While we'd hesitate to call Tuesday's encounter with Sassuolo a must-win, given how suddenly tight spots three through six are on the table, not to mention building up some much needed momentum, it's about as crucial a February match as you'll ever see. With still more new faces on the way and several key figures injured, Luciano Spalletti will once again be forced to mix and match his lineup and tactics to take down the Neroverdi.
Given the short turn around, Roma's concerns remain largely the same as they did over the weekend--developing cohesion and familiarity within the system and hoping against hope that Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah can return to the football god's good graces--we'll keep this preview on the brief side.
Before we delve into that, a look back at the reverse fixture.
September 20, 2015: Roma 2, Sassuolo 2
In only their fifth ever meeting, Roma and Sassuolo treated the fans at the Olimpico to a rather strange 2-2 draw, one in which all four goals were scored prior to the 50th minute, meaning all in attendance had to suffer through 40 minutes of anxiety as Rudi Garcia's men tried fruitlessly to gain an edge in this early season encounter. Oddly enough, this was the second 2-2 draw in the brief history of this matchup, one which usually produces three to four goals per contest.
All in all, Roma has held sway in this matchup, winning two of those five matchups and never failing to take a point from the Black and Greens. Can they continue this trend when they travel to Mapei Stadium Tuesday night? Let's take a quick look.
If It Ain't Broke...
Much was made of Spalletti's injury-induced tinkering in the buildup to Saturday's victory over Frosinone. Without Lucas Digne, Vasilis Torosidis and Alessandro Florenzi, among others, Spalletti crafted together a patchwork 3-4-2-1 that peppered their bewildered opponents with over 20 shots while holding well over 60% of the possession.
While there appears to be a small tactical misunderstanding between Spalletti and Mohamed Salah, and despite Dzeko's continued struggles, Roma's offense looked well-organized and committed to Spalletti's visions, particularly in the final half hour of the match. Despite the uncertainty and ocassional miscommunication, Saturday was a tremendous step forward in the Spalletti rebuild.
Considering they enter the match with the very same concerns (injuries and tactical adjustments), I see no reason why Spalletti won't roll out the exact same formation. Even with Dzeko and Salah's continued missteps, Roma has more than enough firepower to threaten a surprisingly rigid Sassuolo defense.
The back end, well, the back end is a bit of a different story. While Daniele De Rossi, Kostas Manolas and new signing Ervin Zukanovic availed themselves well enough over the weekend, the match wasn't without it's nervy moments; Frosinone was still able to manipulate the space behind and in between Roma's three-man backline, a concern made larger by the presence of Domenico Berardi tomorrow evening. Somehow, some way, they must figure out who is the rock and who is the risk taker among that trio, otherwise Sassuolo will have no problem exploiting Roma's most glaring weakness.
Saturday was a feel good moment for all Roma fans, but especially for Luciano lovers, and in order to keep that tide of good feelings washing over the Eternal City, Roma absolutely has to win this match tomorrow. With Fiorentina and Inter Milan suddenly looking vulnerable above them, a spot in the top three is up for grabs.
For all matters practical and passionate, this is a must win.