Having tasted European glory earlier this year, Roma get their latest quest for continental silverware under way on Thursday, as they take on Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad.
The two Group C rivals meet on the Europa League’s opening day, with only the eventual group winners guaranteed safe passage to the last 16.
Greeted with great fervour upon their arrival back in the Eternal City, Roma finally lifted a European trophy after decades of waiting, when in May, they edged past Feyenoord in the inaugural Europa Conference League final.
The Giallorossi also finished sixth in Serie A at the end of Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge, and therefore earned a step-up to Europe’s second-tier club tournament.
After a lightning start to the new domestic season, Roma sat tied at the top of the standings before their Sunday night encounter with Udinese, and had gone unbeaten through their first four league fixtures.
However, it all came unravelled at the Dacia Arena, as their hosts tore into Mourinho’s men on the counter and sent them home nursing bruised egos after a 4-0 defeat.
Before that capitulation, Roma had conceded just a solitary goal this term, and with a strikeforce now featuring Paulo Dybala, Nicolo Zaniolo and Tammy Abraham – when all are fit and well – they certainly pose a threat at the other end.
Having lost by four goals or more for just the third time in his long and illustrious career, Mourinho – seemingly reinvigorated since his switch back to Italy – will now demand an immediate response from his squad, which may be substantially rotated following such a shocking setback.
Awaiting Roma on the first matchday will be Ludogorets, who along with Real Betis and HJK Helsinki make up an eclectic Group C, from which only the top team go through automatically – the runners-up enter a playoff against Champions League drop-outs, while third-place-finishers drop down to the Conference League.
Crowned Bulgarian champions again last season – for the 11th time in a row – the Razgrad club have become a regular fixture in European competition. Incidentally, they have won one and lost four of six previous games against Italian opposition.
Having taken part in the Europa League during both of the last two seasons, after falling short in Champions League qualifying, the same fate befell Ante Simundza’s side this year, when they were ultimately eliminated from the latter by Dinamo Zagreb.
Subsequently, they came through a playoff tie with Zalgiris, by virtue of a last-gasp winner in extra time at the end of the second leg, and so find themselves welcoming Roma to the Ludogorets Arena this week.
A total of 19 points from their first seven First League fixtures puts the Eagles second in the domestic standings, with two games still in hand due to numerous European commitments throughout the summer – and their latest league success came on Sunday, with a 6-0 thrashing of Hebar 1918.
Previously, star striker Kiril Despodov scored twice in the Bulgarian Super Cup final to push Levski Sofia to penalties, where Ludogorets came out on top – so confidence will be high in the camp ahead of Thursday’s continental contest.
Ludogorets Razgrad Europa League form:
Ludogorets Razgrad form (all competitions):
Roma form (all competitions):
We say: Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 Roma
With plenty of European experience on their side – not least already this season – Ludogorets will prove no pushovers for a Roma squad shaken by their heavy loss at the weekend. A draw would represent an acceptable result for both sides, and that is the likeliest outcome.