Totti leads Roma’s charge against Manchester City but Mourinho’s Chelsea can afford to relax
A landmark Rome derby took place last weekend: Roma-Lazio, won by the team in red, sealed by the third goal of 3-1 scoreline, by the captain.
Francesco Totti would recognise the storyline. Indeed, of the many Rome derbies he has experienced, it may have been the one from which he drew the most emotional pride.
It was between Roma and Lazio’s Under 10s.
Wearing the captain’s armband rather loosely around his left biceps was Christian Totti, son of Francesco, who, if he is anything like his father, will be training with the seniors within six years.
And, if he anything like his dad, he will still be doing so when he has teenage sons of his own.
The elder Totti turned 38 in September and tonight will attempt to guide the club whose first team he has been representing since age 16 into the knock-out phase of the Uefa Champions League for the first time in four years.
A World Cup winner, a Serie A gold medallist, this is the arena that has most frustrated the Roma leader, and even he knows there cannot be many more chances to enjoy a long run in it.
Without Totti, Roma would already be as good as out, and certainly facing a far-more-taxing equation even than the complicated one that confronts them as they host Manchester City.
A draw would suffice for progress, if Group E’s other match, Bayern Munich versus CSKA Moscow, is also drawn.
He already has left a stamp on this year’s European Cup.
His goal in the 1-1 draw against City in Manchester made him the oldest scorer in the Champions League.
Totti’s strike to open the scoring in a 1-1 result against CSKA, a few weeks later, moved the “oldest scorer” record 56 days closer to his 39th birthday.
It seems likely it will be a long while before another player in his 39th year, or older, challenges that milestone.
Ryan Giggs, European football’s other great evergreen, retired as a Manchester United player earlier this year, confronting the very rare sensation of a season without his Manchester United involved in a campaign in the European Cup, a competition that puts a particular value on experience and know-how.
City’s manager, Manuel Pellegrini, identified Roma’s captain as a principal barrier to a side anxious to show that they have the means to make an impression after three years of early exits from club football’s elite tournament.
He compared Totti to his own Peter Pan. “Totti is like Frank Lampard,” Pellegrini said.
“They are players who have enough quality, maybe not to play three games a week, but to be very good when they do play.”
Lampard, 36, will have a role tonight, his savvy all the more vital in the absence of Yaya Toure, who is suspended.
Doubts about the fitness of Vincent Kompany also mean Martin Demichelis, 34, may be called into service.
Totti, meanwhile, will count among his sidekicks 35-year-old Seydou Keita, twice a European champion with Barcelona, and perhaps a pair of 33-year-old full-backs: the former City defender Maicon, who won the 2010 Champions League while with Inter Milan, and Ashley Cole, who, with Lampard, won with Chelsea in 2012.
Cole will contest the left-back slot with Jose Holebas, 30.
He and Keita were brought into the Roma squad in the summer specifically to arm the club for the extra workload Champions League participation requires.
Group E has so far emphasised the value of experience.
Xabi Alonso, 33, has stood out for Bayern, who was picked up over the summer from a Real Madrid who believed he was past his peak.
Totti has given Roma the points that hauled them to second place in the table, even after a damaging 7-1 home loss to Bayern.
Keita has given Roma stability in midfield, while Lampard has become a touchstone for a City now keen to extend his loan there from their partner club in New York.
For some of those, tonight brings an extra motivation.
If things go wrong, it may well mark the final curtain of their Champions League odyssey, their last big European night.
‘Holiday’ for Chelsea trio
Captain John Terry, Eden Hazard and Willian will be rested for Chelsea’s final Uefa Champions League clash with Sporting, with the Londoners already through as Group G winners.
Chelsea lost for the first time in 24 games this season at Newcastle United in English Premier League play on Saturday, but can afford to rest key personnel for a match which they need not win. The trio did not train yesterday.
The match means more for Sporting, who are in a battle with Roberto di Matteo’s Schalke to advance as group runners-up.
“Terry, Willian and Hazard are on holidays,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said.
“I would like to give the whole squad the time off, but these three play all the time and I have good solutions for these positions.
“We have so many matches to play in December, and we are one of the few teams in the Premier League that also plays the Capital One Cup in this moment.
Of the other teams involved in the Champions League, only Liverpool is also in the Capital One Cup. “Everybody has periods to rest we don’t have,” Mourinho said. “This game gives me the chance to rest these three players.
“We had already the fifth yellow card to Diego [Costa], the fifth yellow card to Matic and now the fifth yellow card to Fabregas, which give them a rest.
“Step by step, match after match, we are trying to find a little period for them to breathe, and to face this second part of the December month.”
Mourinho said after the loss at St James’ Park that Costa needed to improve his match fitness to continue to score prolifically after his strong start.
The Spain striker will start tonight. Schalke arrived in Slovenia for the biggest game of their season so far, against a Maribor side who are not pushovers.
Schalke slipped to third in Group G after losing 5-0 at home to Chelsea last time out and their destiny is no longer in their hands.
“It’s not going to be a very comfortable game for us,” said Schalke forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
“It’s going to be important and difficult, but we want to go through.”
Maribor know that victory would ensure that they snatch third place from Schalke.
All Schalke can do is fulfil their own duty, then hope for good news from Stamford Bridge, although they will not be concerning themselves with the proceedings in London.
* Press Association
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Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM