As Bren pointed out in yesterday’s match preview, Porto will be a tough nut to crack for Roma. The Portuguese champs may not have the name appeal of some of the other teams remaining in the Champions League, but underestimate them at your own peril. With that in mind let’s explore five keys to Roma extinguishing the Dragons fire.
1- Defensive Solidarity
The issues along the Roma back line this season have been well documented. Key veterans like Federico Fazio and Aleksander Kolarov have had key lapses; likely a sign of father time catching up with them. However, not all of the goals allowed can be attributed solely to the back four. Robin Olsen has been a steady replacement for Alisson for most of the season, but has had his own gaffes, as well. Additionally, the three month absence of Captain Daniele De Rossi left a huge void in front of the back four.
With DDR back in tow, Roma will look to find the defensive solidarity that was key to it’s success last season. De Rossi’s leadership and ability to organize will help Roma defend as a team to try and keep a vital clean sheet against a potent Porto attack; something EDF acknowledged is vital.
“We’ve lacked that. Over 180 minutes, it’s vital that you’re solid – especially given that we’re playing the first leg at home. A good defence is fundamental if you’re going to build a good attack. It’s important that we keep a clean sheet tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean we can lose our identity as a team. We need to defend well, as a team.”
Porto have an outstanding +30 goal differential in league play through just 21 matches and has scored 15 goals in the six CL group stage matches. They will be without injured striker Moussa Marega and suspended winger Jesus Corona, something Roma will look to capitalize on in hopes of depriving Porto of a vital away goal.
2. Control the Midfield
Based on all formation projections, it looks like EDF will stick with his preferred 4-3-3 formation for the third straight match. With the shift away from the double pivot that Roma has employed for much of the season, it likely means that only one of DDR and Steven N’Zonzi will start; even though EDF didn’t completely rule them out playing together.
“Regardless of the system, the question I have is whether to play them both against Porto. I’m weighing things up – for me, they’re both starters. They’re important players. If Daniele does well in training today he’ll definitely play, but aside from that everything is still to be decided.”
In all likelihood, the three man midfield will be an all Italian trio of DDR, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Bryan Cristante. The trio will have to work hard to ensure that Roma are able to establish possession and avoid being hemmed into it’s own half. Roma is the home team and it’s essential that i Lupi come out as the aggressors. The Italian trio will be vital to that happening.
3- Reignite Dzeko’s European Form
There’s no question that one of the keys to Roma’s deep CL run last season was the scoring form of the Big Bosnian striker. Last season, Dzeko scored 12 times in just eight European matches and has carried that form over to this season with five more goals in just four group stage matches. Dzeko has been quiet in Serie A this season, but has three goals since the start of 2019 and looks to regaining his top form. This will be imperative if Roma are to unlock a stout Porto defense. As good as Porto have been on defense, there is a glimmer of hope for Roma, as despite giving up just six in the group stages, Porto kept only one clean sheet. Dzeko will be key in ensuring that they don’t get a second at the Olimpico.
4. Win the Aerial Duels
Roma is a big physical side in many positions, Fazio, Cristante, Dzeko, Manolas, De Rossi, and even Zaniolo give the Giallorossi a physical presence that many teams would envy. However, they may have their hands full with Porto. The Dragons lead the Portuguese league with eleven goals scored from set pieces, and led the CL group stages with four headed goals. Winning those aerial battles, especially from set pieces could be the difference between a shut out or giving up a vital away goal.
5- Keep the Support of the Olimpico
We’ve all seen how ugly things can get when things aren’t going well for the Giallorossi. Many players came under heavy fire when things were at there worst just a few weeks ago. The Olimpico can turn into a cauldron on European nights, a place that even the biggest opponents can feel the wrath of; just ask Barcelona. However, it can just as quickly turn on Roma when things aren’t going well. Kolarov and the rest of the squad will need the crowd behind them if they are to win the first leg. However, if things don’t go well on the pitch, things could get ugly. Roma need to avoid giving up an early goal that could quiet the crowd or worse, turn it against them. Roma need the Olimpico to be the fortress it was during last season’s CL run.