It’s a match Luciano Spalletti says Roma have been waiting eight months for. The man who took over from Rudi Garcia is a win over Porto away from helping the Giallorossi to the Champions League group stage.
It’s a level they hope to reach. “It’s the most prestigious stage in European football and we want to be on that stage.” A 1-1 draw in Portugal last week leaves the tie slightly in the Italian club’s favour. But Spalletti’s men head into the Stadio Olimpico return with question marks.
Vasilis Torosidis and Alessandro Florenzi are injured, Thomas Vermaelen suspended. That means defensive changes for the Giallorossi. New arrival Bruno Peres is set to start on the right, while Greek defender Kostas Manolas looks to be ok after an injury suffered at the weekend against Udinese.
It took Roma more than an hour to find the breakthrough on Saturday, but once they did they put Udinese to the sword. Diego Perotti struck twice from the penalty spot, before further goals from Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah built confidence before this clash.
A win on home soil will send Roma to the group stage. That, Kevin Strootman says, is the aim. Score and progress. But the Lupi can also secure an aggregate success by way of a scoreless draw. It would be risky for a side which has been forced into defensive alterations and is naturally an attacking outfit.
Spalletti has admitted that is on their minds. However, the boss wants to see his team exhibit more control on proceedings than last week, where he felt Roma let Porto back into the contest after opening the scoring. Even if Roma were down to 10 men for the entire second half, Spalletti was looking for something more.
Champions League competitors for the past two seasons, Roma are acutely aware of the importance surrounding this fixture. They have made progress, from a group stage elimination in 2014-15 to the Round of 16 last term and want to continue that growth. As a club too, one which has ambitions to compete with the best.
This is a massive test of that growth and maturity in the squad. They face a dangerous Porto side, but must go in believing that can advance from a match which will help define Roma’s season.