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Serie A or Champions League? Roma resembles different squads

November 26, 2018
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Udinese's Rolando Mandragora, left, and Roma's Bryan Cristante go for the ball during the Serie A soccer match between Udinese and Roma at the Friuli stadium in Udine, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Stefano Lancia/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — It’s anyone’s guess which Roma will show up against Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Will it be the squad that seems to rise to the occasion in the Champions League? Or will it be the team that struggles to put together consistent results in Serie A?

Lately, Roma has resembled two different squads in the two competitions.

Building on last season’s semifinal appearance, Roma has won three straight matches in the Champions League after opening the campaign with a 3-0 loss at Madrid. Over the three wins, Roma outscored the opposition 10-1 and the Giallorossi sit level on points with Madrid at the top of Group G.

In Serie A, however, Roma has lost three times to opponents near the bottom of the standings. A 1-0 loss at relegation-threatened Udinese on Saturday followed defeats to Bologna and Spal.

In all, Roma has gained only seven points against the bottom six teams in the standings. The lost opportunities have left the Giallorossi in seventh place, nearly 20 points behind leader Juventus.

It’s the worst start since 2011-12, which was Roma’s first season under American ownership.

“I’m asking myself why this happens and I’m angry because I don’t have an explanation,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said.

One reason could be that after selling off the backbone of the squad — goalkeeper Alisson to Liverpool, midfielder Radja Nainggolan to Inter Milan, and beloved defensive midfielder Kevin Strootman to Marseille — Roma no longer has the resources to compete at a high level in both competitions.

With five goals in four matches, Edin Dzeko is the co-top scorer in the Champions League but the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker has a miserable rate of two in 12 games in the Italian league.

Making matters more complicated is that Patrik Schick, Dzeko’s reserve at center forward, has scored only one goal in all competitions.

This is shaping up as a crucial week for Roma, with a home match against Inter Milan following the Madrid game.

Any further stumbles could cause Di Francesco his job, with former Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa — who recently attended a Roma match — having acknowledged that he’s interested in taking over if necessary.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, had some advice for AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso following a 1-1 draw with Lazio on Sunday.

“If I were Gattuso I would have made some substitutions. The players were tired and I don’t understand why he didn’t change anything in the second half,” said Salvini, an avowed Milan fan who attended the match wearing a scarf featuring Milan’s red-and-black colors.

Lazio held onto fourth place — which carries the final Champions League berth — with a last-gasp goal.

Gattuso, who did not use any of his substitutes, did not appreciate Salvini’s comments.

“Listen, I don’t talk about politics because I don’t understand any of it,” Gattuso said. “He should focus on politics, because if the deputy premier is talking about football it means we’re in trouble.”

EUROPARMA

Having already become the first Italian club to earn three straight promotions, Parma is in position to qualify for yet another league.

A 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Sunday vaulted Parma into sixth place, which carries a spot in the Europa League.

After being declared bankrupt three years ago, Parma has been promoted in consecutive seasons from Serie D.

IRONMAN

Against Milan, center back Francesco Acerbi started his 139th consecutive Serie A match.

Having joined Lazio for this season from Sassuolo, the last time Acerbi was left out of the starting 11 came with Sassuolo against Empoli in October 2015.

What’s more is that Acerbi has played every minute of his last 139 games — without being substituted.

“The difference was Acerbi,” Gattuso said. “He made it difficult for us physically.”

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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