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De Rossi inspired for electric Serie A race

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When we last spoke with Daniele De Rossi, he was cautiously optimistic that his club — and we very much mean his club — AS Roma was charting a path toward greatness.

The one-club man, 34, captained La Lupa to its first UEFA Champions League semifinal berth in three decades, and also led Roma to third place in Serie A.

[ MORE: Wolves set to add Moutinho ]

This summer, De Rossi remains cautious about over-promising anything, but the band has mostly stayed together. Alisson and Radja Nainngolan have left, but anyone else who played 1000-plus minutes is still there and the club also bought Justin Kluivert (Ajax) and Javier Pastore (PSG).

Now seven games from 600 appearances with Roma, De Rossi renewed acquaintances with PST ahead of the club’s International Champions Cup matches talking about the season that was, Juventus adding Ronaldo, and missing out the World Cup.

Roma plays Tottenham in San Diego on Wednesday before traveling to Arlington for a July 31 date with Barcelona. I Lupi then meet Real Madrid on Aug. 7 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

ProSoccerTalk: Daniele, when we spoke last year you were hesitant to declare AS Roma a contender given all the new pieces but had a good feeling about the club. Given how it came together, is that hope tank a bit fuller?

Daniele De Rossi: “I’m pretty confident with this team, with the coach, because it’s his second year and everything will probably easier because he is not starting from the beginning. He can count on a base of team, players who already know what he wants. It’s going to be easier to insert young players in the team.”

PST: What struck us about the manager (Eusebio Di Francesco) is how he was very calculated with how to respond to your side whether you had won 3-0 over Barcelona or fallen to Shakhtar in the first leg of a Champions League tie. It seems he carries some of the same characteristics as a coach that you do as a player. Did he impress you as a manager?

DDR: “Yes, and I’ve known him for a long time. I met him when I was 18 and he’s always been like this. Even as a player, he wanted everything. He wanted to do better as a player, and now as a coach. The job is different, full of pressure, but he’s a winner in his mentality and he’s trying to get it to the team as well.”

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PST: You’ve spoken of Roma as a club and Rome as a city as classics, and that the team can reflect that. It seemed last year’s UCL run had the area buzzing.

DDR: “Last year we showed all the world what a city and a team like ours can do. We did something incredible and probably because of our talent, because of our organization, and even because it’s a club that the fans trusted us. Everything went very good. Even the relationship between us and the fans was something that we talked about last year. It’s something we found during the season at every step, much more than before.”

PST: Has that raised expectations for you?

DDR: (laughing) “Eighteen years that I’m hoping and trying to bring something to Rome. Very easy to say but very hard to get. We will try to do something unbelievable because the teams that reached the first and second position are even better than last year.

“Juventus bought one of the best players in football history and this is a sign. They are trying to make their team better but we are trying to do the same. Nothing in football is written. Even the last World Cup showed that things can go in different ways than you thought before a match, league, or tournament begins. That’s what we think, we hope.

“We are a good team. We are close to them. They are trying to win Champions League and make a big hole between them and the other teams, but we’re trying to fill it up.”

PST: Last year you showed the capability to beat teams like Barcelona and Liverpool by multiple goals, but also to find a way to win 1-0 when needed. Roma conceded just 28 times in the league, and that was in Di Francesco’s first season. Does this mean we may see even more variety in terms of tactics and approaches?

DDR: “The time can help the team to understand better, not just our coach but every coach needs time. We hope that what happened last year, so many matches where we scored a lot of goals but sometimes conceded as well. We tried to become a more balanced team, and it’s something you can achieve with more experience. It’s going to be better from this side, but it’s never written. We’re not gonna start from the semifinal of the Champions League, or third place in Serie A. We start on zero points, the same as Cagliari or Juventus.”

Daniele De Rossi of AS Roma celebrates his sides victory with Alessandro Florenzi (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

PST: You mentioned the World Cup earlier. Watching the tournament from home was something new for both you and Italy. What did you make of it?

DDR: “It’s been a weird tournament because a lot of teams we thought could reach the semifinals did not. Not because of them, but because the whole world is improving, the way to play football, the way to look and study football. Even the smallest team in the world, it’s not as 15-20 years ago where you can play against Panama and Costa Rica, and score 10 goals every match. Teams are going to be smarter than before because everybody sees a lot of football, with software and the Internet. Even the coaches are smarter than before. That’s some of the problems like Argentina or Brazil found in the last World Cup. At the end a big, big team still won the World Cup. It’s not so easy for every team.”

PST: So there’s hope for United States?

DDR: (laughing) “It’s not so easy for them as well, but I can’t talk because I’m on the same side as the U.S., the other side of the TV I’m watching the World Cup and it’s so sad.”

Roma at the ICC

Wednesday: vs. Tottenham Hotspur (San Diego)

July 31: vs. Barcelona (Arlington)

Aug. 7: vs. Real Madrid (East Rutherford)

Roma lets loose on referee, from players to owner

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From the field to the board room, AS Roma is raging with Slovenian referee Damir Skomina after he denied multiple penalty shouts before granting one in stoppage time of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg between Liverpool and the Italian hosts.

[ MORE: Roma 4-2 (6-7 agg.) Liverpool ]

“It changes everything,” said Roma director of sport Monchi. “We conceded a goal that was offside in the first leg, here we had two penalties not given, one of which was a clear red card. … It’s time to raise our voices, not just Roma either, as Juventus suffered the same against Real Madrid. Italian football has to raise its voice, because what we saw tonight was shocking.”

Monchi points out that he’s spent the majority of his career in Spain, so this isn’t just pro-Italian refereeing. He’s going to find allies (!!!) in Juve, who grew enraged with English referee Michael Oliver after Real Madrid’s late penalty against the Turin powers.

The biggest gripe is with Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s handball block of a goal-bound effort, though Roma went on to score two more goals on the day including a penalty kick for a less clear handball against Ragnar Klavan.

Make no mistake, Liverpool did enough to deserve the win (even if Jurgen Klopp even admitted the Reds were lucky).

Roma defender Federico Fazio was also angry with the award of only three minutes of second half stoppage time.

And it went all the way to the top: American owner Jim Pallotta was enraged with Skomina.

“It’s absolutely clear that VAR is needed in the Champions League, because you can’t let stuff like this go,” Pallotta told reporters in the mixed zone, via Football Italia.

“You can all look at it yourself. Dzeko wasn’t offside, got taken down for a penalty. At the 65th minute, there was a handball that was obvious to everybody in the world except those on the pitch. In the 67th minute Schick gets taken down in the box, I mean it’s just… I know it’s difficult to ref, but it’s really embarrassing when we lose on aggregate like that… By the way, it should’ve been a red card, so would’ve been 10 men from the 63rd minute.

“Again, congratulations to Liverpool, they’re a great team, but if we don’t get VAR in the Champions League, stuff like this is an absolute joke.”

I Lupi manager Eusebio Di Francesco said protesting the uncalled penalties distracted from the comeback effort, and Roma legend Daniele De Rossi said the missed call was understandable, as he didn’t see it either. And he’s turned a bright light on his team’s performance.

“We’ve seen we’re not so far behind the others, so we must start thinking that Roma should have a Champions League semi-final once every three years, not once every 30. The club will work to make the team even stronger, the fans have followed us so passionately and something has been recreated with the fans that I haven’t seen since I was a child. Now we are all as one, we are united with the fans, and we can achieve great things together.”

Finally, this:

Comeback kids Roma defiant after loss: “We are not beaten yet”

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AS Roma turned around a three-goal first leg deficit against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, and i Lupi feel prepared to do it against Liverpool, too.

Roma fell 5-2 to the Reds on Tuesday, but again struck late to bring away goals back to Italy. This time, it was Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti ruining a host’s clean sheet.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp reacts ]

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco was not thrilled with his side on the night. From ASRoma.com/En:

“We weren’t on their level tonight – we were lacking a bit of strength and physical presence,” he said. “We let them swamp us too easily on occasion.”

A better second leg is almost assured, but can Roma complete another comeback?

“I have total belief,” Di Francesco said. “You can’t just give in during a game, especially in this type of competition. Sometimes you take a few hits, but the team wasn’t able to stay in the game and at times we lost a bit of unity.”

Sporting director Monchi admits that he thought his side was cooked before Dzeko opened Roma’s account.

“Up until the final 10 minutes we were out of the competition,” he said. “Now we still have some hopes, and we must take this small chance and do the same thing we did against Barcelona.”

Former Spurs defender Federico Fazio, now with Roma, thinks it can be done.

“We always focus on the positives,” said Fazio. “We are fighters and we will give absolutely everything until the last second. We are not beaten yet, once again with the strength of our fans behind us we will fight to the last moment to try and turn this tie around.”

Roma’s Dzeko, Di Francesco relish Barcelona stunner

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Like Liverpool, AS Roma’s domestic season hasn’t gone according to plan. In a battle for third, not first, i Lupi is not in the running for an elusive scudetto.

Like Liverpool, they don’t care much about that right now.

[ RECAP: Roma 3-0 (4-4 agg.) Barcelona ]

AS Roma has reached its first UEFA Champions League semifinal, and has done it in stunning fashion by defeating a Barcelona team which is unbeaten in league play and has lost a single match — a Jan. 17 Copa del Rey first leg — since La Liga’s slate started Aug. 20.

Oh, and that defeat was a 3-0 home romp which overturned a 4-1 away deficit.

Edin Dzeko scored the away goal, one which looked like a mere door prize at the time, and also scored Tuesday as Roma rallied for glory. He was asked if the best was yet to come.

“The best came tonight but it could come again in a few weeks’ time! We can beat anyone playing the way we did tonight. We could have scored more too. We got at them right from the off – I’ve never seen Barcelona struggle like that before.”

Dzeko told PST before the season that he’d love to meet old club Man City in the Champions League. We’re sure he didn’t expect to outlast them.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco is relishing the win, a second time he’s split results against Ernesto Valverde in his career dating back to last season’s Europa League group stage split between Sassuolo and Athletic Bilbao.

“You must always aim higher, but we’d produced some great performances in the league too. We’re reaping the rewards for all the hard work we’ve put in. I’m the coach so I’ll take the praise just as I take the criticism but I want to look forward. Why shouldn’t we believe we can reach the final? That has to be our target. I don’t want to stop here.”

Who should Roma want to draw in the next round (assuming Bayern Munich and Real Madrid hold onto their leads over Sevilla and Juventus)? The easy answer is Liverpool, but one thing’s for sure: When you control Barcelona in the second leg after deserving better in the first, no one’s going to take you for granted.

UCL Weds: Just watch the fireworks

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With apologies to Cristiano Ronaldo’s amazing goal and a standout day for Franck Ribery and Bayern Munich, Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League fixtures feel a bit like the buildup to Wednesday’s ffering.

[ RECAPS: Juve-Real | Sevilla-Bayern ]

That’s because Premier League powers Manchester City and Liverpool begin their UCL quarterfinal at 2:45 p.m. ET, the same time Lionel Messi’s Barcelona tangles with Daniele De Rossi and AS Roma.

Liverpool vs. Man City

The first leg at Anfield will be memorably loud at the jump, as Liverpool supporters feel their status as the only club to trip up City in a meaningful match this season is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Reds fell 5-0 in the first meeting of the season, and did nearly give away the farm after building a 4-1 lead at Anfield on Jan. 14, but there are only a select few sides with the attacking firepower to put a scare into Man City, and Jurgen Klopp‘s trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane is one of them.

[ MORE: How will Liverpool, Man City line up? ]

Another perceived advantage for the Reds is Man City’s surprising history at Anfield; Liverpool has only lost once to City in 37 years. Kevin De Bruyne is not worried.

“In the end, people talk about these things but I’ve only been here two and a half years,” De Bruyne said. “This is only the second time I’ll play here. It’s different, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game and now we play two games home and away and we have to try to manage tomorrow, get a lead if possible, if not we can finish it next week.”

Joel Matip is out for the rest of Liverpool’s season, but the Reds defense won’t have to contend with Sergio Aguero (at least not Wednesday).

Barcelona vs. AS Roma

There’s no questions visiting i Lupi is the supreme underdog of the round, and their chances of sneaking up on Barcelona are slim to none.

Ernesto Valverde has a chance to lead Barca to the UCL title in his first season in charge, and said Roma “are no surprise package. If you look at their matches in the group stages, they played really well.”

Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco is still playing with house money after winning a group with Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. He may not have Radja Nainngolan at his disposal, but there’s plenty of steel around starting with De Rossi.

“We’re going up against a team that forces you onto the back foot. You can see it in the statistics and in their approach. Every footballer, though, has to have as part of their temperament the ability to handle the pressure of these situations, particularly if you play for an important club. You have to be prepared to take risks, to believe in better. The mentality that ‘what will be will be’ is dangerous though; our objective is to prepare as much as possible so that we can make it a competitive match.”