The Champions League Round of 16 draw took place last night New Zealand time. Let’s be realistic, Roma were never going to get an easy draw. The nightmare scenario for most fans was Bayern Munich, who humiliated us 7-1 in the group stages last season. But we didn’t draw Bayern. Phew! Instead we got Real Madrid. Oh…
No, hang on, it’s not so bad!! Because unlike with Bayern we have GOOD history with these guys! On the fifth of March 2008, in the Champions League Round of 16, Roma defeated Real Madrid 1-2 at the Santiago Bernabéu to take a 2-4 victory on aggregate. There’s no better feeling for a football fan to experience than watching your team get the sprinklers turned on them at the Bernabéu…
Can it happen again? Of course it can!
Will it though????
As a way of trying to work this out, I went back and had a look at the team Roma put out that day in 2008 to see how it compares with today’s best XI assuming everyone is fit. Here’s what I came up with…
Formation: 5-2-3-1 vs 4-3-3
Luciano Spalletti’s famous ‘strikerless’ formation was a great innovation back then before it took off and everyone started using it. It came about out of necessity because we had been slapped with a UEFA transfer ban and literally couldn’t buy any strikers. But it really worked for us. Today’s Roma, by contrast, has three systems – 4-3-3, when things aren’t going our way Garcia switches it up to a 4-3-3 and sometimes when he’s feeling really adventurous he plays a completely different 4-3-3. When I say completely different, of course I mean it’s exactly the same… One was innovation, the other is stagnation. 5-2-3-1 wins hands down. 2008 Roma 1, 2016 Roma 0.
Goalkeeper: Doni vs Wojciech Szczęsny
Tough call. Both had/have flashes of brilliance and both could/can make you scream “WTF!!!!!” There’s not much between the Brazilian and the Pole in terms of athleticism, technical ability, reflexes, distribution or command of the defence. So I’m going to break the tie with attitude. Doni wanted to play for Roma, whereas Szczęsny doesn’t. 2008 Roma 2, 2016 Roma 0.
Right back: Cicinho vs Maicon
Roma signed Cicinho from Real Madrid when he was 27 years old – in his prime although out of favour at the Bernabéu. He served well as an important cog in the Spalletti machine without particularly setting the world on fire. By contrast Maicon arrived from Manchester City aged 32 with his best years behind him and he’s spent a lot of time injured. However, assuming he’s fit I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Maicon on a good day is still better than Cicinho on a good day. So I’m calling this 2008 Roma 2, 2016 Roma 1.
Centre back: Juan vs Leandro Castán
What is it with Roma and Brazilian centre backs?? Come ON, when you’re signing Brazilians you go for attackers!!! What’s that you say? Oh yes, that’s right, we haven’t got any money… Anyhoo, I have to declare my bias here – I LOVED Juan. Mostly for the immense performance he put in at the derby I attended during the 2007/2008 season. But my prejudices aside, he was a monster that year by anyone’s definition. Castán is a good defender but he has had a horror run with medical problems and just isn’t at that level right now. 2008 Roma 3, 2016 Roma 1.
Centre back: Philippe Mexes vs Kostas Manolas
Whatever you think of Mexes, whose signing from Auxerre was the reason for that abovementioned transfer ban, for doing the dirty on us and buggering off to AC Berlusconi, you can’t deny that when he was with us he was a good defender. Not great, he certainly had the odd brain fart I admit, but he was a good defender for the most part. Manolas is ok, but he has struggled to fill the shoes of the recently departed Medhi Benatia and our defensive record this season and last tells its own story. 2008 Roma 4, 2016 Roma 1.
Left back: Max Tonetto vs Lucas Digne
Max Tonetto was a seriously underrated player. He was only capped once by Italy but once is still once more than most people get (although I don’t like to talk about it) and he was capable of flashes of absolute brilliance in his assists. However, despite being deeply annoyingly constantly referred to as ‘Dean’ by the BT Sport commentators (IT’s ‘DEEN-YAY’ YOU IDIOTS!!), for consistency alone Digne is definitely a cut above dear old Max. 2008 Roma 4, 2016 Roma 2.
Holding midfielder: Daniele De Rossi vs Daniele De Rossi
Capitano Futuro is eight years older than he was in 2008 – that much is obvious – and not unlike poor old Prince Charles he still might have a while longer to wait before he’s crowned King. He’s an immense player, always has been, always will be, but I can’t help but point out that he’s not quite what he used to be. There’s something missing. He’s still fit and just as mobile as ever but aside from the odd spontaneous combustion I’m not sure the fire in his belly is burning quite as strong as it once did. That won’t be a popular opinion but there it is. 2008 Roma 5, 2016 Roma 2.
Playmaker: Mancini vs Miralem Pjanić
Oh how I have missed Mancini. I have missed him since the day he left which is hard to admit considering he has since done some jail time for assaulting his partner… There is no doubt he is an appalling human being but he was a magician on the football pitch. All those step overs… Sigh. It has taken until quite recently for us to finally get a playmaker who can match Mancini’s ability to create chances but in Miralem Pjanic we do have one. And add to that his free kicks! There was a period earlier this season when any free kick in our opponent’s half might as well have been a penalty. He’s been a bit below par in recent games but let’s assume he’ll come good. 2008 Roma 5, 2016 Roma 3.
Midfielder: Alberto Aquilani vs Radja Nainggolan
From here on it gets slightly tricky because the positions they played/play don’t directly compare but I’ll plough on anyway in the name of pointlessness…
Roman born and Roma bred, Alberto Aquilani was a young prodigy – heir to the Totti/De Rossi mantle. But then we sold him because we were going broke and out went the family silver. Everyone was sad and he hasn’t reached his potential since. In 2008 he was unquestionably one of our better players, but still, if you ask me now who I’d rather have in my team out of 2008 Aqui and 2016 Ninja Nainggolan – the choice is simple. 2008 Roma 5, 2016 Roma 4.
Midfielder/right winger: Rodrigo Taddei vs Mohamed Salah
I am Rodrigo Taddei’s biggest fan. Truly, I am. I have and will defend him until the cows come home. He was Mr Versatility, worth having in every position you put him in – and over his Roma career he played every position except central defender and goalkeeper. But even I’m not completely insane enough to say he was ever a better winger than Mohamed Salah is right now. 2008 Roma 5, 2016 Roma 5.
Midfielder/left winger: Simone Perrotta vs Iago Falque
One a box-to-box midfielder and the other a left winger – you really can’t compare these two players. But of course I’m going to anyway. Simone Perrotta is a 2006 World Cup winner with Italy, and an integral part of that squad too. There is a statue of him in the UK. Do I need to say anything else? Is there a statue of Iago Falque in the UK? Or anywhere else for that matter? No? I didn’t think so. 2008 Roma 6, 2016 Roma 5.
Beyond description/striker: Francesco Totti vs Edin Džeko
My argument is so powerful I don’t need to talk about it. 2008 Roma 7, 2016 Roma 5.
Coach: Luciano Spalletti vs Rudi Garcia
Nobody will be surprised at my analysis here. I’m not as big a worshipper of Spalletti as other people are. When all the other teams worked out how to stop his system he ran out of ideas and lost the dressing room. But it’s a different dressing room now. I have never been one to call for the head of coaches but if was up to me, and Spal is available right now, I would take him back in a heartbeat.
Final score: 2008 Roma 8, 2016 Roma 5.
And just to make you really puke, this was the Real Madrid starting eleven that day: Iker Casillas, Míchel Salgado, Pepe, Fabio Cannavaro, Mahamadou Diarra, Raúl González, Fernando Gago, Robinho, Guti, Gabriel Heinze and Júlio Baptista. The coach was Bernd Schuster.
Yeah, even with Rafa Benitez (what were they thinking???) I think they are better now…
Categories: Roma/Italian Calcio
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.