Roma vs Manchester City: Premier League champions to pay heavy price if Champions League dream lies in Roman ruins

As Italians worry over De Rossi, Pellegrini could be left to count the cost of early failings

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The Independent Online

At Manchester City this week they have invited the world in to see their new yoga facilities, circular dressing rooms and hydrotherapy pools, while in Rome they have been fretting over the likely effect on one of their leading players of his ex-wife’s arrest for kidnapping.

City’s holistic approach to building a football club dictates they have a contingency plan for all possible situations but even they might have been stumped by the events around Daniele De Rossi and his former wife Tamara Pisnoli, whose father, a convicted criminal, was shot dead six years ago. Pisnoli, married to De Rossi from 2006 to 2009, was arrested as part of an investigation into the kidnapping and torture of a businessman in the city.

Champions League latest scores: Roma vs Manchester City and Chelsea vs Sporting Lisbon

The subject was diplomatically broached at Roma’s Uefa press conference at the club’s training ground yesterday with regards to how it might be affecting De Rossi, 31, who has a daughter with Pisnoli. He was sent off in the Serie A game against Sassuolo on Saturday and there have been concerns about whether he was in the right state of mind to play in tonight’s Champions League group game.

Asked about De Rossi’s situation, Rudi Garcia, the Roma coach, said that he was convinced the player was ready. “I am Daniele’s coach, both as a player and as a man. These things for me are not even one per cent important.

“I have to stand behind my players to make sure they’re in the right mental condition. Daniele is fine. We won’t have him for the Genoa game [because of suspension], but he’s a very important player, a great champion and a crucial figure in the dressing room. He’s played over 100 times for Italy, he’s a champion both on the field and in life.”

To think there were those who said Yaya Touré was high maintenance. City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s concerns as he approaches another defining Champions League night were of the rather more prosaic football-based variety. Most notably the strained knee ligaments of his striker Sergio Aguero, on a red-hot streak of form until he pulled up in the third minute of Saturday’s game against Everton.

City could go through on a draw and a record low of six points but Pellegrini said they would set up to win the game. They will have to do so without their most dangerous attacker, in his place deploying Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic, both themselves in different stages of recovery from injury. With David Silva and Vincent Kompany also back in the team after injury there is the growing sense of necessity about getting players back into the side.

Proof, if any were needed, that even a modern super-club with a climate-controlled, no-corners-cut training facility that has generated more coverage than any in the history of English football, is only as good as the team it can put out on the pitch. City have lofty ambitions and the Europa League was never part of the dream.

 

The loss of Aguero would be a blow to any manager and the different verdicts offered by Pellegrini on his star player’s likely return to fitness suggested that there is no definitive answer on how long they will be without their main man. They have built a squad with enough quality to see them through the bumps and bruises of a Premier League season but this game against Roma is different, a one-off which has the capacity to define the mood for some time to come.

Should they progress, there will be little doubt that Aguero will be back in the team by the time that the knockout round comes along. Go out tonight and that tough Christmas period will look that much more of a slog without their leading goalscorer.

As is his way, Pellegrini played down the obstacles facing City in Rome, without ever quite giving the impression that he was as convinced as he said he was that they could overcome them. City are paying the price for those needlessly dropped points at home to Roma and home and away against CSKA Moscow.

On the question of the team’s contrasting form in domestic and European competition, Pellegrini said: “They are different competitions, maybe this year in the first part of season we were not playing very well. We lost important points against CSKA. Last year we qualified but faced two tough games against Barcelona.

“The Premier League is very intensive. You have to be 100 per cent in every game. In Europe you maybe need another style of play or way to do it. I am sure if we can beat Bayern Munich we can beat other teams, and I hope we can do it.

He added: “I always expected it was going to be a very difficult group. We are the champions of England, against the champions of Russia and Germany and the runners-up from Italy. That’s why I never expected easy games. Roma are a very good team, not just this year but last year as well. I was sure they would all be tough games.”

Roma’s former Arsenal striker, Gervinho, had said the pressure was all on City. Pellegrini disagreed, pointing out that Roma too was a big club with big ambitions and that they too had spent money in the summer. All of which is right but no one would seriously argue that the Italian club is in the same league as City when it comes to investment and expectation.

Roma have their own problems to worry about, starting with the former Mrs De Rossi. Pellegrini’s chief concern will be looking around that much-vaunted new training complex, with its bold statements about winning, and knowing that come the spring his team will no longer be involved in Europe’s premier competition.

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