Barca v Roma: Unfit Messi leads charge to avoid a Juventus

Champions League By: Ambrose Udeme | 04/04/2018

Having been knocked out of the Champions League last season by an Italian opposition, it would be counterproductive for Ernesto Valverde’s men to underrate the boys from Rome.

Juventus produced an exceptional defensive performance last season to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League after stopping Barcelona from scoring at the Nou Camp.

Trailing 3-0 from the first leg, Barca peppered the Italian goal but failed to repeat their last-16 heroics when they overturned a first-leg 4-0 deficit to beat Paris St-Germain. There are few who give Roma much hope of edging Barcelona when the two sides meet in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday but the Catalan giants should be wary of becoming too complacent as the Italians are out to win.

Barcelona’s success this season has been emphatic. With just a single loss across three competitions, Messi and his gang have proven that they’re a force to be reckoned with, but there’s not a single piece of silverware on display at the Camp Nou from 2018 just yet, meaning there’s still a lot of work to do.

The Champions League trophy is undeniably one that Barcelona are desperate to get their hands on and the quarter-final draw has been kind to them thus far, having escaped teams like Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich who prior to last month's draw were all possible opponents in the quarter-finals, but it was Roma who were drawn.

The narrative that followed was that of an easy victory for the Blaugrana, but winning is never assured in a competition like the Champions League.

The Lionel Messi factor

UCL: Messi still injured as Roma sweat over Nainggolan

It is evident to all that this pairing pales in comparison to what could have been had the Catalans faced a number of other clubs. It is this very assessment that could lead to complacency. Add in the recent over-reliance on Lionel Messi and a dream draw could easily become a nightmare result, not unless Messi refuses to come to the party as many would argue.

Not content with being the greatest footballer on the planet, the top scorer and assister in La Liga this season, plus being at the top of a whole load of other lists it turns out that Messi also makes a great substitute.

It’s not a job he gets to do very often, but even when he does it, he does it much better than everyone else - well when it comes to scoring goals at least and that was evident on Saturday as he came off the bench to force a late comeback against Sevilla in a La Liga fixture.

Messi who started Saturday’s draw with Sevilla on the bench has been left out of the starting XI a few times by Ernesto Valverde this season. He’s currently carrying a hamstring injury so it looks like his minutes will be carefully managed at the moment.

Whether he makes the starting line-up during Wednesday’s game against Roma, or does have to come off the bench we can be pretty sure he will make an impact.

Luis Suarez to start scoring in the Champions League

Luis Suarez, FC Barcelona

The pressure will be on Barcelona to get a result, doubly so at home. Sevilla showed they can be vulnerable at times even against teams that are not favourites for the UCL, although to be fair, it was right after the international break. Still, with only a few days’ rest, will Barca be up for it physically? Of course, the Messi factor cannot be underestimated, either. He has pulled Barcelona through on the big matches so far in the Champions League, scoring or assisting a majority of Barcelona’s Champions League goals on the big occasions. What happens if he has a day off? It could happen. Will Luis Suarez and the rest pick up the slack?

Despite a slow start to the season it’s been a pretty good campaign for Suarez who has an impressive 25 goals in all competitions for Barcelona, but not a single one in Europe. The Uruguayan whose last Champions League goal came over a year ago in the 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain when he scored after three minutes to send Barcelona on their way has plundered 22 in 26 La Liga appearances and three in five outings in the Copa del Rey but in the Champions League it’s zero from eight games.

Barcelona have scored 13 goals in eight Champions League games, Lionel Messi has six, Ivan Rakitic, Lucas Digne, Paco Alcacer and Ousmane Dembele all have one and they’ve had three own goals.

Suarez is in pretty good form too, he has six goals and four assists in his last eight Barcelona appearances and his goal against Sevilla, which went largely unnoticed due to Messi’s heroics, was a great finish as he came flying in at the far post under pressure.

Barcelona will need to score in any case, because, though their form has improved under Valverde, they are one of the teams with the biggest differences between home results and away results. That is to say, if they do not secure a good home result, their chances of progressing plummet - even more than the average side’s when they disappoint at home.

Hot and cold Roma

Roma might fall short of qualifying as one of football’s colossal clubs but they boast a line-up that is formidable in its own right. They play a tough defensive style of football and in facing a side like Barcelona, they will come ready to tackle one of football’s Goliath with a David-esque approach, they know the smaller man doesn’t always lose.

Even a draw at the Camp Nou would give the Italian side a major boost and put the Blaugrana in a precarious position. Make no mistake, Roma might well be huge underdogs but Barcelona should underestimate them at their own peril.

Roma blow hot and cold, and often it comes down to whether their wingers are in form or not. Unfortunately for them, they have let Mohamed Salah go before he reached peak form, and they have not been able to replace his creativity once he departed to Liverpool. They are missing Ünder, but their other wingers do have talent. Can they be matchwinners in a game of this magnitude though?

Di Francesco has let his central midfielders roam forward - particularly Nainggolan - but I suspect he will ask them to be more disciplined for this match. Their fullbacks will break forward only rarely. They may be playing for the 0-0, and with their keeper in terrific form. they’ll feel they have a chance for it.
1