A Tricky Draw
As the pong balls for pot 3 were being selected Thursday in Monaco, surely one thought was going through the minds of all of the players awaiting their fates – ‘Sweet mercy please let it not be Bayern and PSG!’
As fate would have it, Roma were not selected to play in Group B alongside of the aforementioned juggernauts. However, they were drawn into a group with the current champions of England (Chelsea), a team coming off of back-to-back semifinals performances in the Champions League (Atletico Madrid) and a team making its first appearance in the group stages (Qarabag).
Roma fans should be concerned, not only due to the exceptional level of competition they will face, but also their history in the Champions League can be characterized as less than stellar. Having only made it out of the group stage once since 2011, Roma will need to overachieve in order to qualify for the final 16 of the competition. It’s not just the history, either. With the squad still adjusting to the demands of new coach Eusebio Di Francesco, the departure of dynamic winger Mohamed Salah and the loss of club icon Francesco Totti, it is clear that Roma will need to come together quickly if they are to pose a challenge in this group. Having said that, here’s a closer look at who Roma will face.
The reigning English champions probably present the most likely candidates to top the group. Boasting an attack that includes the likes of Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian, Chelsea should be able to count on consistent scoring. Couple this with a staunch defense and a coach that is equally ravenous as he is tactically genius, and you can see why Chelsea present a difficult challenge.
Atletico Madrid present an imposing figure as well. Los Rojiblancos have made it at least to the quarterfinals in each of the last four years, while finishing runners up twice – clearly, showing an aptitude for competing at a high level in the most prestigious tournament in Europe. Most troubling for Roma fans, prior to conceding to Real Madrid in the semifinals of last year’s competition, Atletico had not allowed a goal at home in 18 matches.
Qarabag have the potential to be the Cinderella story of the group, as they are the first Azerbaijani side to reach the group stages of the Champions League. However, the problem with fairy tales is that’s all they are, fiction. Though Qarabag succeeded in dispatching with FC Copenhagen in order to reach the group stage, it is unlikely that they should present much of a problem for any of the teams in this group, including Roma.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Though it will certainly be a tall order, Romanisti should not despair at their chances of making it out of this group. While Roma may lack the silverware of Chelsea and the pedigree of Atletico, they can count on an exceptionally talented squad and a coach that encourages an exciting and attacking style of football. Where there was once a Totti, there is now a Dzeko, coming off of a massive haul of 29 goals in 37 appearances last year. Roma can also count on a world class midfield featuring the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan. While there may be questions asked of the defense with the recent transfer of Antonio Rudiger to Chelsea, new signees Rick Karsdorp and Aleksandar Kolarov will hope to leave their mark – with Kolarov already have scored this season. The road for Roma in this group is difficult and fraught with multiple challenges, but given the talent at their disposal, it’s not inconceivable for the Giallorossi to pull off an upset or two and exceed expectations by qualifying over the two favorites.