Roma find themselves in an enviable and, let’s face it, unfamiliar position in European play; top of the group facing a meaningless game. Thanks to their steamrolling of Europa League Group E—well, except for those two draws—Roma has already secured passage to the knockout stages, making tomorrow’s trip to Romania a chance for experimentation rather than a life or death affair.
And taking one look at Luciano Spalletti’s squad list for tomorrow’s final group play fixture, experimentation seems to be the order of the day.
Roma squad for Astra Giurgiu: Alisson, Crisanto, Szczesny, Marchizza, De Santis, Emerson Palmieri, Seck, Vermaelen, Bruno Peres, Juan Jesus, Spinozzi, Frattesi, Gerson, Nainggolan, El Shaarawy, Franchi, Totti, Dzeko, Iturbe
I mean, look at that, it’s almost as if Francesco Totti, Radja Nainggolan and Edin Dzeko are chaperoning a bunch of school children on a field trip. No! Juan Iturbe, you may not go to the bathroom now! Mustapha, get that out of your mouth! Is that gum, Gerson!? Emerson, get your finger out of your nose!
All Kidding aside, this is precisely what Spalletti should do in this situation—what is there to lose? Despite how obvious this play may seem, it will be interesting to see what mixture of age and youth he rolls with. We can safely assume Gerson and Alisson will get some much needed exposure, while Juan Jesus will probably go the full 90 because, well, when else would you play him? But what about the lesser known names on that list, will they see any match time?
Astra Giurgiu v. Roma: December 8th. 19:00 CET/1:00 EST. Arena Nationala
Spalletti did offer a few clues about tomorrow’s starting XI, however. Namely, Iturbe and Thomas Vermaelen will see some heavy minutes.
Vermaelen will start tomorrow and I expect a good performance from him. He's looked sharp in training and I really believe he's ready to play. Some of the guys haven't featured as much and I expect a big response from them tomorrow night
I’m not exaggerating, there was a point this season in which I forget Roma signed him, that’s how insignificant he’s been—you know, when he’s not getting sent off in a Champions League qualifier or injuring Mohamed Salah in training. Despite all that, with Roma’s perpetual injury woes this year, any depth they can get on the back line, the better.
As for Iturbe, his performance tomorrow carries a bit more weight, as it may determine how much longer he remains with the club.
It will depend on a number of factors, not just tomorrow night's game. The fact that the press rate him highly is due to his undoubted ability. His pace, power, that burst of speed that he has, one hell of a shot - we all know he has this in his locker and the fans have been impressed by that. It's an important attribute in the modern game. His desire and creativity will prove crucial. He has to take his chance tomorrow.
While it's all well and good to praise Manu in the press, we’re reaching the point where that’s all he is; hype and speculation. And though we’ve certainly fed into that around here, sooner or later he has to put up or shutup. Iturbe has been solid but not spectacular in Roma’s Europa League run thus far, so if he wants to solidify his place with Roma as more than a garbage time player, he has to seize the initiative and deliver a Verona-style performance tomorrow and beyond.
Given the rather inconsequential nature of this match, we’ll leave it at that. If nothing else, this should be an entertaining match because we’ll get to see several players who have largely been on the periphery this year.