When Chelsea were on a rampage last season, several of Antonio Conte’s fellow managers in the Premier League had pointed out that they were flying high due to the lack of European football. This season, Conte’s men seem determined to prove those managers right. After their shocking loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday, there is no respite for the Blues as they host AS Roma on Wednesday night in the third game week of the Champions League.
In the post-match conference after Saturday’s match, Antonio Conte sounded disappointed and even hinted that his side must lower their sights this season, if their current form and injury concerns persist. Three losses out of eight matches in the Premier League – two of them to Burnley and Crystal Palace – are reason enough to be disappointed. However, the European stage has given Conte a platform to bounce back from domestic reverses and he will look forward to host AS Roma on Wednesday. With six points from two games in Group C, Chelsea can almost secure qualification to the round of 16 if they beat the Italians on Wednesday. But to ensure this, Conte must motivate his depleted squad to compete extremely well.
Roma had a great start to their Serie A campaign but they too lost their league game on the weekend. The difference is that they lost to the league leaders Napoli. They are currently second in the group but if they do not get a favourable result on Wednesday, they might slip down to the third, as Atletico Madrid who are playing Qarabag in the other match in the group are surely likely to win. Thus, leaving London with at least a point and hopefully three, must be Roma’s aim on Wednesday.
- But it is not going to be easy as Roma have won only one of their 15 away games in England, losing nine. Conversely, Chelsea have lost two of nine against Italian sides on home soil.
- Chelsea have only once failed to reach the round of 16 in the Champions League. In 2012-13, they become the first defending champions who were not able to make it to the round of 16.
- Before they beat Qarabag in the previous matchweek, Roma had been winless in the previous seven matches.
Antonio Conte was bemoaning his side’s injuries after the loss to Crystal Palace. It is indeed true that Chelsea are struggling with injuries to key players. Alvaro Morata might be in the contention to start but he might not find goal-scoring form immediately. Similarly, Eden Hazard is yet to get back to his best. In their absence, the creative, as well as attacking duties, could fall to Pedro. Pedro has been shooting thrice per 90 minutes this season and he has also provided one key pass per 90 minutes. His expected goals and assists are not very high – xG per 90 minutes is 0.20 and xA per 90 minutes is just 0.06. He has a goal and an assist to his name thus far this season, but perhaps he needs to step up on Wednesday for Conte’s men to bounce back from their poor form.
For Roma, Dzeko is the primary source of general attacking threat, as well as goals. With eight goals in nine appearances in all competitions, it is not difficult to see why. His expected goals and expected assists are also fairly high with xG per 90 minutes being 0.75 and xA per 90 minutes being 0.13. He also drew a blank against Napoli on the weekend and will be keen to get back amongst goals. That is what AS Roma and their fans will be hoping for.
For the Blues, Victor Moses and N’Golo Kante are injured with their respective injuries picked up during the international break. Danny Drinkwater also is at least a fortnight away from a return to the starting eleven. Alvaro Morata’s hamstring problem is not as bad as it was initially assumed to be and the Spaniard could make a return to the side against Roma.
Roma themselves are facing a sort of injury crisis too. Kostas Manolas was taken off just after halftime against Napoli and he joined the injury bench occupied by Patrik Schick, Gregoire Defrel, Emerson Palmieri, Kevin Strootman and Stephan El Shaarawy. However, Strootman should be able to return to the side for the crucial game on Wednesday.
As Conte mentioned in his reaction, with his side 9 points adrift of the league leaders Manchester City, defending the Premier League title might not be a feasible goal. But progress in the Champions League is clearly in Chelsea’s control. They host an injury-ridden Roma side that has not had great success in England and who are also wounded from a loss on the weekend. While Chelsea may not find this tie as easy as their previous European home game against Qarabag but it still should be winnable for Conte’s men.