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 By Terry Daley

Roma's quest for the Champions League begins with a win vs. Atalanta

Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan
Radja Nainggolan is back for Roma after a suspension, but will the Chelsea target be in the capital next season?

Monday night's disappointing 1-1 draw with Bologna was a massive blow to Roma's hopes for snatching second place in Serie A and automatic qualification for the Champions League from Scudetto hopefuls Napoli.

Luciano Spalletti's side sit in third as they wait to travel to Atalanta early on Sunday, six points behind Napoli thanks to the Azzurri's 3-0 walloping of rock-bottom Hellas Verona on Sunday. Now to have any realistic chance of second place Roma have to hope for a favour from their rivals for third place Inter Milan, who are themselves six behind Roma, at the San Siro on Saturday night, when they host a Napoli team playing without Gonzalo Higuain due to suspension.

An admittedly unlikely win for patchy Inter, who were fortunate to win 1-0 at Frosinone last weekend, would give Roma the perfect opportunity to put pressure on Napoli with the Liberation Day clash between the pair in Rome looming. A three-point gap come April 25 would give Roma the chance to take second place, as a win at the Stadio Olimpico would give the Giallorossi the better of the two sides' head-to-head record.

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However unlike Inter, Roma will have to face 30-goal Higuain, who successfully had his four-match ban for putting his hands on referee Massimiliano Irrati after being sent off in Napoli's 3-1 defeat at Udinese cut to three.

"Second place is still possible," Roma's hopeful false nine Diego Perotti said to Sky Sport. "We'll have to beat them and hope for a slip up from them [against Inter]. Our aim is to get closer to them ahead of our match with them. We're in brilliant form despite the draw with Bologna and we're still in the race."

To do that they'll have to win their remaining six games, starting with Atalanta. Edy Reja's side have won their last two at home, against Bologna and AC Milan, and although they're not technically safe, the eight points separating them from the relegation zone should be enough.

Roma have won five of six matches on the road since Spalletti took charge and are heavy favourites, but they were seen as near certainties to beat Bologna and look how that turned out.

Radja Nainggolan is back from his one-match suspension and will be put straight back in midfield alongside Miralem Pjanic. The pair are both fundamental to Spalletti's Roma, with the Ninja supplying a healthy bite to compliment the more silky manoeuvring of his Bosnian teammate. Seydou Keita should also get the start ahead of Daniele De Rossi.

While Nainggolan has only scored three times this season, his combativeness has attracted the attention of Premier League champions Chelsea, who next season under Antonio Conte will be looking to bounce back from their worst season in nearly two decades and are reportedly preparing a €43 million bid.

The Belgian international's physical presence in midfield would be perfect for a Chelsea team that desperately needs a galvanising force, and he would surely fit right into the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. However, Nainggolan is settled in Rome and has shown no indication that he wants to leave.

"Every June I'm in the list of players rumoured to be leaving, it's been like that since my first year at Cagliari and I stayed there for five years," Nainggolan said to AS Roma Match Program on Friday. "The same thing happened at the end of my first season. I can only say that I'm happy here and will always give everything for this shirt."

Mohamed Salah
Mohamed Salah enters the match vs. Atalanta under some bizarre extenuating circumstances.

Pjanic meanwhile is being eyed up by Bayern Munich, who can offer the assist king -- 11 in 37 matches in all competitions, alongside the same number of goals -- a significant pay rise as well as almost guaranteed trophies, the one thing that the 26-year-old has missed out on during his nearly five years in the Italian capital. He suggested just last month that a move may be on the cards, and the fact that Bayern can more than match his €38 million release clause may see him go in the summer.

Another one whose future has been put in the spotlight is Mohamed Salah, who is already the subject of a row between Chelsea and Fiorentina, due in part to to the suspicious death of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo at the start of the year. Serie A teams will display a large banner that will read "Truth for Giulio" before matches on the weekend of April 23-25, when Roma will host Napoli.

La Repubblica newspaper reported a source close to the Egyptian as saying that there is "no way he can step onto the pitch with that banner there," and others have claimed that he might even quit Roma over the diplomatic row, which has seen Italy recall its ambassador from Cairo. It wouldn't be the ideal time for Roma to lose their top scorer, especially given Higuain's reprieve.

Salah's agent Ramy Abbas immediately quashed that talk, taking to Twitter to say that he is "very happy in Rome, and at AS Roma. Reports of him intending to breach his contract are completely untrue."

With Edin Dzeko still out because of a problem with his right thigh it will be up to the winger to lead his side's charge for second place. With any luck this time he won't have to hit the post three times before scoring.

Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley


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