102 days after they lifted the Champions League trophy in Berlin, red hot favourites on every football bet prediction Barcelona, begin the defence of their crown in the Eternal City against Roma.
HAS GARCIA LEARNED HIS LESSON?
In last season’s competition, Roma had a wonderful start in the group stages before coming up against German giants Bayern Munich who systematically dismantled Rudi Garcia’s side 7-1 in front of their own supporters, a result the Giallorossi never really recovered from. Almost a year on and now the team who are favoured by many on the betting exchanges to win their domestic title now have to prove against the best team in the world that lessons have been learned. Unbeaten in Serie A so far this season including a home win over reigning champions Juventus on match-day two, have given the capital club cause for optimism domestically but their supporters want to believe that their team are good enough to challenge on Europe’s biggest stage and it doesn’t come much bigger than Wednesday evening’s home game against Lionel Messi and Co.
BARCA BRIMMING WITH CONFIDENCE
Luis Enrique returns to the StadioOlimpico on Wednesday for the first time since leaving the club in 2012. After last weekend’s 2-1 win in Madrid against Atletico, he brings a side full of confidence as they begin the defence of their title. In the build-up to the game, Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano has been towing the party line, explaining how it won’t be easy in Rome against a backdrop of fanatical fans, before he mentioned the two words that must strike fear into the heart of every Roma supporter around the world – Lionel Messi (the best sport betting sites currently have him at *1.83 as an anytime goalscorer). Roma coach Rudi Garcia has stated that he has a plan on how to stop the best player in the world, many have said that in the past and been made to eat their words. If the home side are looking to find any crumbs of comfort ahead of Wednesday night’s big game, then a quick peak at Barcelona’s record away to Italian sides is not that impressive, having won just one of their last six matches in Italy.
A huge blow for Garcia ahead of the game is the withdrawal of Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanić after he picked up a calf injury whilst on international duty. The Giallorossi, who usually like to line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, may be slightly tweaked by their French coach to 4-2-3-1 allowing Alessandro Florenzi to play behind a lone striker and bringing the experience of Brazilian defender Maicon backinto a defensive role. Former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Kéitawill hope to line-up against his old team but could lose out to Belgian international Radja Nainggolan, whilst club talisman Francesco Totti will start from the substitute’s bench.
After missing practically the whole of last season through injury, Barcelona’s Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen is out once again after picking up a calf injury against Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Spanish international defender Gerard Piqué is eligible to come back into the side for European competition despite currently serving a four-match domestic suspension. Having had such a good start to the La Liga season, young full-back Sergi Roberto should keep his place in Enrique’s tried and trusted 4-3-3 formation as Brazilian Dani Alves is still absent through injury.
PROBABLE STARTING XI’S
Roma (4-2-3-1) Szczęsny; Digne, Castan, Manolas, Maicon; De Rossi, Nainggolan, Iago Falque, Salah, Florenzi; Dzeko
Barcelona (4-3-3) ter Stegen; Alba, Mascherano, Piqué, Sergi Roberto; Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
HEAD TO HEAD
The only time the two teams have met previously in European competition was in the 2001-02 Champions League second group phase. A 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou was followed by a resounding 3-0 win for Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Incredibly, Luis Enrique and Francesco Totti were on opposing sides 13 years ago. The only other meeting was this summer in The Gamper Trophy friendly at the Camp Nou, Barcelona running out easy 3-0 winners. Roma lost three out of their five home fixtures in European competition last season and their overall record against Spanish sides reads – played 11, won five and lost six.
Roma 6.00 Draw 4.00 Barcelona 1.65
*All odds courtesy of Bet365
By Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)