This tie seems to be finished before it has even begun. Many people putting Barcelona into the semi-finals before they have even gone through the formality of actually playing the matches.
Though it will be a tough ask, Barcelona can be exposed and there are a couple of weaknesses which Roma may be able to exploit in order to defy the odds and snatch a victory from their formidable opponents.
Injuring Lionel Messi is one way they could gain something of an advantage. But, then again, this is fraught with issues.
First of all, it assumes a Roma player will be able to get close enough to him to actually inflict an injury. Secondly, they would probably also need to injure Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta too, so it may get quite convoluted. Whilst, not forgetting, there are also numerous ethical issues with deliberately injuring an opponent.
Thus, they may need to rely on an alternative, more traditional approach, such as trying to outmanoeuvre the Catalans tactically, while undoubtedly benefitting from a large dollop of luck over the course of the two ties.
This season Barcelona have left La Liga in their wake, with Ernesto Valverde’s side currently nine points clear with a total of zero defeats. Their Champions League results have been equally as imperious, dispatching Chelsea in the last-16, whilst also taking four points from Italy’s domestic titans Juventus in the group stages – including a 3-0 victory at the Camp Nou.
On the face of it then, Roma do not appear to have much of a chance – and, quite frankly, it is going to take two spectacular performances to even get within touching distance of qualifying for the semi-finals. But the Spanish side may not be as impenetrable as the facts suggest.
Eusebio Di Francesco need only cast an eye back to Saturday where Sevilla were 2-0 to the good and had opportunities to make it three, four and even five. Yet poor finishing cost them and with the introduction of Messi came the inevitable comeback. The Argentine excellently curling in an equaliser from 20-yards after a Suarez goal.
But time and time again the Barcelona defence was left wanting. The gap between Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique being exploited on numerous occasions. Pique, now 31, no longer resembles the consistent, unbeatable defender of years gone by. Whilst Umtiti, at just 24, still has the rawness and naivety of youth – and this is what the Giallorossi will need to exploit.
Whatever combination Di Francesco plumps for on the wings they will need to be at their very best in order to expose the defensive weaknesses of their opponents. Movement will be key in creating the space for Edin Dzeko to split the central defenders and capitalise on any space. Equally, the pace of Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy will be valuable if they can cut inside and run at the defensive duo.
At the weekend the Blaugrana were punished several times, as Sevilla found through balls to the forwards from deep in midfield highly profitable, consistently and frequently splitting the backline to create excellent openings. Radja Nainggolan’s expected return to the starting XI after being forced off against Bologna with an injury will be welcomed, so the onus will be on him to find the gaps.
Similarly, in Barcelona’s 3-0 victory over Chelsea at the Camp Nou in the previous round, Chelsea had a number of chances to peg the home side back, but they were not clinical enough in front of goal. They too exploiting the space left between the two central defenders on a variety of occasions.
So while it is going to be an immensely tall order, Barcelona are susceptible at the back. It will take a complete performance from the Italian side over 180 minutes, and they will be heavily reliant on clinical finishing, a perfect defensive display, and a large slice of luck. But they do have a small chance if they can capitalise on Barcelona’s defensive vulnerabilities. It is not necessarily the foregone conclusion everybody is expecting.