their faces in Madrid or Moscow and progress to the next round without strugging, I’m fine with it. Continiously playing in the CL and reaching the knockout phase is the best way to gather and spend money, attract top level players and challenge Juve, Napoli and co in Italy. It’s part prestige, part business.
While last season’s CL results were very welcome and a truly special feeling at the time, they also put more weight on Roma’s shoulders for 2018-2019. In a way they’re doomed as it’s nearly impossible to do any better. Ending third and going to the EL will be seen as a fiasco in many people’s eyes (while it’s not the end of the world, perhaps just an average earthquake and tsunami). Going out in the Round of 16 would still be seen as a decline.
What makes it more painful is that Roma lost one of its pillars of that same CL campaign, Alisson, to Liverpool. Nainggolan, who played in every CL game bar the Barcelona 4-1 defeat, is gone too. So is Strootman. Hell, even Bruno Peres is gone, the man who’s toe single-handedly (or is it single-toedly?) guided Roma past Shaktar Donetsk.
For me it’s pretty clear: AS Roma needs new heroes and fast. But are Pastore, Olsen and Kluivert up for the job? We’ll find out soon enough. See you at the Bernabeu!