And to suppose that some Roma followers needed them to tank…
On Monday, the speak in some quarters — notably among the many native radio stations that present the soundtrack to any taxi journey within the Everlasting Metropolis — was that Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco ought to play the lengthy recreation.
The membership had been clearly not going to come back again from a Four-1 deficit in opposition to Barcelona of their Champions League second leg, so why not preserve their power for Sunday’s Serie A derby in opposition to Lazio?
It made sense, did not it? Beating Lazio — tied for third with Roma and one level forward of Inter — would imply taking a giant step in the direction of a prime 4 end. And that, in flip, would safe one other yr within the Champions League, which implies a minimal of $60 million within the coffers (and possibly far more.) Absolutely, for a membership nonetheless below Monetary Honest Play (FFP) restrictions, this made extra sense than chasing some form of “Field of Dreams,” three objectives within the gap?
In a really rational universe that argument is sensible. The mix of Europa League soccer and FFP restrictions would doubtless imply one other summer time of asset-flogging to make ends meet. And Roma followers must say farewell to a Radja Nainggolan or an Allisson, simply as they bade adieu to Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger and Miralem Pjanic the previous two summers.
Fortunately, Di Francesco does not reside on this “very rational” universe. He inhabits one the place hope springs everlasting, the place you’ll be able to dream massive, the place you owe it to the followers to struggle till the very finish. A universe the place you cease and ask your self: “What is the point, other than cash, of qualifying for the Champions League if we’re not going to have a go when we’re there?”
Not that he did not agonise over the best strategy in opposition to Barcelona. The choice to ditch his most well-liked Four-Three-Three with the wingers large for a close to unprecedented again three with the lanky Patrik Schick taking part in off the Colossus (AKA Edin Dzeko) got here to him at 5 O’clock within the morning on Sunday, the day after Roma’s dwelling defeat to Fiorentina.
“I couldn’t sleep, plus I’m a bit insane, so I got out of bed and drew up possible schemes for the Barcelona game, different looks that would put them under pressure in different ways,” he stated. “And this came to me. Had it not worked, you would have killed me.”
It did not simply work, it road-graded: other than an early Sergi Roberto likelihood, all Barca may muster had been a pair Lionel Messi free kicks and Ousmane Dembele’s mad lob on the finish.
Make no mistake about it, this was a big gamble in all respects — starting with the choice to press excessive to disrupt Barcelona’s build-up. It is not one thing that, on paper, Roma must be good at. Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov are each 32, whereas Daniele De Rossi is 34. Not one of the three are what you’d name dynamic at this stage of their profession. Nainggolan is a livelier in fact, however he was coming off an damage.
Maintaining a excessive line in opposition to Barca meant pitting the again three in opposition to Messi and Luis Suarez. And, keep in mind, the again three included Federico Fazio, who at 6-foot-5 is not who you need within the open subject in opposition to Messi (or, actually, anybody) and Juan Jesus, the Stadio Olimpico’s favorite whipping boy for the previous two seasons.
The margin for error was wafer-thin, however Roma had the focus and the nous to remain inside it. As Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde identified, his aspect had been rattled and compelled into hitting longer passes. However if you try this, you could win the second balls. And Barca scarcely had a sniff of these all evening.
Valverde stated after the sport that he was guilty as he was accountable for the personnel and the formation. And fact be instructed, insisting on the identical formation as the primary leg (whose Four-1 scoreline was largely because of particular person blunders, personal objectives and penalties not given) appeared silly. Shoe-horning Nelson Semedo into the lineup by shifting Sergi Roberto to the wing backfired badly; so too did leaving out Dembele, the one Barcelona attacker with a little bit of tempo.
The truth that Valverde waited till the 75th minute, when Roma had been 2-Zero up, to make a change (aside from shifting Andres Iniesta centrally) means that he both did not realise his workforce had been producing near nothing or that he merely froze, like a deer within the headlights of Mac Truck.
However there’s sufficient blame to go round right here, beginning with the entrance two. Suarez’s most impactful contribution could properly have been the 2 minutes of time he ate up feigning damage after Juan Jesus’ hand grazed his face. And after establishing the Sergi Roberto likelihood early, Messi light into oblivion.
And that is not excellent news for a workforce that’s as Messi-dependent within the closing third as Barcelona have been in a few years. Once more, the warning indicators had been there. They had been humdrum in opposition to Roma at Camp Nou and, however for Messi’s heroics and a few craven particular person errors, might need gone out in opposition to Chelsea within the earlier spherical as properly.
A few of us even pointed it out on the time: Valverde must discover a method of scoring that’s not Messi-related.
It wasn’t laborious to foretell Roma getting one thing out of this recreation. In spite of everything, they’d but to concede a single Champions League purpose at dwelling they usually bested the likes of Atletico Madrid, Shaktar Donetsk and Chelsea to get right here.
However to turn out to be solely the third workforce within the Champions League period to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit is one thing few may have imagined.
Fortunately for Roma a type of few was an insomniac Di Francesco, pulling an all-nighter of crazed alchemy to concoct a formulation that might make historical past within the Everlasting Metropolis. And by chance — not only for Roma followers however for any impartial who enjoys an underdog comeback — he did not take heed to those that urged him to be smart, rational and affected person in simply making an attempt to reside to struggle one other day.
This was an evening for daring. Daring to do and daring to dream. And he did.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Author for ESPN FC. Observe him on Twitter @Marcotti.