Champions League Semifinals Fan Preview: Roma

Champions League semi-final. Eusebio Di Francesco has truly changed the mentality of the club. From being Europe’s perennial joke club in the Champions League to playing in their second semifinal ever, one can say this Champions League run has been a dream come true. This Roma side plays with conviction and determination, which is the exact opposite of previous Roma teams in the Champions League. Not only did they beat Shakhtar Donetsk, a team that in the past has destroyed them, but they also defeated European powerhouses Barcelona.

In what many have considered an upset, the Italian club came back from a 4-1 loss in Barcelona to claim a 3-0 win in Rome, not only stunning Barcelona, but the whole world that night. Now, Roma head to Anfield as 180 minutes separate them and a place in the Champions League final.

Roma and Liverpool are no strangers to one another. The clubs have faced each other five times between 1984 and 2002; however, they have not faced each other in a competitive match since then. Their most famous encounter was in fact their first encounter. The two clubs first faced each other in the 1984 European Cup Final that was played in Rome. Liverpool would win the penalty shoot-out 4-2 after the game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes. It would be then captain and Roma legend Agostino Di Bartolomei’s last game for Roma. The loss along with clinical depression would haunt Ago for the rest of his life; ten years later, he would die by suicide exactly ten days after the anniversary of the 1984 final. For those who do not know much about one of Roma’s greatest players, Agostino Di Bartolomei, I suggest you watch 11 Metri to learn more about one of Roma’s legends. Thus, this tie holds a lot of emotional meaning to the people of Rome as Agostino was from Rome and came through the youth system.

Along with playing each other in the Champions League, the clubs have also conducted many a transfer between each other; the most famous being the one that occurred before this season: the transfer of Mohamed Salah. Salah has been a revelation under Klopp this season. Under the German, the Egyptian winger has further evolved his game and continued his scoring form from Italy. He has scored thirty-one goals in thirty-three games in the Premier League and currently has forty-one goals in forty-six games in all competitions. In the summer, there were many who were skeptical of the transfer due to the Egyptian failing at Chelsea under Mourinho. Most famous of all was football pundit Mina Rzouki who claimed that Salah “… is another Juan

The deadly attacking trident of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah will require Alisson and Roma’s defense to be sharp throughout the whole game and limit any chances the trio get. Liverpool’s defense will also be a challenge as the winter addition of Virgil Van Dijk has solidified Liverpool’s backline. The Reds are missing Emre Can, Joel Matip and Adam Lallana who are out injured. Expect Klopp to roll out his 4-3- 3 that has brought much success to Merseyside this season.

Roma head into the match with only Gregoire Defrel and Rick Kardsdorp out injured. New signing Jonathan Silva is also out for this match due to him being ineligible to play for Roma having appeared in the Champions League for Sporting Clube de Portugal.

In his press conference yesterday, Eusebio Di Francesco stated that both Schick and Under have a chance at starting tomorrow. I expect Di Francesco will most likely roll out his preferred 4-3- 3 too with Alisson in goal, a backline of Florenzi-Manolas- Fazio-Kolarov, a midfield trio of Strootman-De Rossi-Nainggolan and an attacking trio of El Shaarawy/Perotti-Dzeko- Under/Schick.

While it may be a 4-3-3, Di Francesco will most likely make in-game adjustments and may switch the formation to a 4-2- 3-1 throughout the match with Nainggolan playing as the trequartista in the system. However, Di Francesco has surprised before, especially in the second leg of the quarterfinals where for the first time ever he played with three at the back.

Even yesterday, Di Francesco would not say anything about his formation during his press conference. We will only know who will play tomorrow when the team sheets are released.

No matter what happens, it has been amazing to see Roma go this far in the Champions League. In what was supposed to be a rebuild year under new manager Eusebio Di Francesco, the Giallorossi have instead exceeded everyone’s expectation of them in the Champions League.

After being drawn with European powerhouses Atlético de Madrid and Chelsea in the group stages, Roma would surprise the world and win the group. They were then drawn with Shakhtar who they dispatched and Barcelona who they came back and won against. For many, if not all, Roma fans, no one would have expected this in their wildest dreams. No matter what happens, as long as the team plays with their utmost ability and show passion and grinta, I will not be disappointed.

We never know what Roma will show up in Europe, so as always: La Roma non si discute, si ama. This semi-finals for you, Ago. In bocca al luppi, Roma! You’ll definitely need it.

By: Sarfraz Khan

Photo: AFP