Under normal circumstances it can be a little tricky to set the tone for a European game. It is one thing to give a glimpse of Real Madrid, PSG or Manchester United, but what about clubs like BSC Young Boys, Cluj or tomorrow’s opponent CSKA Sofia? For us humble internet writers, this is one of the downsides of Europa League coverage. Some of these smaller clubs just don’t have a lot of useful information.
But as it turns out, CSKA Sofia isn’t as alien as it seems. In fact, Roma and Sofia have played four times in the last 35 years and only prevailed in the Europa League in December 2009 when Roma were hit by a brace from Alessio Cerci (yes, seriously) and a goal in the 89th minute 3-0 won by someone named Filippo Scardina.
Roma vs. CSKA Sofia: October 29th. 9:00 p.m. CET / 4:00 a.m. CET. Olympic Stadium, Rome.
Overall, the Roma are 4-0 against their Bulgarian colleagues, but what do we know about the current version of CSKA Sofia?
Sofia Fact File
Let’s start with the obvious: what the hell does CSKA mean? Loosely translated this acronym means Central Sports Club of the Army. CSKA Sofia, like Roma, is the result of smaller clubs that have come together under one roof and officially merged in 1948 to found the club in the Bulgarian capital. The club officially became PFC CSKA Sofia in 2016 after a change of ownership and some legal / mental issues.
CSKA Sofia have been Bulgarian champions 31 times, but have been second in the last two seasons at Ludogrets, against whom they also lost the league cup on penalties last season.
CSKA’s bad luck carried over to the new season as the Reds lost seven games in a row, leading to manager Stamen Belchev being sacked last week for failing to do so officially has been replaced despite speculation that his top assistant, Brazilian Daniel Morales, will take over.
CSKA Sofia is currently fifth in the Bulgarian First League with 14 teams and has a goal difference of +2. Given the ongoing change in leadership, it’s a little daring to make tactical predictions, but CSKA appears to be a fairly balanced, if hitting-free squad: four players are tied for the club’s leadership with just two goals in 10 games.
One of the club’s top scorers is 19-year-old Valentin Antov, a center-back and defensive midfielder who became the club’s captain at the age of 14! 14! That’s crazy! What did you do when you were 14?
CSKA also features former Liverpool striker Jerome Sinclair and former Juventus youth product Stefano Beltrame making an appearance for the Old Lady in 2012 before playing with Bari, Modena and Pro Vercelli in Serie B.
While you never want to sack an opponent, Sofia is undoubtedly the inferior team here and if you join the upcoming change in leadership I am not sure even CSKA Sofia diehards know what to expect from the Bulgarian side.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the Roma headlines in this game.
Keep an eye out
The first 15 minutes
In each of their last three games – Benevento, Young Boys and AC Milan – Roma not only fell behind first, but also fell behind early, Goals conceded in the 5th, 14th and 2nd minute. We have to appreciate the attitude and spirit of the club when they won two of these three games, but why not make things easier for yourself?
While there is no definitive pattern for Roma’s early match bouts – the Benevento goal was distracted, Young Boys was a PK and Milan was Zlatan – it is still something to watch in the opening moments tomorrow.
Give an early life to a small team and you will regret it.
The new faces
Paulo Fonseca already confirmed today what we expected: there will be a lot of sales as the Roma welcome Sofia to the Olimpico. Fonseca confirmed that Chris Smalling will make his first start of the season and his first start as an official full-time Roma player. The Pau Patrol (Gianluca Mancini, Max Kumbulla and Roger Ibañez) have done a tough job so far, but Smalling needs to get his feet wet while Fonseca needs to keep those young legs fresh in the long run.
Fonseca also confirmed that Borja Mayoral, Roma’s 23-year-old striker on loan from Real Madrid, will make his second start in a Giallorossi shirt. Mayoral fought Young Boys on the wet artificial turf in Bern, but Fonseca insisted his young striker needed playing time.
Mayoral’s performance against Young Boys symbolized the struggles of the Roma second unit over the past week. Aside from the damp pitch, Fonseca’s understudies looked smug and confused as they prepared and ready to pounce. Mayoral in particular seemed insane and only took 30 touches while flipping the ball 12 times.
Given how important Edin Dzeko is to Roma’s plans, Mayoral was perhaps Rom’s most important signing of the summer for no other reason than that he will afford the Bosnian quiet from time to time. But if Fonseca can’t count on Mayoral to be effective, or at least not harm his club, then the Roma are in a world of trouble.
Tomorrow is a GREAT opportunity for Mayoral to show everyone what he can do.
Usually clubs in Europe debut their third / alternative kits but the Roma showed their normal white away kit in Bern last week because the Young Boys were wearing their black kits. The Roma made a strange choice against Milan on Monday: white away kit, red away shorts and lollipop socks with one light different shade of red than the away shorts; It was a strange combination.
The club has highlighted the new black and orange training line that has been corresponding a lot with the third kids lately. So don’t be shocked if we finally check out these new jerseys tomorrow.
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