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Roma Hosts Ajax With Champions League Group Lead On the Line

After a thrilling two-goal comeback against Bayern Munich last week, Roma hosts Ajax with the group lead potentially on the line.

FC Bayern München v AS Roma: Group C - UEFA Women’s Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Last season, Roma was able to play the role of the upsetter in the Champions League. Making their debut in the competition, the Giallorosse used that unfamiliarity to their advantage, catching nearly every opponent off guard with their unique blend of speed, creativity, and defensive nous. From the opening rounds in Glasgow to their near-upset of Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico, the women of Rome let the whole of Europe know they meant business—this was no passing fancy; the Giallorosse were there to win.

With more tape on the capital club, opponents aren't likely to be surprised this time around, but that didn't stop Manuela Giugliano and the Lupi from pulling a rabbit out of their hat against Bayern Munich last week. Down two goals with half an hour to play, Roma stunned the reigning German champions with two late strikes, stealing a precious point on the road from the group favorites.

Thanks to the combined heroics of Giugliano and Canadian forward Evelyne Viens, Roma enters Matchday 2 in second place, even with Bayern Munich, as they prepare to host group-leading Ajax. While it's still early days, if Munich slips up against PSG on the road tomorrow and Roma prevails, the Giallorosse will be sitting pretty in first place.

But first things first: Who is Ajax, and how can Roma defeat them?

Keep An Eye On

The New Digs!

Well, not entirely. To remain in compliance with UEFA Women's Champions League guidelines, Roma had to make a few cosmetic upgrades to the Stadio Tre Fontane, which they unveiled earlier this week:

During last season's Champions League campaign, Roma was forced to play their home matches in Latina because the Tre Fontane wasn't equipped with lighting—a situation the club remedied. In addition to the new bank of lighting, the club added new seating sections (and actual seats) and a media center for press conferences, paving the way for European nights at Roma's home ground.

Ajax's Front Three

While only one of Ajax's three forwards found the back of the net against PSG last week, with a combined 21 goals + assists in league play, Roma will have their work cut out for them as they try and corral the combined talents of Romée Leuchter, Chastity Grant, and Tiny Hoekstra, who scored the match-winner against the Parsiens last Thursday.

AFC Ajax Portraits - UEFA Women’s Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Friederike Schurig - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Despite Hoekstra's heroics, Leuchter is the real standout among this trio. With seven goals and three assists in only 603 league minutes, the 22-year-old Dutch center-forward is well on her way to equalling last season's performance, where she bagged 17 goals in only 18 matches. Add in the 25 she scored during the 2021-2022 season, and Leuchter starts to look like one of the most prolific strikers in the game.

Fortunately for Roma, Moeka Minami and Elena Linari are quickly becoming one of Europe's best defensive duos, but containing this trio will be daunting.

Evelyne Viens

We'll end our preview by highlighting Roma's best summer signing. Viens, a 26-year-old forward from L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, has hit the ground running with Roma, scoring six goals in only 570 minutes in all competitions. The former 5th overall draft pick in the 2020 NWSL draft, Viens has been a bit of a vagabond in her brief career, making stops in Paris, New York, and Sweden before signing with Roma this summer.

With forwards Paloma Lazaro, Andressa Alves, and Sophie Roman-Haug departing the club before the season began, Alessandro Spugna had a sizeable hole to fill up front. Lazaro proved to be a clutch goal scorer; Alves did a bit of everything, while Roman-Haug impressed with her physicality and aerial abilities.

But in Viens, Roma stumbled into an entirely different dynamic. In her brief tenure with the club, Viens has showcased Inzaghi-like movement in the box and off the ball, a decisive first step that creates separation from defenders, and a killer finishing touch—we've even seen her score a couple of left-footed goals.

In a word, she may be the perfect striker for Spugna's attack. With Viens' powerful runs complemented by Emilie Haavi's craft and technique on the opposite flank, Roma's two wide women open up acres of space for Valentina Giacinti in the middle. And what's more, Viens can drift in the middle to assist Giacinti or even assume her role when needed. This trio's combined speed and fluidity keeps opponents off-kilter, fueling Roma's prodigious attack.

If Roma stands any chance of repeating last season's march to the quarterfinals (and possibly beyond), you can bet your bottom dollar (or looney, as it were) that the club's ambidextrous Quebecois will be heavily involved.

Match Details

Kickoff: November 23rd, 21:00 CET/3:00 EST

Location: Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma

Forecast: 69 degrees, 10% chance of precipitation

How to Watch: DAZN