Roma practise their comeback calculations
Roma won by a three-goal margin this weekend, maintaining their course for a top-four finish in Serie A and so a guarantee of Uefa Champions league football next season. More importantly, the 4-1 victory at home to Chievo means they have won their last two league matches by three goals.
Indeed, as their more optimistic supporters point out, they have now won three of their last six fixtures by a three-goal margin: 3-0 at home to Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on April 10th, 3-0 at Spal last weekend, and then Saturday's triumph, when Roma went down to 10 men at 2-0 up and goalkeeper Alisson saved a penalty.
Good omens then for the mission improbable of Wednesday, when Roma must reverse the 5-2 deficit inflicted on them by Liverpool in the first leg of a helter-skelter European Cup semi-final?
“My message is that we must believe,” said manager Eusebio di Francesco, who was heavily criticised for his tactics in the Anfield match. “We have received great results before in the Champions League, and we must finish Wednesday knowing we have done everything possible.”
Precedent does offer a little encouragement.
Roma trailed 4-1 after the first 90 minutes against Barcelona and progressed. And then there is the Liverpool record as a team who can be blitzed as well as being expert practitioners of the sudden, irresistible wave of attack after attack.
This is a Liverpool side who let a three goal lead at halfway through their trip to Sevilla turn into a 3-3 draw. This is a Liverpool side who at Tottenham and Manchester City lost 4-1 and 5-0 earlier in their league campaign.
"The important thing is to do our best," said Edin Dzeko, scorer of the late goal at Anfield that regained a little Roma momentum and of two of Roma's four goals in the see-saw against Barcelona. "I don't want to think about the first leg.
"But in a packed stadium, I hope the second leg can be like it was against Barca.”
Our staff predictions
Jon Turner: Why Bayern Munich will go on to win the title
John McAuley: Why Liverpool will go on to win the title
Steve Luckings: Why Roma will go on to win the title
Graham Caygill: Why Madrid will go on to win title
Zidane wary of Ribery renaissance
"Ribery now looks 10 years younger," Spanish newspaper As noted after Real Madrid's 2-1 win in Munich in the first leg of their semi-final.
The effervescence of the French winger, 35 years young and in his 10th season as a Champions League footballer, is a pressing issue for Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, once a France teammate of Ribery’s, going into Tuesday’s return.
Zidane is short of defenders, and above all an experienced specialist at right-back, the position Ribery will mostly target. Dani Carvajal suffered a muscular problem in Bavaria last week and is ruled out.
His natural deputy, the Moroccan Achraf Hakimi, is just 19 and has not been used in Europe since deputising for Carvajal in the defeat against Spurs in the group phase, while versatile Nacho's recuperation from an injury sustained earlier this month has not progressed as hoped.
Some resourceful thinking may be required, like asking in-form winger Lucas Vazquez to step back into defence, as he did when Carvajal went off at the Allianz Arena. “Lucas is an option for us there,” said Zidane, who also suspects he will be without playmaker Isco, who is troubled by shoulder pain.
Payet the provider
Olympique Marseille look close to their first European final in 14 years, thanks to the sharp delivery of captain Dimitri Payet. His two assists for the goals in the 2-0 lead they take to Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League on Thursday were set-ups Nos 15 and 16 of his last 20 matches in all competitions.
Dare France manager Didier Deschamps exclude Payet from his World Cup squad?
Simeone’s sturdy sidekick
Diego Simeone, banished to the stands during Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw at Arsenal last week, is facing a touchline ban that could deprive his club of his vivid presence in the technical area for the rest of their Europa League campaign.
That might hurt, especially if Atletico make the final. But it would – entertainingly for neutrals – foreground Simeone’s larger-than-life assistant, German ‘Mono’ Burgos.
El Mono – ‘The Monkey’ – is just as much a cult figure at Atletico as Simeone is. He was in combative form at Arsenal after Atletico had suffered two early dismissals – one of them for Simeone – and has grown into a bear of a man since he retired as goalkeeper of skill and some eccentric habits for Atletico and Argentina.
He has also changed much since he featured in a bizarre television advertisement when Atletico were promoted out of the Spanish second division in 2002. El Mono, who in his free time played guitar in a heavy rock band, was shown emerging from a manhole in the road, full of grinning menace, as if from a subterranean sewer.
Arsene Wenger he is not.