AS Roma vs Manchester City
Manchester City travel to Italy on Wednesday night for a crucial final Champions League Group E game against Roma at the Olympic Stadium, knowing that nothing but a win or a score draw will see them progress to the knockout phase.
Having had to wait until the fifth game of their campaign to taste a victory in this group, Manuel Pellegrini can perhaps count himself lucky that his team is still in with a shout of qualifying, albeit with the additional hope that CSKA Moscow fail to beat or match their result in their own game at the Allianz Arena. Sergio Aguero’s timely and dramatic hat-trick in the dying moments of City’s last game at home to Bayern Munich has given City a lifeline that some critics might suggest they barely deserve, and even so it is not likely to be an easy task in front of a vociferous Roman crowd. Of course, much has been said already of Aguero’s injured knee ligaments that caused him to limp off in the opening minutes of City’s 1-0 win over Everton on Saturday, and his absence will seriously diminish City’s chances, if not completely dash them. Teenage forward Jose Angel Pozo came on to replace Aguero on Saturday, and in the absence of Stevan Jovetic, who is still nursing a hamstring complaint, he may well figure again, although Pellegrini might opt to give Edin Dzeko an earlier start than planned having recently returned from a calf injury. With David Silva (knee) and captain Vincent Kompany (hamstring) also likely to miss the trip to the Italian capital, and Yaya Toure serving the second game of a three-match suspension, City’s midfield resources will be stretched to the limit, although they might be boosted by Fernandinho’s return.
City have won five games on the bounce, but come up against a Roma side who are also unbeaten in five games, not having lost since their 2-0 reversal at Bayern Munich in this competition five weeks ago. Apart from the 7-1 anomaly at the hands of Bayern back in October, Roma had won all eight competitive games at the Olympic Stadium so far this season before they were held to a draw by a resurgent Sassuolo side on Saturday. Even that seemed unlikely when they found themselves 2-0 and a man down with just twelve minutes left on the clock, but they dug deep to carve out two chances for Adem Ljajic and level the scoring in the final minute. Roma right-back Maicon is set for a reunion with the club he represented during the 2012-13 season, with Vasilis Torosidis (calf) set to miss out once more.
With Roma knowing that they will progress if they can prevent City from scoring, I’m expecting a tight edgy game with the home side not wanting nor needing to be too adventurous against a side deprived of its backbone as well as its most lethal weapon. That said, a draw for both sides will be no good if CSKA pull off an unlikely win in Munich, so while the game might have a tentative first half, both sides might need to push for a winner as the game progresses.