While Torino teased us all with table upsetting victory over Juventus, the Old Lady did what she always does; find a way to win. So while Roma can’t gain any ground on Juve, Monday’s match against Milan is no less crucial. With the Giallorossi and Rossoneri level on 32 points, Monday night’s six pointer could very well decide who’s holding the Old Lady’s train as she walks down the aisle this spring. Similarly, with Lazio and Napoli each winning over the weekend, Roma and Milan are both facing immense pressure on both sides of the table.
So, who will buckle and who will prevail? Or are we looking at a stilted draw here? In order to answer those questions, we must first take a closer look at our opponent.
Roma is a club steeped in Romanticism. From Francesco Totti’s cheeky smile to Daniele De Rossi’s ferocious roar, to the majestic banners and billowing smoke of the Curva Sud (R.I.P.), there’s just something about this club that elicits extremes; when it comes to emotions and rationality, Roma doesn’t do average.
Roma v. Milan: December 12th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Narratives and intentions matter as much as results and titles. Roma may not do much of consequence on the table, but they do it the Roman way—with grit, style and passion. So it would have been quite poetic had Vincenzo Montella, a player who embodied all three of those attributes in form and function while wearing a Roma shirt, were leading this club into the breech, desperately fighting to unseat the Old Lady.
But it just wasn’t meant to be, so Montella cut his teeth with Catania, Fiorentina and Sampdoria before landing at Milan this season, transforming the dormant giant through an infusion of youthful vim and vigor. And after a slow start to the season, in which they lost two of three matches, Montella has Milan flying high—the Rossoneri have only dropped points only three times since week four.
While Milan are, more or less, a top ten statistical team in most categories, when you peel back the veneers, there’s a lot of exposed dentin in this club’s mouth. Let’s start up top with Carlos Bacca, Milan’s big money move from last summer. While his 18 goal return was a decent return last season, Milan’s leading scorer this year (six goals) has found the back of the net only once since the end of September.
During Bacca’s skid, Milan has been forced to rely upon Gianluca Lapadula, a player who tore up the lower ranks but had never played in Serie A prior to this season, M’Baye Niang and Suso for goals, though the latter seems to be enjoying a breakout season.
Furthermore, Milan has been the beneficiary of a bit of soft schedule, padding their table position with victories over Pescara, Palermo, Inter, Empoli and Crotone in successive weeks. While a win is a win is a win, the Rossoneri haven’t exactly been taking on the titans of Serie A in recent weeks. Despite that soft schedule, Milan still concedes more goals per match (1.27) than any of Italy’s other top five teams. Combine that with their lack of a true go-to scorer, and Milan doesn’t look quite as fearsome as their 32 points might suggest.
In order for Roma to take advantage, we must ask...
Roma: Who Plays on the Right?
The absence of Mohamed Salah was always meant to be a pain in the ass for Roma; he’s one of the best players in the league after all. And through their first couple matches senza Salah, it doesn’t seem like Spalletti has it sorted yet. Granted, one of those matches was a gimme against Astra Giurgiu where starters were rested, but Spalletti opted for two remarkably different looks in each of their past two matches.
Against Lazio, Spalletti shifted to an amorphous 4-1-4-1, leaving Edin Dzeko alone up top supported by a quartet of (from left to right) Diego Perotti, Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman and Bruno Peres, while against Astra he opted for a 4-3-3 with a Stephen El Shaarawy, Francesco Totti and Juan Iturbe frontline.
While each approach ultimately worked, one would imagine, given the level of competition, he’ll lean towards the malleable formation that toppled Lazio in the derby, especially now that Peres has been deemed fit for service. The only remaining question is in which role will he use Roma’s number 13.
Against Lazio, Peres was pushed way up the pitch, serving as a hybrid wingback/winger, where he teamed up with Kevin Strootman and Antonio Rüdiger to terrorize Lazio’s left flank—though the bulk of action was funneled the other way through Emerson and Perotti—while he returned to his normal right back role in the Europa League.
With El Shaarawy ready to replace Salah, and with Peres having been used in a more advanced role in recent weeks, Spalletti seemingly has a bevy of formational options at his disposal. While Spalletti will likely use some variant of the 4-2-3-1, don’t be shocked if he rolls out a backline of Rüdiger, Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Emerson, pushing Peres into the Dzeko-supporting role normally occupied by Salah. Though if this is indeed the route Spalletti choose, it gives him the option to push Emerson forward and roli with Rüdiger, Fazio and Manolas as a three man backline.
Point being, given Milan’s desire to keep possession, speed is the order of the day. If Peres, Emerson and possibly El Shaarawy can overwhelm and stretch Milan’s decrepit midfield, Roma may be able to break Milan early and often.
Either way, with all that has unfolded this weekend, you may never see three more crucial points at stake this season (the Juve matches being the exception). So the only question we have to ask is, are you ready for some Monday Night Calcio!?
There’s nothing about that video...nothing...that doesn’t scream American in all the best and worst ways, right?