The last time we saw Roma on the Europa League stage, the Giallorossi's valiant come-from-behind effort against Manchester United in the 2021 semifinals fell flat. Facing a 6-2 deficit after their nightmare performance at the Theatre of Dreams a week prior, Paulo Fonseca's men needed a miracle to survive and advance to the finale. And while they managed to defeat United on the day, the gulf between the two clubs was clear as day. Roma only managed to defeat the Red Devils in the second leg thanks to an Alex Telles own goal in the 83rd minute, so even their victory came with an asterisk.
Following a frustrating term in the capital, Paulo Fonseca was sacked at the end of the 2020-2021 season and was quickly replaced by José Mourinho. While The Special One didn't fare any better on the Serie A table than his predecessor, he broke the club's trophy drought after defeating Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final last spring.
Ludogorets vs. Roma: September 8th. 18:45 CET/12:45 EDT. Razgrad, Bulgaria.
Thanks to that triumph, Roma gained an automatic entry into this year's Europa League, and their quest for back-to-back European titles begins tomorrow against the reigning Bulgarian champions, Ludogorets. And with 19 points through seven matches, the Eagles are soaring just as high, sitting in second place with two games in hand.
As always, unfamiliar opponents tend to be the most dangerous, so let's look at a few key storylines in tomorrow's match.
Keep An Eye On
Ludogorets' Home Record
The Huvepharma Arena, a ten-thousand-seat stadium situated on the north side of the city of Razgrad, has been Ludogorets' home since 2011 while also hosting the Bulgarian National Team on several occasions. And for the past few seasons, Ludogorets have been practically unstoppable at home, losing only two matches in the past three years, a trend that has continued through the early portion of this year's fixture list.
While the season is still young, Ludogorets has been the picture of perfection at home: three matches, three wins, 13 goals scored, 0 conceded. Making matters worse for Roma, Ludogorets just waxed Hebar 6-0 over the weekend, using many of their reserves with an eye on tomorrow's fixture. So not only are they undefeated at home, Ludogorets’ starters are well-rested.
The Three Ts
While it's probably not fair to compare the Bulgarian League to Serie A, Ludogorets have three very impressive players. In the season's early stages, the Bulgarian champs have been paced by Ghanaian forward/midfielder Bernard Tekpetev, Argentinian striker Matias Tessera and Brazilian forward Igor Thiago. With nine goals and four assists between them, The Three Ts have more than enough talent to trouble Roma's suddenly beleaguered backline.
Hey, speaking of beleaguered, Roma may be asking themselves...
Where is My Mind?
In what is quickly becoming an annual rite of passage (one our friend at Paramount, Matteo Bonetti, even pointed out), Roma suffered a humiliating defeat in front of the entire league. Closing out Sunday's slate of Serie A fixtures, Roma laid an egg at the Dacia Arena, falling to Udinese in an embarrassing 4-0 rout. And in typical Roma Happened fashion, the Giallorossi were done in by glaring individual errors, missed shots, and, of course, curious officiating.
Despite Mourinho essentially telling his team to pack it in and focus on Thursday's match, it's fair to question Roma's mental state at the moment. Even if the season is less than a month old, Mourinho's Men have already been through 38 weeks worth of highs and lows, punctuated in successive weeks by their rollicking victory over Monza and their tepid display in Udine on Sunday.
Couple that with some early season lineup controversy, and a storm of distraction could envelop Roma tomorrow. The Giallorossi may have the talent advantage, but Mourinho better deliver one hell of a motivational speech to get Roma out of their newfound funk.
This poll is closed
I just hope both teams have fun