Champions League 2018-2019: Roma VS Porto Preview
The Portuguese champions face last season's Champions League semi-finalist in a mouth-watering round of 16 encounter. Roma will hosts the opening leg of the tie in the Italian capital and should have revenge on their mind as just two seasons ago, Porto demolished the Giallorossi 3-0 to eliminate the Romans at the Champion's League playoff stage.
Porto currently lead the Portuguese league table in an attempt to retain their crown after a barren four-year spell of no league success, due to arch-rivals Benfica's dominance. Former Portuguese standout Sérgio Conceição has evidently evolved this Porto team, the team won its Champion's League group after going unbeaten in all of its six games.
A dangerous mix of Mexican, Spanish, Brazilan and Portuguese players make Porto both exciting on the eye and a winning machine. The Dragões have not lost a competitive game since early October of last year.
These fortunes are in sharp contrast to Roma's season form. The Di Francesco led outfit have had a rather inconsistent season that sees the club hovering just outside the Champions League positions. Italian football has turned up the volume and Roma are finding it difficult to contend with the improved squads of Inter, Milan and even Atalanta.
Roma drew 3-3 twice this season to the Black and Blue of Bergamo, the last result was after leading by 3-0. Outside of the league, things have not been better. A humiliating 7-1 flogging dished out by Fiorentina's young guns in the Coppa Italia doubled the pressure on both Di Francesco and American owner James Pallotta.
The Champions League has been Roma's one saving grace this season and a quarter-final birth can lift the spirits as the squad attempts to chase a top 4 spot in Italy. What's in the way would not be easily movable, Porto will remember their 5-0 Liverpool humbling at this same stage last season and would hope to not exit from the round of 16 for the third consecutive campaign.
Predicted Lineup: Roma
One reason often given for Roma's unreliability this season was the loss of form of star striker Edin Dzeko. Dzeko went almost three months without scoring in the Serie A. The 32-year-old even lost his place in the starting lineup as Roma tried to get things right. The Bosnian finally broke his duck with a double in the draw vs Atalanta at the end of January and to his credit, has been dependable in Europe bagging five goals in the four group stage games he participated in.
Turkish speedster Cengiz Ünder looks a real doubt for the first leg, it would be interesting to see just what Di Francesco does to fill that hole. Nicolò Zaniolo has been a breakout star this season, his all-action attitude makes him a genuine fan favorite and based on his performances so far he can make a difference for the Romans.
Young Justin Klivert has been slowly adjusting to life in Italy and could be given a chance with Ünder's unavailability. World Cup winner Stephen N'Zonzi will be trusted to protect a rather seasoned defence that contains Kolarov, Fazio, hero of last year Manolas and captain Florenzi if he is not given an attacking role.
Goals(all season)- Edin Dzeko 10, Stephan El Shaarawy 8, Aleksandar Kolarov 7
Key Player- Edin Dzeko -He might be in the winter of his career but Dzeko is still the key player for this Roma team and his form could determine if they can advance. The former Bundesliga and Serie A top goalscorer must be given special attention from any opponent.
Predicted Lineup: Porto
The Portuguese champions are flying at the moment. There is a lot of quality in this team, strong international quality that is turning the heads of the European elite. Both Liverpool and Real Madrid have been strongly linked to Brazilian international Eder Militao, fellow Brazilian Alex Telles has been a rumor mill favorite for ages.
Porto will be without Cameroonian international Vincent Aboubakar who is out for the rest of the season with a serious injury. In his place will be yet another Brazilan, Soares who is back from his injury and is in fine form, his partnership with Moussa Marega is blossoming well. Marega was outstanding in the group stages and registered five important goals in Porto's unbeaten run.
Marega is an injury doubt and could miss the first leg in Roma. European Champion Danilo, Mexican workhorse Hector Herrea and Spanish talent Oliver Torres provide the options in the heart of the lineup. The wings are where Porto do their most effective work Brahimi has dazzled Europe enough times for Roma to be aware and Corona scored the third and final goal when the teams last met.
Tecatito's suspension was upheld so he will definitely miss the first leg. Porto made some movement in January opting to bring back club and national team legend Pepe to the club. His involvement should see him partner Filipe in front of Ilker Casillas' goal. Between the two former Real Madrid men Casillas and Pepe there are six Champions League titles.
Goals(all season)- Moussa Marega 16, Francisco Soares 13, Yacine Brahimi 9
Key Player- Pepe- Porto took the gamble of bringing the 35-year-old back to the club. This gamble can pay off if Pepe is his usual self and gives the Portuguese team the extra edge to emerge from this tie.