ROME (Reuters) - If anyone can breach Bayern Munich’s apparently impregnable defence, then it is AS Roma and their talismanic forward Francesco Totti.
Last year’s Serie A runners-up, who host Bayern at the Stadio Olimpico in a Champions League Group E match on Tuesday, have hit the target in each of their nine games this season, scoring a total of 20 goals with Totti providing three of those plus four assists.
Just past his 38th birthday and in his 23rd season at his only professional club, Totti has been a fundamental part of Roma’s resurgence under French coach Rudi Garcia.
Operating in a hole just behind the forwards, the captain still pulls the strings when he plays, repeatedly creating openings for the likes of Gervinho and Mattia Destro in one of the strongest Roma sides for years.
Garcia had initially planned to rest Totti for Saturday’s match against strugglers Chievo but changed his mind at the last minute. Totti responded by converting a penalty and crashing a shot against the post in the 3-0 win.
“I couldn’t have started this match without the captain,” said Garcia. “It was an important game and we need to get back on the winning trail.”
Totti, who became the oldest player even to score in the Champions League in the 1-1 draw away to Manchester City last month, scored the winning goal when Roma hit back from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 when Roma last faced Bayern, almost exactly four years ago.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola will be well aware of the dangers as he played alongside Totti, and Daniele De Rossi during a brief spell at Roma during his playing career in 2002/03.
The Bavarians will provide the stiffest of tests for Roma.
Unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions since losing to Borussia Dortmund in the season-opening German Supercup clash, they have kept eight successive clean sheets and have not conceded a goal since the 1-1 draw against Schalke on Aug. 30, a total of 748 minutes.
With a goal difference of 19, and having scored 10 goals in their last two games, they top the Bundesliga by four points and are already threatening to run away with the domestic title once again.
Roma, while not as dominant, have been almost as impressive, winning six out of seven Serie A games and taking four points from their opening two matches in the Champions League.
It is the sort of match that Garcia has been looking forward to ever since he took over at the start of last season.
“On Tuesday, we will be the outsiders, facing one of the best teams in the world,” said Garcia, whose last confrontation with Bayern, when he was coach of Lille, ending in a 6-1 drubbing two years ago.
”Bayern are very strong and I really can’t wait to play this game, as the Stadio Olimpico atmosphere will be fantastic.
“I was one of those who knew Pep Guardiola hadn’t chosen an easy challenge at Bayern Munich,” he added. “He has done and will continue to do very well there.”
Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Pritha Sarkar