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Sep 16, 2021 at 8pm UK
CSKA SofiaCSKA Sofia
Pellegrini (25', 62'), El Shaarawy (38'), Mancini (82'), Abraham (84')
FT(HT: 2-1)
Carey (10')
Wildschut (67'), Lam (90')
Wildschut (80')

Preview: Roma vs. CSKA Sofia - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Roma vs. CSKA Sofia - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa Conference League clash between Roma and CSKA Sofia, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Kicking off the inaugural Europa Conference League group stage on Thursday, in-form Roma welcome CSKA Sofia to Stadio Olimpico.

Following five successive victories to start the season, Jose Mourinho's side take on a team they failed to beat across two Europa League meetings last year and who have also started their domestic campaign unbeaten.

Match preview

Roma return to continental competition this week, having looked a team transformed so far this term; particularly with a last-gasp winner on Sunday which had their new coach racing off down the touchline as in glorious times past.

Just when it seemed as though the Giallorossi's perfect Serie A record would be brought to an end by Sassuolo's 57th-minute equaliser in Rome, Stefan El Shaarawy stepped up to grab a decisive goal in stoppage time and earn the hosts a 2-1 win.

That latest victory leaves last season's Europa League semi-finalists - who finished seventh in Serie A - top of the early-season table on nine points from a possible nine, and places them among the favourites to win Europe's newest club competition.

A 5-1 aggregate victory in last month's playoff against Trabzonspor - in which Nicolo Zaniolo scored his comeback goal after two consecutive ACL injuries - qualified Roma to take part in Conference League Group C, where they will also meet Norway's Bodo/Glimt and Ukrainian outfit Zorya Luhansk.

European Cup runners-up in 1984 and UEFA Cup losing finalists seven years later, the Giallorossi faithful are desperate for a first major piece of continental silverware - and Mourinho is a man inclined to help them achieve that goal this season.

Boasting a formidable 14-3 aggregate score from their first competitive matches of 2021-22, surely Roma will fare better against their opening opponents than they managed last year.

In fact, before their second meeting with the Italian capital club, goalless CSKA Sofia were in danger of becoming the first team to complete a Europa League group campaign without scoring even a solitary goal.

However, as the Roma side then managed by Paulo Fonseca knew progress was already assured, a much-changed visiting XI took their foot off the gas and were beaten 3-1 by the Bulgarian outfit.

Group stage debutants in last season's Europa League, where they finished bottom of their four-team section, CSKA are now back in the autumn phase of a European competition due to a successful qualification process during the summer.

The only one of three Bulgarian clubs to make it through three arduous preliminary rounds, Stoycho Mladenov's team needed penalties to knock out Latvia's Liepaja after a pair of goalless draws in the second qualifying round before beating Osijek quite comfortably at the next stage. Then - thanks to an extra-time winner - they overcame Viktoria Plzen in the playoffs; following a 2-0 away defeat with a dramatic 3-0 win at home.

At the weekend, they shared the spoils with Slavia in the Sofia derby, but now the Armymen - cup winners and third place league finishers last term - return to Rome, where they improbably held their hosts to a goalless draw last October.

Roma Europa Conference League form:
  • W
  • W

Roma form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

CSKA Sofia Europa Conference League form:
  • D
  • D
  • W
  • D
  • L
  • W

CSKA Sofia form (all competitions):
  • D
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D

Team News

An almost fully fit Roma squad will welcome CSKA on Thursday night, as Jose Mourinho recently welcomed back injury-plagued defender Chris Smalling and he featured on the bench at the weekend. The Englishman could now be set to start in a back four; possibly joined by full-back Matias Vina, who recovered from an injury sustained on international duty to feature in the win over Sassuolo.

Nicolo Zaniolo previously withdrew from the Italy squad with a bruised thigh but has since been passed fit and played on Sunday. However, he may be rested in midweek, with Carles Perez and Gonzalo Villar - both regulars in the Europa League last year - contenders to start instead.

Mourinho's probable 4-2-3-1 formation is likely to include summer signing Eldor Shomurodov as the lone man up front, as fellow new boy Tammy Abraham is given a break ahead of the weekend's trip to Verona.

Meanwhile, the visitors have Bismark Charles, Menno Koch and Thibaut Vion out injured for the trip to Rome, while first-choice striker Jordy Caicedo - who scored his fifth goal in 11 games at the weekend - must serve a suspension.

In the Ecuadorian's absence, recent Bulgaria debutant Kaloyan Krastev and Ahmed Ahmedov - still without a goal this term - are the likeliest starters in attack.

Roma possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Kumbulla, Vina; Diawara, Villar; Perez, Pellegrini, El Shaarawy; Shomurodov

CSKA Sofia possible starting lineup:
Busatto; Turitsov, Mattheij, Lam, Mazikou; Carey, Youga, Geferson; Yomov, Ahmedov, Wildschut

We say: Roma 2-0 CSKA Sofia

Jose Mourinho had never won his first five fixtures at any of his previous clubs before last weekend, but in his 1,001st game as a head coach, the Portuguese tactician is now set to claim a sixth straight victory.

With a far superior squad to choose from - featuring an abundance of European experience - he can even rotate his resources and still overcome his counterpart Stoycho Mladenov, who once played for Vitoria Setubal at the same time 'Mou' first started coaching his hometown club's youth team.

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