No Roman holiday for Barca

Roma, with captain Francesco Totti in training, has been strengthened this season with the acquisition of strikers Edin Dzeko and Iago Falque. Pundits think they can vie for the Serie A crown.
Roma, with captain Francesco Totti in training, has been strengthened this season with the acquisition of strikers Edin Dzeko and Iago Falque. Pundits think they can vie for the Serie A crown.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Roma have not lost in Serie A, Barca's away record against Italian sides unimpressive

ROME • Barcelona kick off the defence of their Champions League football title with a difficult trip to Roma today.

It will be a trip back down memory lane for Barcelona coach Luis Enrique. He had a difficult season coaching the Italian club after he left his job with the Barcelona B team though he admits the experience helped him hone his craft.

Barca have started the season with three wins in three games.

Despite some indifferent form, they showed on Saturday their ability to dig deep and battle for a win when they triumphed 2-1 away to Atletico Madrid.

Enrique will be able to make one important change today with Gerard Pique once again available in central defence.

  • 3

    Roma lost three out of five home fixtures in Europe last term, including a 1-7 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and a 0-3 reverse against Fiorentina in the Europa League round of 16.

  • 102

    This match comes 102 days since Barcelona beat Juventus to win their fifth European Cup at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

  • 15

    Barcelona scored 15 goals in six away games in last season's competition, winning four of them.

The Spain international was suspended for the first four Primera Liga games of the campaign but that punishment does not matter in Europe.

He will go straight into the side to replace Thomas Vermaelen who suffered another muscle injury on Saturday and will be out for around a month.

Star forward Lionel Messi was able to celebrate the birth of his second son on Friday and started Saturday's game on the bench, getting into the game to score the winning goal against Atletico.

Enrique said he had agreed that that was for the best as Messi was tired after the birth of his son.

He will be hoping the Argentinian has been able to catch up on his sleep in the last 72 hours because Messi will start in Rome alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar.

It is hard to see the coach making many more changes for a game which will set the tone for their European campaign.

He will no doubt warn his players that, although they beat Roma 3-0 in their pre-season Joan Gamper trophy, this time it is for real.

And if they bring three points back from Italy, it will be the perfect start to their Champions League defence.

Barca's recent record in the competition - they won four of six away games last season, scoring in every one - speaks for itself.

But their record against Italian teams is less impressive.

Barcelona have won just one of their last six matches in Italy, beating AC Milan 3-2 in the 2011-12 group stages, and triumphed in only six of their 20 away matches against Serie A sides.

Barca midfielder Javier Mascherano told that he expects Roma to take the game to the reigning champions although the Spanish side would relish a team taking them on at what they do best.

"Roma play football. This sometimes works well for us but they're a quality side and we know they are going to play their game from the off and fight for every ball," said Mascherano.

"They are a side with tradition and, above all, we know how hard it is to go to Italy and play.

"Tactically, they are teams that defend well and it's not easy to score against them.

"It will be a difficult game for us."

Roma will be hoping to banish the spectre of a 1-7 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich last season on what was their return to the competition after a three-year absence.

Having added strikers Edin Dzeko and Iago Falque, as well as several defenders during the summer, Roma coach Rudi Garcia now has the backbone of a squad whom pundits feel have scudetto-winning credentials.

Domestically, Roma have avoided defeat so far and beaten champions Juventus to boot.

They sit two points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

Yet, Barcelona were virtually impervious when they humbled Juventus 3-1 in last season's final held in Berlin.

And in a Group D that also includes Bayer Leverkusen and BATE Borisov, Enrique's troops are fully expected to finish top of the pile.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'No Roman holiday for Barca'. Print Edition | Subscribe