Things on the domestic front look dim for the Romans. The disappointing 2-2 draw on Sunday afternoon with Chievo only dampened the side’s chances of staying in touching distance with Scudetto challengers Juventus and Napoli. The Lupi have only registered five points out of a possible 12 and now linger around mid-table.
With the departures of Radja Nainggolan and Alisson in the summer, Romanisti have once again been left infuriated with the sale of key players. Poor performances on the pitch and angry fans have now left Roma in a dark place, especially with Real Madrid looming. But can the Giallorossi brush aside the Serie A negativity and immediately recapture last term’s tremendous Champions League form?
In all honesty, Roma probably picked up the best possible group out of all the Italian sides this time around. Getting paired with Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzen didn’t seem like the worst outcome. In fact, aiming for top spot in Group G could even be achievable for the Giallorossi, especially now that Los Blancos don’t boast Cristiano Ronaldo. However, anything less than a second-place finish will be a spectacular failure.
It's probably a bonus that their first game is the most difficult, so at least there's no chance for complacency when starting out against the side that won the trophy a record three years in a row.
After disposing of Chelsea and being responsible for Atletico Madrid’s elimination in the ‘group of death’ last season, Roma unexpectedly reached new heights in Europe. Scraping past Shakhtar Donetsk and producing that emphatic comeback against La Liga giants Barcelona, the Giallorossi booked a semi-final showdown with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Despite Roma winning the second-leg 4-2 at the Stadio Olimpico, the Reds attacking spree at Anfield was enough to dent Champions League Final aspirations.
One key element that can make or break Roma’s European journey this season is the tactics Eusebio Di Francesco will utilise. Last season - mainly in the group stages - the Italian manager’s usual 4-3-3 formation worked effectively. But sometimes Di Francesco can often commit tactical suicide: the 4-5-1 defensive formation against Barcelona in the first-leg and the 3-4-2-1 against Liverpool at Anfield are prime examples. However, the former Sassuolo manager can also perform tactical masterpieces - the 3-5-2 switch against Barcelona in the second-leg paid dividends for the 3-0 Romantada.
Also, Di Francesco enjoyed some success by placing faith in youngsters in last season’s Champions League fixtures. The unexpected Cengiz Under and record signing Patrik Schick were imperative in Roma’s attack towards the knockout stages. And this season also looks like the Roma Coach will receive the opportunity to showcase talented prospects such as Justin Kluivert and Bryan Cristante.
So far, the major problems for Roma stem from the mentality of the players - particularly those in defence. After gaining a one-goal lead against both Atalanta and Chievo, Roma’s players became too complacent. The Giallorossi have actually started their games with a good attacking intent, however, those brain fade moments they have in defence tarnish their overall results. Having already conceded seven goals in the new Serie A season, Roma’s defending will need to be disciplined when they come up against the firepower of Karim Benzema, Isco, Marcos Asensio and Gareth Bale.
However, we can rest assured that Roma won’t lack in scoring plenty of goals. Despite Nainggolan’s ruthless attack no longer being present in the team’s midfield, the Giallorossi have still played a fluid attacking game at times. The arrival of Javier Pastore has brought in more attacking and creative qualities - with the Argentine sitting behind the forwards and stringing vital passes. The attacking midfielder also brings a vast amount of Champions League experience into the side. So there is no doubt that the former PSG playmaker will break down many opposition defences in this tournament and provide exceptional service to Edin Dzeko.
Roma boasts the firepower up front and a creative midfield to create havoc for any team in the Champions League, however, the defensive issues and mentality need to be addressed by Di Francesco. But this Giallorossi side - containing a blend of veterans and exciting youngsters - is more than capable of emulating last season’s fairy-tale Champions League run.