Archive for April 1st, 2008

Roma vs. Manchester United Preview – Red Devils in the Gladiators’ Arena

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Roma vs. Manchester United (UEFA Champions League)

Boy, Roma vs. Manchester United… it doesn’t get any better than this.

One could argue that out of the four UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals, the most ‘prestigious one’ is Arsenal-Liverpool, or that rising Bundesliga stars Schalke 04 will have something to prove vs. Spanish giants Barcelona, or perhaps even that Fenerbahçe-Chelsea is bound to provide plenty of entertaining excitement, as the Turkish team’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium is always a very difficult venue. However, everyone here knows the real mid-week action will come from the Stadio Olimpico of Rome, where a fully pumped AS Roma team will be hosting current Premier League dominators, Manchester United.

Let’s take a look at what Tuesday’s big-match has in store for us…


On the eve of the most important match (yet!) of Roma’s European campaign, Giallorossi manager Luciano Spalletti spoke about his side’s chances. In a nutshell: “We are more mature and more experienced. We learnt a lot from that 7-1 defeat: we can go through. It’s a shame Totti can’t play, but we must be a good team to have come this far“.

Gazzetta in English has the rest of the interview, which I copied below (slightly edited):

ROME, 31 March 2008 – “We mean to show what we can do. We will need to put in two huge performances, but we are up to the task. Rooney says we’re running scared? I say see you in the Olimpico and at Old Trafford“.

Luciano Spalletti, Roma managerLuciano Spalletti showed neither resignation nor concern on the eve of the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester United. Ferguson-style, the Roma manager deftly sidestepped negative comments (such as: “In Italy we don’t yet have the mentality for management”) and proudly announced: “We have come this far and will show that we deserve it“. These are comments akin to saying ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’. Even without Totti.

Speaking of Totti…. has the captain’s absence affected the atmosphere in the Roma camp? “No, not at all” responded the Tuscan coach, “Francesco is an essential part of our team but I am convinced that our collective strength will compensate for his absence“. Mirko Vucinic (Roma’s leading scorer in this season’s Champions League) will be taking his place, and Spalletti has full confidence in the Montenegrin striker: “Mirko has always repaid our faith: every time we have placed responsibility on his shoulders he has come up trumps

Not even the memory of the famous and accursed 7-1 can disturb Spalletti’s peace of mind. “That still rankles: nothing went right for us that night“, admitted the Roma manager. “Nevertheless, we have played them four times in total so far, and managed to win the first match. I am sure we’ll be able to give them a good game Tuesday evening and I also think we’ll go through“.

As any good Serie A fan should, we can only share Spalletti’s optimism.

The Totti situation

Francesco Totti, age 31As a big blow to Roma, skipper Francesco Totti has been ruled out of Tuesday night’s match after suffering a thigh injury vs. Cagliari on Saturday. The Giallorossi captain has already begun recuperating, and his target is a challenging one: to be back for the quarter-final return leg in Manchester.

Totti’s personal trainer Vito Scala, spoke to Centro Suono Sport Radio (relayed by Gazzetta dello Sport): “Things must be taken one step at a time, Francesco picked up the injury during the Cagliari match but did not think it was worth going off because he could play through the pain. Also, going off wouldn’t have changed anything: his knee is not the problem. It is simply bad luck: it could even have happened in training“.

Scala emphasised that Totti’s ligament injury “is no longer cause for concern“, but that the Roma captain will still have to take things slowly. “Francesco is already training his upper body. His leg is bandaged up. He is very upset to be missing tomorrow’s game but desperate to be there for the return match“.


Opponents Analysis

In their press conference Monday, Luciano Spalletti and Daniele De Rossi also said a few words about their opponents:

Luciano Spalletti and Daniele De Rossi during Monday’s pre-Manchester United press conferenceCristiano Ronaldo is certainly looking quite scary at the moment. He’s a complete footballer, whichever way you look at it“, said Spalletti. “He likes to play the trickster: he even did it last year in the 7-1 match“, added De Rossi, who will be playing tomorrow in spite of running a slight fever. “I’m more impressed with Rooney though: he’s one of the best three players in the world“.

Of course, everyone agrees that Roma have ‘chosen’ the worst possible time to face United. “They are currently the greatest team in the world” admitted Spalletti, before De Rossi added: “They are playing some incredible football and I’m worried about their attacking potential“. The only way to stop the Red Devils is to involve the extra man: “We’re expecting our fans to play a massive role, like they have on other occasions. As long as there is no violence -this city doesn’t need any of that“, exclaimed Spalletti and De Rossi together.

Will that be enough? This time there will certainly be no handouts. “Enough“, exclaimed the manager, “I’ve already given Ferguson three bottles of wine and that 7-1… I think that’s more than enough“.


Manchester Utd

By contrast with Totti, United’s own talisman Cristiano Ronaldo could not be in better health, scoring his 35th goal of a remarkable campaign in Saturday’s 4-0 success against Aston Villa FC. reports of what Sir Alex Ferguson had to say about his star player, as well as the Red Devils’ match preparation for Tuesday night:

We’re absolutely delighted with Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible improvement and goalscoring performances – it is a big advantage to us“, said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson of the Portugal forward. ”The chances of him winning the Golden Ball are very high, and will be even higher if United make it to the next round” he added. Ronaldo had not scored in the UEFA Champions League prior to last season’s quarter-final, but is the present campaign’s joint-leading marksman with six goals.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul Scholes in their pre-Roma press conferenceIt is not just Ronaldo on song either: United have won 7 of their last 8 games. “Form is important and I think our form is very good“, said the Scot, admitting however that much like Roma (on top of Totti, the Giallorossi will be without injured Brazilian defender Juan), United are also faced with infirmary problems: Darren Fletcher, Nani, Louis Saha and Gary Neville have all stayed in Manchester with a knock or two. In addition, Ferguson’s doubts over the fitness of Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra have not quite been cleared yet.

Nevertheless, looking ahead to his 8th UEFA Champions League quarter-final as United manager, Sir Alex added: “Since that 7-1 defeat at Old Trafford, Roma have matured. They are second in the (Italian) league and they have a fantastic chance of winning the title“, he said. “That’s a measure of their improvement. In addition they play a very fast style of football, and that could cause us a few problems“.

Obviously, Totti is a very influential figure in the Roma team. I’m sure (coach Luciano) Spalletti and the rest of the players will overcome his absence. They have to” concluded Sir Alex. The only advantage we have is that we’ve been here twice in the last year. The first time we came here, the first 20 minutes we found very difficult – it took time to adjust to the way they really pressed the game“. He will hope for third time lucky at the Stadio Olimpico but United’s record of just 2 wins in 14 previous visits to Italy suggests not all the history is against Roma.


Match Facts

BBC Sport FootballThe following (courtesy of BBC Sport) are all the essential need-to-know match facts about Tuesday night’s fixture:


AS Roma and Manchester United have met 4 times before in European competition.

Last season, on 4 April 2007, AS Roma won 2-1 at home in the CL quarter-finals, but Manchester United recorded an emphatic 7-1 victory at Old Trafford six days later, to progress to the semi-finals. It was AS Roma’s heaviest ever European defeat and the biggest ever victory margin in the CL knock-out stages.

In this season’s group phase, the Red Devils beat the Italians 1-0 at the Theatre of Dreams on 2 October 2007, through a Wayne Rooney goal in the 70th minute. The return match in Rome on 12 December, ended 1-1 through goals by Gerard Pique and Alessandro Mancini.

European CupsEuropean history

In the 1960-61 season, AS Roma won the Fairs Cup, their only piece of European silverware. They have also reached two other European finals; the 1983-84 Champions Cup final, which they lost on penalties to Liverpool, and the 1990-91 Uefa Cup final, which they lost 2-1 on aggregate to Internazionale. Roma have never reached the semi-final stage of the CL in their history.

Manchester United have won three European trophies – the 1967-68 Champions Cup, 1990-91 Cup Winners’ Cup and 1998-99 Champions League. Last season, after knocking out AS Roma 8-3 on aggregate in the CL quarter-finals, United were eliminated themselves by AC Milan in the last four, losing 5-3 on aggregate.

Current European form

AS Roma have not lost any of their last 6 Champions League matches and are undefeated at home in 9 in this competition.

Manchester United are unbeaten in 8 Champions League matches, since the 3-0 loss to AC Milan in last May’s semi-final second leg in Italy. United are one of three unbeaten teams in this season’s Champions League. Chelsea and FC Barcelona are the others.

Yellow & Red cardsPlayer and disciplinary info

Simone Perrotta (AS Roma) is suspended for this match. Mirko Vucinic, Marco Cassetti, Cicinho, Daniele De Rossi and Max Tonetto (AS Roma) are all one yellow card away from suspension. Nani and Patrice Evra (Manchester United) will also be suspended upon receiving a yellow card.

Kick-Off of Roma vs. Manchester United will be at 20:45 CET. Forza Roma!!