European football is back this week as the two UEFA competitions enter the knockout phase with three Portuguese clubs involved. Lisbon duo Benfica and Sporting are in Europa League action later in the week, but first up it’s Portugal’s sole surviving representative in the Champions League FC Porto, who take to the field on Tuesday evening.
The Dragons are in the Italian capital to play Roma in the last 16 of the world’s greatest club competition. What can Sérgio Conceição’s men expect? PortuGOAL enlisted the help of Italian football and Roma expert John Solano for the lowdown on the Serie A club.
Current form. How have Roma looked this season so far?
Roma have been very up and down this season. They’ve had various brilliant moments, such as grabbing a point at the San Paolo against Napoli, and several negative moments, such as dropping points to Chievo Verona, Bologna, and Udinese — teams that are all fighting against relegation. Because they’ve dropped so many points against smaller sides, they are now in a race for qualification in next season’s Champions League.
Ones to watch - Who are Roma’s star players?
Edin Dzeko has just returned the fold and is statistically having his worst campaign since his arrival in 2015. In his last three matches, however, he has three goals and an assist to his name and is once again showing how crucial he is to Roma’s set-up. Another one to watch is Stephan El Shaarawy. The former Milan attacker is the Giallorossi’s leading goalscorer in the league and has provided a spark all season.
Strong points/weak points – what must Porto beware of and what can they exploit?
The focal point for the Giallorossi remains Edin Dzeko and on his day, he can punish anybody. Eusebio Di Francesco’s attack has been strong this season, but the same cannot be said about Roma’s defence. Of the top 10 in Serie A, Roma are tied for the second-worst defence as they’ve struggled at the back all season. Federico Fazio, who was arguably Roma’s best defender in 2017/2018, has inexplicably become a massive liability and has really struggled with tracking the runs of the opposing attackers. If there was one player to point at who could potentially be exploited, it is undoubtedly the Argentine.
Formation and playing style – what system do Roma usually play? Would you describe them generically as an attacking or a defensive team?
Eusebio Di Francesco was renowned for his attacking 4-3-3 formation, however, after early struggles to begin the campaign, he switched to a 4-2-3-1. In recent matches, though, Di Francesco has reverted back to his 4-3-3 due to a significant number of injuries. Despite the change in formation, Roma’s attacking mind-set has remained the same: attack vertically and exploit the flanks.
Without question, this Roma is far more of an attacking side than defensive.
What is the local press saying about the tie? Roma had a fantastic run in the Champions League last season - are there expectations of a repeat?
I think most local newspapers and websites agree that last season’s run to the Champions League was miraculous and unlikely to be duplicated. Upon learning that Porto would be their opponent in the first stage of the knockout phase, many were confident in Roma’s chances at progression. However, given their struggles all season, it would surprise nobody if they were eliminated by Porto.
Mood in the camp – judging by player/coach quotes regarding this game, do you think Roma come into the match in a confident frame of mind?
Had this match been two weeks ago, I think both the players and manager would have been far more pessimistic. But after a strong performance against Milan and a good showing at the weekend against Chievo, Roma seem to be slowly regaining confidence. Daniele De Rossi recently returned to the fold after missing three months due to a knee injury — it’s extremely difficult to grasp why but Roma play far more confidently and reassured when their 36 year old captain is on the pitch.
What do you think the result of Tuesday’s match will be?
It’s extremely difficult to predict what you will get from this Roma — you could get a sensational performance, like we saw this past weekend, or you could get the team that can’t do a single thing right, just like we saw two weeks ago when they lost 7-1 in the Coppa Italia against Fiorentina.
I do think Roma will win the first leg, but it’s difficult to predict the final score, but I’ll guess that it will be 3-1.
Our thanks to John Solano. For all things AS Roma, follow John at twitter @Solano_56.