AS Roma vs Barcelona | Wednesday 16 September | Olimpico | 20:45
The Blaugranes attempt to become the first side to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era, which would only serve to exacerbate Barcelona’s pre-eminence in European football.
They face a stern test in AS Roma, who have started their Serie A campaign in a quietly confident manner. Rudi Garcia’s side have already defeated the seemingly impregnable Juventus this season, leading credence to those voices citing this as another terrific chance for Roma to secure the Scudetto. In Barcelona, however, they face a European juggernaut that will not be easily dismantled, especially considering that the occasion marks the great Lionel Messi’s 100th Champions League fixture.
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To Win (90mins)
AS Roma 42/10
Rudi Garcia’s side enjoyed a solid victory at the weekend, with Iturbe and Falque scoring to bury Frosinone. Some familiar faces to the Premier League grace this Roma outfit, with Szczesny and Gervinho renewing old acquaintances from their Arsenal days. Edin Dzeko provides Roma with a formidable target man, enjoying a new lease of life in the Italian capital. Rudi Garcia’s side will first need to counter the formidable attacking threat posed by this megalithic Barcelona side. Rudiger will likely partner Manolas in the centre of defence, especially after such an assured performance at the weekend.
Bosnia and Herzegovina playmaker Pjanic will be sorely missed following a calf strain sustained on international duty. His creative impetus will be missed, likely leading to a slightly more defensive approach. Nainggolan will enter alongside De Rossi in an attempt to shore the midfield, freeing up Gervinho and Falque to express themselves in support of Dzeko. Dzeko’s size will pose problems for Pique and Mascherano in a Barcelona side shown to have defensive vulnerabilities. Roma will rely on the counterattack, hoping to congest the midfield and limit Barcelona to long range efforts. But it’s a catch-22 situation, with Barcelona thriving on monopolising possession.
Luis Enrique’s side showed some grit and powers of attrition at Atletico, with Messi salvaging all three points in the final moments of the match after coming on as a substitute. Their quest to retain their European crown presents a tricky away trip to a highly competent AS Roma side. They will be without the services of Thomas Vermaelen, stretchered off against Atletico this weekend. Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo also remain sidelined, while Arda Turan and Vidal remain cup-tied until January. Messi will obviously come back into the fold, attempting to extend his European goal-scoring exploits. Mascherano will likely bolster the defence with Pique expected to return from suspension on Wednesday night.
Rafinha and Alba will likely have the edge over Digne and Florenzi and will likely get afforded more space as Roma will look to flood the central midfield. Rakitic and Mascherano are two unsung heroes, affording the Messis and Neymars of this world the freedom to focus on the art of attack. They may come under pressure from the industrious combination of Nainggolan and De Rossi however, while Gervinho’s pace may keep Rafinha honest. Roma will no doubt give a valiant account of themselves, but ultimately the front trio of Barcelona should be the difference - as it always is. Roma will greatly miss the talismanic presence of Pjanic, a player with the creative spark to cause Barcelona problems.
VERDICT: Barcelona HT/FT 29/20
I’m going to be bold and go for the halftime-fulltime double, with Barcelona winning both halves. Many see this as a potential banana peel for Barcelona, but I see Barca dominating this fixture, exemplifying the gulf between Italian and Spanish football.