The last of the quarterfinals that I haven’t written about is Barcelona and Roma. Barcelona is rightfully a huge favorite and for good reason. They have lost one game in all competitions this season after they lost both legs of the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid. That loss was a Copa Del Rey loss to Espanyol in the first leg of a two leg tie. They went on to win the second leg and advance. It’s amazing that they have gone all season without a loss in La Liga and we don’t hear anyone talking about it. People were talking about City going unbeaten 5 games into the season and what it would mean. Barcelona has a realistic chance to accomplish this and you wouldn’t even know that it’s happening.
I would give Roma about as much chance of winning this as I give the United States or Italy winning the World Cup this summer.
Roma is a solid team, they won a difficult group with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid to get to the knockout stage, they’re currently third in Serie A in a real tight battle with Inter Milan and Lazio for 3rd and 4th.
But it’s going to take an 180 minutes that I don’t think this team has in them to get by this Barcelona machine.
The one way Roma has a chance to hang with this Barcelona juggernaut is the play of their goalie Allison. He has been ridiculous all season. In their first meeting against Atletico Madrid he made 9 saves and many of them were of the ridiculous variety. If you don’t believe me before the games on Wednesday go on that internet and check out the highlights, it was as good of a game I saw a goalie play.
It’s rather understandable why Liverpool at one point was targeting him which doesn’t seem like the case anymore and I think he will ultimately beat Ederson out for the Brazil starting nod. He’s quickly becoming one of the best goalies on the planet. It will likely take him topping the performance against Atleti and then some if Roma were to advance.
The one thing that can be the ultimate x-factor is Messi. No matter what a team does or how well they play Messi is so damn good that he can win this by himself.
He has played some of his best football of his life this season. Sure, they’re rolling now I talked about this at the beginning of this but if you remember back to the beginning of the season they relied heavily on him maybe as heavy as they have in years. Suarez got off to a slow start and their midfield hadn’t found it’s footing yet. They’re formula was excellent play from Umtiti and Piquet at Center Back, great goaltending by from Ter Stegen and then wait for Messi to perform his magic which of course he has done it time and time again.
I usually prefer to start my Champions League ties on the road but in this one if I were Roma I would probably want to start at home. I am very afraid that this will be over before this heads back to Rome. This feels like a Barcelona destruction right out of the gates. That man I talked about already seems super motivated and I feel like really wants this treble this season. The rivalry between him and Ronaldo is real and you know that Messi is super pissed about the past couple seasons that Ronaldo has won this back to back times and the double last year, he wants to end this run and take his place back at the top of the mantle again. And if I know Messi like I think I do, is that despite his frame he’s the biggest savage on the planet and he won’t want let Roma think there is any chance of winning this when they go home. He will want to end this on Wednesday in Barcelona.
One thing that Valverde did this season when he replaced Enrique is simplify things. They play a much more defensive style this season than they have in the past. It is kind of what I said earlier, it is a lot of defending their tales off, not make mistakes, protect their vulnerable midfield who because of this they have been great this season and then wait for Messi to do his thing, which he does all the time.
But the truth is Valverde derserves a ton of credit for their success this season, there was a lot of trepidation regarding this team before the season, but Valverde has made the changes that have them on the verge of winning another treble. A feat that no one thought was possible when they got smoked against Real Madrid this summer in the Spanish Super Cup, which in hindsight is probably the best thing that has happened to them, it showed Valverde what they needed to do to improve.
So much was expected from this kid when he was brought over from Borussia Dortmund but an early injury set him back and it didn’t seem like he would provide much for them this season, but looking at things now he might be the key to them winning this competition.
You may think this is a super hot take but you see this is a position that they’ve struggled to fill this season. For the most part they have gone with a 4-4-2 playing Paulinho in midfield four but he is very limited in what he can do, sure he’s had a decent season with Barca and may have proven some haters wrong but his limitations may hold you back and allow teams to focus more bodies on Messi and Suarez and take away their precious space that they crave. Coutinho would be a decent option but he is cap tied for this competition already playing in the group stage this season with Liverpool.
This leaves Dembele and his unbelievable pace and skill set. He turned the second leg against Chelsea on it’s head. He made such an influence over that game that they were not able to make over the first leg. It may not matter against Roma but if this team is going to hit it’s ceiling against the stiffer competition they are likely to face if they’re going to win this they will need Dembele.
Besides Allison the one man who can do something special and help Roma shock the world it’s Edin Dzeko.
His numbers may be a bit down from last season. He has scored 18 goals in 38 games so far this season, last season he scored 39 goals in 51 games. He definitely rejuvenated his career when he moved to Roma from Manchester City where he certainly fell out of favor. Lucky for Roma they didn’t sell him to Chelsea when he almost moved there in the January transfer window. They obviously got to see his ability first hand when he was a big part of drawing with them at Stanford Bridge when he played one of the games of his life. Scoring two absolute beauties that helped them to a 3-3 draw which was a huge result for them and went a long way towards winning the group. In one of the best games I watched all season.
If a miracle were to happen Dzeko would have to come up big, likely bigger than he did against Chelsea.
Soaking up pressure
Everyone knows how Barcelona plays, as I mentioned they play a smarter style than they have played in years past but no one is confusing Barcelona with Burnely, they want to be on the ball and want to pass you into obvlivion. For Roma to have a chance they will have to soak up pressure for large stretches of time and not break down. The goal in this leg is just to get out of this alive. They will take a 1-0 loss, sure they would prefer a 1-1 draw or a win more than anything but going home with a chance is all they can hope for and if they are able to accomplish this it will be mission accomplished.
A big area that Roma like to insert their attack is through their fullbacks but against Barcelona and knowing they will be soaking up pressure for large parts of both legs it will be difficult to get them involved but unless they are thinking they will get to penalties after a 0-0 draw after 210 minutes and having Allison save them in penalties. But this unlikely so at some point Kolarov and Florenzi will have to get forward.
Busquets who was a concern coming into this after getting injured in the last round against Chelsea should be good to go after returning to training this week.
Messi who didn’t start in their 2-2 draw against Sevilla over the weekend while nursing an injury came in to score the equalizer helping them come from behind to erase a 2-0 deficit, so no doubt he will be good to go.
The rest of Barcelona is healthy so it looks like they will be as close to 100% as you can be this time of the year.
On the other hand things for Roma don’t look so good from the injury side of things. Cengiz Unger is a question mark with a knee injury, Lorenzo Pelligrini is also a question mark with a minor calf injury, Radja Nainggolan is a serious question mark after a calf/thigh strain against Bologna over the weekend. Look this is a long shot for Roma to accomplish their goal of going home with life, but if Nainggolan isn’t available that long shot goes to it’s never going to happen in a million years.
There is nothing more that I would like to see than Roma stay in this to at least make the home leg watchable this is the best football and we only get four of these quarterfinals so I want as many of them as possible to go the distance and for the drama to last the whole way. (Except for Liverpool of course who I hope wins 18-0 in the home leg) But I just don’t see this happening. I laid out the reasons how they can make this happen but it isn’t working out for them. Barcelona has way to much firepower and talent for Roma. Roma has had a nice season and getting to this point is a great accomplishment for them but I’m sorry it ends here for them. This is going to be a tough day for them. Barcelona is going to win big here.