The result of Tuesday’s match with Inter was much better and set up a golden opportunity ahead of the second leg, which the squad better not squander, but all things considered the performance was not all that different from what had happened in Serie A. It was reassuring to see that lads successfully coming back while facing the exact same situation as they again went down in the score early, but the difference was simply that the Nerazzurri were clinical and nearly perfect in the first bout, while they had some misses and committed some mistakes midweek, and the Old Lady pounced. The sample size is super small but, factoring in also the Supercoppa with Napoli, Juventus so far have been pretty effective in cup matches, partly fumbling only the Genoa one, which bodes well for what is always the ultimate goal, European success. Now they will have to confirm the trend next week and especially versus Porto.
In League play, after taking care of business in the recent feasible matches, the level of competition will increase in the next two tilts but, given the gap still present in the standings, missteps must be avoided at all costs. Andrea Pirlo seems to have gained a great command of the team and the atmosphere is the right one, but as always it is up to the pitch to do the talking and only the results will ultimately set the narrative.
The manager had a foray into a pure 4-4-2 versus Inter, with Merih Demiral and Matthijs De Ligt as the only two center-backs, which might be a viable solution for the future since two young studs can certainly cover the width of the pitch better than grizzled veterans. The returns were mixed as the first goal was avoidable and they were lucky not to concede on Inter’s final push, but it was still noteworthy and something to file away.
Leonardo Bonucci and Danilo are set to return to the XI in this one, while only one between Giorgio Chiellini and De Ligt will start, with the other spared for the return leg with Inter. The Dutch starlet has not been dominant since coming back from COVID, which is somewhat understandable given his physique and we do not know with what severity he was hit by the virus, but the only medicine now is putting minutes in his legs. It is possible that other key contributors are preserved ahead of Tuesday, for instance Juan Cuadrado and Weston McKennie could be good candidates. The young American in particular has slowed down and appeared to often clutch at his left knee lately.
The midfield that had been operating very well will be down one key element as Rodrigo Bentancur is suspended. Adrien Rabiot has done okay in recent outings, but the Uruguayan international has basically been playing as central linchpin in the last two or three games, so there will have to be some adjustments there, but it is not like there are many options. Aaron Ramsey is questionable to play with a thigh problem and Paulo Dybala will not be back from his knee injury that is costing him more time than anticipated.
3-4-1-2 Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Rabiot, Arthur, Chiesa; McKennie; Morata, Ronaldo.
Roma are surely having a strong campaign, as evidenced by their position in the standings, and improved by a significant margin compared to last season. Yet, it feels like there is always something going on behind the scenes that is holding them back from being a true contender and the poor results in the most difficult matches even put their coach on the hot seat for a minute.
The Giallorossi have had troubles against elite competition: the recent Derby with Lazio ended in despair, and that game is always worth at least double, and they were also spanked by Napoli and Atalanta, giving up eight goals in those two clashes alone. They instead tied with Juventus back in September and also with Milan and Inter late, so they are still searching for a monumental win that would cement their status as a top-four team.
Their struggles in that kind of bouts are difficult to explain because on paper they are aptly built given their robust defense and the fact that they excel on counters thanks to some artists like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, flat-out one of the best and smartest players in the League, Pedro and Leonardo Spinazzola, but also Edin Dzeko is pretty good in that area of the game. Instead, their back-line has often fallen apart for mysterious reasons against might opponents, bending also when they managed to keep up on the other end: they gave up two goals to Juventus and Inter, three to Milan.
The blame has mostly fallen on Fonseca, as some believe the squad to be underprepared, and the buzz about a coaching change has been there since the new owners have taken over. On the other hand, they have reached a level of consistency against the minnows that is matched maybe only by the league-leading Rossoneri and that has allowed the Portuguese gaffer to protect his position.
It would not be Roma without some drama and in fact their highest paid player Dzeko had a falling-out with the manager that excluded him from the squad list for the previous two contests. After they did not manage to sell him in the final days of the transfer market, the two worked out a truce to finish the season serenely, but it is unclear whether he will resume starting immediately. Borja Mayoral might not be at the same level in terms of playmaking and is a more regular type of striker, but he has produced in relief and he is surprisingly strong shooter from distance and pretty pacey, so he can combine well with the other attackers and seems to have already developed decent chemistry with them even though he was not used much in the early going.
They will be undermanned coming into the clash as Lorenzo Pellegrini is out due to yellow-card accumulation, Pedro is out with a thigh and the returning Stephan El Shaarawy is not ready as he has not played in months and had a recent run-in with COVID. They would be down to just the underwhelming Carles Perez as fully fit option in the role supporting the striker, so the coach pretty much announced that they will tweak their scheme and add one midfielder, the muscular Bryan Cristante, then it it possible that either he, who has done it in his time at Atalanta, or the intruguing Gonzalo Villar advance their position a little, but they are not pure attackers like those who are missing, Chris Smalling, who has been pretty banged up and not as brilliant as in the last campaign so far, is also absent due to a thigh injury and will be replaced by Marash Kumbulla, who has not really lived up to the hype after joining from Verona.
Fonseca arrived in Italy as an innovator with his high-flying 4-2-3-1, but he modified it dramatically as the past campaign progressed, implementing a three-man defense in lieu of a winger, also because their best man there Nicolò Zaniolo spent more time on the shelf than on the pitch in the last year and the others were not that appealing. It was pretty shrewd as their wing-backs, Spinazzola and now Rick Karsdorp are excellent offensively and a little suspect in the defensive phase, but in this way they exploit their traits and limit the flaws. Both are in a solid run of form and provide great width and containing this type of scheme has been an issue for Juventus in the past.
They have few quality cornerstones and they mostly keep it simple, feeding Mkhitaryan and Jordan Veretout often, and obviously Pellegrini and Dzeko when present, and letting them go to work. Mkhitaryan is brilliant both in scoring and assisting and is the key cog of their design and the other have grown accustomed to playing off of him.
3-5-2 Lopez; Mancini, Ibanez, Kumbulla; Karsdorp, Cristante, Veretout, Villar, Spinazzola; Mkhitaryan, Mayoral.
Smalling (thigh), Zaniolo (knee), El Shaarawy, Fazio, Jesus.