By, Ugo Nwogwugwu

The Proof

Tuesday 31st October, Stadio Olimpico – Another evening of Champions League football; Chelsea were in the Italian capital for their European match against AS Roma. It was almost exactly two weeks since the reverse fixture at the Bridge – in which Eden Hazard had somehow prevented his club from turning a relatively straightforward 2 – 0 win into a disastrous 3 – 2 defeat.

Since then, AS Roma had kept three clean sheets and won three Serie A games in a row. They’d beaten Torino, Crotone and Bologna 1 – 0 each, and their top scorer Edin Dzeko was now up to 10 goals for the season. Chelsea had also won their three domestic fixtures since the Roma game. They’d scored seven goals, many more than Roma had, but they’d also conceded three goals in those three matches, all against far more humble opposition than their opponents tonight.

Well, now they had a tough midweek game against Roma, just before another major test at the weekend versus Manchester United. But playing the best in Europe one game, then the best in England the next – these are big team troubles. If Chelsea truly deserved to win anything this season, this was the opportunity to prove it.

Roma full backs Emerson, Bruno Peres and Rick Karsdorp were all out injured. Chelsea’s Victor Moses was still recovering from a hamstring problem. N’golo Kante, although partly recovered from his injury, was not included in the matchday squad.

Roma lined up in a 4-3-3 with Stephan El Sharaawy, Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti up top. Chelsea reverted to their familiar 3-4-3 with Rudiger, Luiz and Cahill in center back, and Cesar Azpilicueta shifted out to right back. Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko started in midfield.

It was a slightly less compact, defensive setup than expected from Chelsea – they were away from home and two points clear at the top of the group – Roma needed a win much more than they did. Either way, Antonio Conte would soon find out whether or not it was right tactical setup for this game.

Line-Ups & Ratings

AS Roma

Becker 7, Fazio 7, Jesus 7, Florenzi 6.5 (Manolas 6), Kolarov 7.5, Nainggolan 7.5, De Rossi 7, Strootman 6.5, El Sharaawy 8.5 (Silva 5), Perotti 7.5 (Pellegrini NR), Dzeko 7.5

Subs Skorupski, Manolas, Under, Gonalons, Gerson, Pellegrini, Moreno


Courtois 5, Azpilicueta 5.5, Rudiger 4, Luiz 5.5, Cahill 5 (Willian 5), Alonso 5, Fabregas 4 (Drinkwater 5), Bakayoko 6, Pedro 6, Hazard 7, Morata 5 (Batshuayi 5)

Subs Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Kenedy, Drinkwater, Willian, Batshuayi

Big Moments

El Sharaawy’s Still Got It

And… less than a minute into the game, Chelsea were a goal down. No, a 3-4-3 with Cesc Fabregas in midfield probably wasn’t the right tactical choice for this game. Pedro had a shot blocked at Roma’s end, then Kolarov carried the ball up the left wing into Chelsea’s half. He played a long ball up centrally to Dzeko, who headed it backwards into the path of Stephan El Sharaawy.

The young Italian striker had been through a few difficult seasons struggling with injury, but he had not lost his pace, or his marvellous finishing ability. He left Marcos Alonso eating his dust, and rocketed a goal in from the edge of the box – Roma were 1 – 0 up.

A couple of minutes later Chelsea broke forward – Fabregas picked out Hazard with an early ball over the top, and he raced down the pitch. Unfortunately he slowed a little at the end of his run, and Alessandro Florenzi caught up with him and leaned on him a little, putting him off his shot – chance missed for an equalizer.

Hazard had another good opportunity just under twenty minutes gone. He drifted in from the wing, and tried a near post shot similar to the one that beat Bournemouth at the weekend. Alisson Becker saved easily.

Ineffectual Play

Roma had been playing it safe since their early goal, sitting deep and only countering when necessary. It had worked really well against the visitors. Alvaro Morata had barely had an impact on the game, and Pedro wasn’t doing much better.

Hazard had been his team’s only spark, albeit a faint one. Pedro centered the ball for him on a rare Chelsea counter, and he rolled his defender and took a shot, but it was more or less at the keeper, another easy save. Then Morata had a golden chance when Pedro charged down a clearance from Kolarov. The ball rebounded to him just outside the six-yard box, but Becker closed him down and he put his shot in the rafters.

On 28 minutes Florenzi sneakily trod on Hazard’s ankle right on the border of the penalty box, but the referee missed it. Fortunately Hazard was not badly hurt, and was able to carry on after treatment.

Roma had another fantastic chance on the counter, when David Luiz failed to control a long ball in midfield. Edin Dzeko gained possession and carried the ball upfield in a three on two break. He passed the ball to El Sharaawy, but this time the wide forward’s shot was tame and Thibaut Courtois saved. The rebound came back to El Sharaawy but his second shot went off Alonso for a corner.

Hard To Explain

Then came a

moment that was almost impossible to explain. Radja Nainggolan played in another long ball from almost the same spot as Kolarov did for the first Roma goal. It should have been relatively easy for Antonio Rudiger to clear it… but he chose to watch the ball bounce in front of him… perhaps entranced by its graceful parabolic arc.

El Sharaawy cut in behind him, and in spite of Azpilicueta’s attentions, must have really enjoyed his easy chipped finish for 2 – 0. The stadium was rocking now, the home fans singing… it was looking like a really good evening for them to go top of their Champions League group.

Marcos Alonso had a good try at pulling one back just before half time – he found space at the left of the penalty box, and tried to curl it in, but Becker got a hand to the ball. Bakayoko had a free header from the resulting corner, but put it just wide of the post. Roma were by far the better side in the first half, and deservedly went in two up at half time.

Crapped Out

Not much changed for Chelsea after half time. Play was a little more even, but Roma were still creating the better opportunities. Ten minutes into the second half, Conte must have decided there was no point playing three center backs if he was going to get such poor results defensively, and replaced Gary Cahill with Willian. Azpilicueta returned to his familiar right center back position, and Pedro replaced him at right wing back.

It was at best a roll of the dice from the manager, and unfortunately, this time he crapped out. On sixty-two minutes, Kolarov intercepted another poor pass from Fabregas on Roma’s left wing, and he passed to Diego Perotti, who had given Chelsea so much trouble in the first game at Stamford Bridge. Perotti dribbled inside past Pedro, and rocketed a low shot past Courtois from distance – 3 – 0.

Conte put Fabregas out of his misery shortly afterwards, hooking him off for Daniel Drinkwater, and then replaced Morata with Michy Batshuayi. It was too little too late though, and Roma were too professional, and Chelsea too shell-shocked to respond. And so at the final whistle, Roma leapfrogged Chelsea to go top of Group C.

Final Score Roma 3 – 0 Chelsea


Thumbnail image courtesy of: Mirror


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By, Ayodeji Itsami (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)

Stadio Olimpico/October 31, 2017


We seemed to have finally turned a corner after recent wobbles but there isn’t a respite yet as the big matches keeps piling up with two in two different competitions this week. We face AS Roma in the Champions’ League on Tuesday and then we welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Since the first leg of this match two weeks ago, both Chelsea and AS Roma have won the three matches they have been involved in. One thing I’m sure both Antonio Conte and Eusebio Di Francesco will be keen to tell their players is to keep it tight at the back with the way the first leg played out in mind.


This will be sixth time Chelsea and AS Roma will  be facing off with Roma winning just one of the previous five (L2 D2). Interestingly, their only victory came at the Stadio Olimpico, venue of Tuesday night match, during the 2008/2009 Champions’ League campaign. Chelsea has only failed to score against AS Roma just once in a Fairs Cup match that ended 0-0 in October 1965. I expect goals in this match but it’s not likely to be a goal-crazy affair like in the reverse fixture a fortnight ago.

Team Breakdowns


The Bournemouth victory makes it three on the trot for Antonio Conte and his team after the temporary dip in form but a news that’s sure to make the gaffer just as happy is the one that his midfield machine, N’Golo Kante is nearing match fitness and might even feature against Roma on Tuesday night. In the first match against Roma at Stamford Bridge Conte started with the 3-5-2 formation and consequently he switched formation to his preferred 3-4-3 by taking David Luiz off for Pedro so we wait to see how Conte lines up now that he has some of his natural midfielders back in his first match back in his home country since joining Chelsea last season. Being left out of the team to face Everton in midweek seemed to have done the trick for Azpilicueta as he was back to his calm and energetic self at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday evening and I expect that to continue in Rome on Tuesday. Toni Rudiger came in for some racial chants from the Roma fans during his late cameo during the first leg at Stamford Bridge but I still expect him to feature in this one, whether as a LCB, RCB or even between the sticks, because his dynamism is very valuable to the team. Gary Cahill sat out the win on Saturday and it’s yet to be seen whether he gets his spot back for Tuesday and if that’s the case at whose expense. Eden Hazard was at his imperious best at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday and it was no surprise he was the match winner. I’m sure if he plays half as good as he did on Saturday the Roma team will not be able to contain him. Alvaro Morata hasn’t been himself since he returned from his injury but he showed flashes on Saturday and he was so unlucky to have his goal, which would have done his confidence a world of good, chalked off for offside but I still expect him to continue leading the line. For a man of his physique and stature, I think Bakayoko is soft as a central midfield and for me to have noticed I’m sure Antonio Conte would have been drumming it into his ears because he really needs to improve his physicality, especially in the Premier League. I know Danny Drinkwater hasn’t played that much since his return to full match fitness but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Conte decides to throw him into this match to partner Bakayoko with Cesc Fabregas playing ahead of them in a 3-5-2 or Fabregas part of the three in attack in a 3-4-3, because I think the Spaniard is key to this match as long as he doesn’t have too much defensive responsibilities. The combination of Pedro and Zappacosta on the right side gave the Bournemouth defense a hard time on Saturday and Conte may be keen to let the two of them continue playing together in order to curtail the overlapping runs of Aleksandr Kolarov who caused our defense a lot of trouble during the first leg.

Possible Line-up:

Courtois; Rudiger, Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Drinkwater, Alonso; Hazard, Fabregas; Morata

 Last Five Matches: WWWDL

Injuries: Victor Moses (Hamstring)-Out; N’Golo Kante (Hamstring)-Doubt


AS Roma

The Roma coach, Eusebio Di Francesco, will be keen for his side to get maximum points in this game knowing his next assignment in the Champions’ League is a difficult away trip to face Atletico Madrid, a match that could be the more difficult if, as expected, Atletico defeats FC Qarabag on Tuesday night. In the match at Stamford Bridge, Di Francesco packed his midfield and attack with physical and energetic players and it almost worked for them in terms of the result. The trio of Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Maxime Gonalons were very effective in dictating play and neutralizing our midfielders but those three have not played together since. Danielle De Rossi was injured for the match at Stamford Bridge but he’s back playing now and should be line to lead the team out on Tuesday night alongside technically gifted Kevin Strootman and the energetic Nainggolan in Di Francesco preferred 4-3-3 formation. Aleksandr Kolarov caused a lot of trouble down the right side of our defense in the first leg contributing a goal and an assist and the coach will be hoping it’s more of the same from both the Serbian and Bruno Peres on the opposite flank on Tuesday. Federico Fazio’s sublime pass for Edin Dzeko’s equalizer was something the best of the best midfielders would have been proud of but the Argentine is known to cave under pressure, a fact I’m sure Conte would have made known to his strikers. Fazio’s defensive partner, Juan Jesus is something of an unknown quantity even though he’s been playing in the Serie A for six years. In attack Di Francesco will surely be hoping Edin Dzeko is in his element again on Tuesday night the same for Daniel Perotti, who was voted man-of- the-match at Stamford Bridge. For the last berth in attack, Di Francesco has a lot of options to choose from with Stephan El Shaarawy the likely option having scored their only goal against Bologna at the weekend just a day after his 25th birthday.

Possible Line-up:

Allison; Bruno Peres, Juan Jesus, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Perotti, Dzeko, El Shaarawy.

Last 5 matches: WWWDL

Injuries: Emerson (Knee) – Out; Rick Karsdorp (Knee) –Out.


Key Battles

Alvaro Morata vs. Federico Fazio

Alvaro Morata will be hoping to improve on his showing in the first leg which was his first game back after his injury hence he wasn’t his sharpest, but with some matches now under his belt he’s going to give the tall Argentine a run for his money as the former Sevilla man is prone to making mistakes.

Eden Hazard vs. Bruno Peres

With the form that Eden Hazard is in it’s going to be a long night for the Brazilian full back. His two goals against Roma last time out and his match-winning strike at the weekend will have done his confidence a lot of good and I don’t envy Peres right now.

David Luiz vs. Edin Dzeko

These two didn’t come in contact during the first leg even though they were both on the pitch, for the first hour or so, but on Tuesday it’s going to be a head-on collision between the two with the Brazilian given the tough task of stopping the Bosnian getting on the score sheet.



With Atletico expected to finally get their first win in this season’s Champions’ League against FK Qarabag at the Wanda Metropolitano, both Roma and Chelsea knows a loss, especially for the Italians who visits Spain next, might make qualification a lot more difficult. A win in Rome on Tuesday will bring us within touching distance of top spot in the group with Qarabag visiting Stamford Bridge in the next match day. With Manchester United paying a visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday Conte may want to get the group sewn up as soon as possible and then he can focus his attention on the league. Until the weekend, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!


Thumbnail image courtesy of: Evening Standard


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