Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Tuesday 21st Oct, 2014, 18:45 GMT
AS Roma have made an encouraging start to their Champions League campaign with the demolition of CSKA Moscow at home and following it up with a creditable away draw against English champions Manchester City but now they face their toughest opponent in Group E.
Roma have made a very bright start to their season so far and sit one point behind the Serie A leaders in second place. They have returned to the Champions League for the first time since 2011 and their current form sets them up perfectly for the challenge against the German champions. Roma secured an easy 3-0 win over Chievo at the weekend with all the goals coming in the first half. The result moved them to within a point of league leaders Juventus and Rudi Garcia will be hoping they take this confidence into tonight’s meeting.
Bayern Munich, meanwhile, top Group E following successive 1-0 wins over Manchester City and CSKA Moscow. The Bavarians have won their last five matches in all competitions. They are yet to concede a goal since August and romped to a 6-0 win over bottom placed Werder Bremen in Bundesliga on Saturday. Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola expressed his delight at how well the players responded after the international break and will be looking to extend the gap at the top in Rome.
Team news and tactical brief
Rudi Garcia has been making all the right noises ahead of the game tonight and he will be hoping his players respond positively on the pitch as well. Ahead of the reunion with former defensive lynchpin Mehdi Benatia, Garcia deserves a lot of praise for keeping the system intact even after the departure of the Moroccan. Leandro Castan will continue his spell on the sidelines but Kostas Manolas is available for selection. Davide Astori is back from injury and will be expected to partner the Greek international in defence. Douglas Maicon and Ashley Cole will have to prioritize defensive duties for tonight’s game as they come up against the rampaging wingbacks of Bayern Munich. Maicon has been impressive so far in the Champions League and he will be looking to continue his good form against Guardiola’s men. Morgan De Sanctis returns in goal after missing out against Manchester City.
Roma suffered a big blow when Seydou Keita returned from international with an injury which is likely to keep him out for 20 days. The Mali international has been one of the best players in Italy this season but the injury comes at a crucial time ahead of this packed schedule. Daniele De Rossi, who himself was nursing a calf injury, will start in his place in this crunch tie. Radja Nainggolan has been the driving force of this team in the middle of the park winning tackles, setting up goals, scoring himself – the Belgian has been a real livewire for Rudi Garcia’s side so far. Francesco Totti was back to his majestic best in the weekend scoring from the spot and setting up Adem Ljajic’s goal. Totti has been taking a withdrawn position on the pitch mostly this season dictating the play as a regista. The same is expected tonight as well as he will be looking to feed Gervinho on the flanks. The Ivorian was rested for the game on Saturday and he will be back in the starting line-up along with Argentine Juan Manuel Iturbe, who was out with a thigh injury. Bosnian fantasista Miralem Pjanic has had a slow start to the season and is having less influence on the games so far, part of which is to do with Totti dropping a bit deep to orchestrate the play. Pjanic is lacking sharpness on the pitch but this is probably the ideal game to deliver a performance which would do justice to his enormous potential.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): De Sanctis(GK); Maicon, Manolas, Astori, Cole; Pjanic, Nainggolan, De Rossi; Iturbe, Totti, Gervinho
Pep Guardiola started out with a 4-1-4-1 module last year with Bayern Munich where the system was built around the strengths of Toni Kroos. However, now there is a transition from this system to a 3-man backline. Guardiola is expected to start with a 3-man defence with ex-Roma stalwart Mehdi Benatia partnering Jerome Boateng in the centre of defence. David Alaba picked up a knock against Werder Bremen on Saturday but is likely to be fit for this game. Juan Bernat will have his hands full against Maicon while on the opposite side Rafinha will have to be on his toes to neutralize Gervinho.
The main focus of Guardiola’s 3-man backline is the structure in possession. The midfield has been orchestrated by the ever experienced Xabi Alonso who has produced masterful displays as a deep lying playmaker so far this season. Mario Gotze played a pivotal part in midfield against Manchester City and with Thiago Alcantara set to miss out for the majority of this season and Bastian Schwiensteiger still injured; the German will be looking to settle in this new role. Philipp Lahm will continue to be a part of the midfield trio alongside these two. The mobility of Robert Lewandowski will allow Guardiola to experiment with his attacking options. Lewandowski can drop deep, shift out towards the wing to create spaces for his strike partner to exploit. Alongside him Thomas Muller will provide himself as a disciplined and creative option who is able to play off the main striker anywhere in the final third and keep the opposition defence busy.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Neur(GK); Boateng, Benatia, Alaba; Bernat, Rafinha, Alonso, Lahm, Gotze; Muller, Lewandowski
Players to Watch Out For
Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma)
Radja Nainggolan has been Roma’s player of the season so far. If the absence of a player as talented as Kevin Strootman has not been felt it is of great credit to the Belgian who has taken his place. No one has won possession in the middle third of the pitch more than Nainggolan this season plus in terms of accurate passes he has outshone others as well. He is an all-rounder with outstanding production on and off the ball.
Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich)
Xabi Alonso has been one of Europe’s finest deep lying playmaker this season. His technique and skill on the ball is exceptional and his distribution is near-flawless. Since joining Bayern Munich this summer the Spaniard has experienced a personal renaissance and he will be shouldered the responsibility of feeding the wingers to create havoc against the ageing Roma fullbacks.
AS Roma 1–1 Bayern Munich
This has the potential to be a highly entertaining encounter. Roma will no doubt make life difficult for the German club but Bayern should have enough about them to come away with an important point from this fixture.
Blast From the Past
The two sides met in Roma’s last Champions League campaign when Roma overturned a two-goal deficit in the second half to claim a famous 3-2 win.