ROMAN INVASION

By Peter Sampson
Oct 21st, 2008

With Middlesbrough safely dispatched on Saturday, attentions turn to Europe and the visit of Roma this Wednesday in the Champions League. The so-called second-string of the weekend will have another chance to establish themselves as strong starters against the Italian giants, who recovered from a shock home defeat against CFR Cluj on the opening matchday of the competition to beat Bordeaux last time out. A goal-less draw against the Romanian side Cluj wasn’t the greatest result for us three weeks ago, but with Luis Felipe Scolari’s men taking points as well as plaudits for the style and swagger of play recently, Roma could be in for another tough evening in Europe’s premier competition.

The injuries are starting to ease up for the Blues, although the quartet of Michaels Essien and Ballack as well as Didier Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho are definitely out for the Stamford Bridge tie. There could be returns for Petr Cech and England’s left-side, Ashley and Joe Cole, however with the deputies putting in solid stints on Saturday, selection should be a welcome problem for Scolari.

Roma have in recent years become more notorious for causing trouble off the pitch rather than troubling opposition sides on it, however, three consecutive runners-up positions in Serie A does show strong pedigree. Darling of the club Francesco Totti still holds the captain’s armband having been at the club for nearly 20 years, although at 32 his best years are behind him and he has recently recovered from knee surgery, playing in Roma’s 0-4 defeat against José Mourinho’s Inter Milan on Sunday.

Other notable names in Luciano Spalletti’s Roma side include Chelsea favourites John Arne Riise and Christian Panucci, both of whom have helped the Blues out in one guise or another. They also boast ex-Arsenal forward Júlio Baptista while the defence is shored up by French defender Phillipe Mexés, who along with Panucci missed the Inter defeat through suspension. Brazilians Cicinho and Juan, Manchester-born Simone Perrotta and Italians Daniele De Rossi and Alberto Aquilani should also be players to watch on Wednesday.

Roma have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the last two seasons, both times bowing out to Manchester United. The 2006/07 season saw a crushing defeat for the Italian side at Old Trafford, eventually losing 1-7 and 3-8 on aggregate.

Chelsea actually beat Roma way back in the 1965-66 season, with a 4-1 aggregate win in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. More recent encounters with Italian sides have proved almost as fruitful, with Vicenza put to the sword en route to Cup Winners’ Cup success in 97/98, Dennis Wise scoring in the San Siro against AC Milan in 99/00, and Lazio whimpering to a 0-4 defeat against Hernan Crespo and co five years ago.

Roma have had a dismal start to this season, only winning two league games and of course losing to Cluj. While Chelsea continue to go from strength to strength, Roma are wilting under pressure and will have to raise their game for the trip to London. The Blues should see this an opportunity to further raise a reputation for winning, exciting football (it is possible after all then!) and a repeat performance building on the Boro bashing will be an ideal outcome. The road to Rome continues with, er, Roma!

Prediction: Although they boast star names, winning hasn’t come easy for Roma, and the Blues have looked irrepressible as of late. Only one outcome, a win for Scolari’s strong squad.

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