Unless the Toronto Blue Jays offer Francesco Totti a contract to be a middle reliever or something like that, we're going to take a brief detour from our transfer rumor coverage and focus on Roma's stretch run. With eight matches remaining, Roma is seven points behind Napoli for second place and the oh so sweet automatic berth into next season's Champions League, while holding a five point cushion over Fiorentina for Italy's final (and only) Champions League qualifier spot.
While the oddsmakers currently give Roma a 74% chance of retaining that third spot, this is still Roma we're talking about, so with eight matches remaining, let's look at eight players who must step (or at least maintain) to ensure the Giallorossi's qualification into the big dance next year.
If you follow me on Twitter (@BrenCdT), you know that I'm no fan of Szczesny--he's too passive and too careless with the ball at his feet. The truth is he hasn't been that bad, but his errors and mental lapses have been so appalling to anyone who has ever played the position that they tend to resonate in your memory. However, whether it was Rudi Garcia or Luciano Spalletti at the helm, Szczesny has faced no competition whatsoever for this job. With the derby, a potential six pointer against Napoli and an away fixture to AC Milan left on the docket, Woj has to step it up; even the slightest of gaffes could cost Roma millions next season.
Listen, I love me some Rüdiger but he's had exactly the sort of season we expected back in August. As a 23-year-old central defender making the leap to a larger club, growing pains were to be expected. For better or worse, Rüdiger has become a mainstay in the lineup, going the full 90 in his last ten appearances, turning in particular strong performances against Empoli and Fiorentina. For my money, Rüdiger has done enough to be brought back; he's tall, athletic and has actually proven to be a pretty active and effective defender. However, with Gonzalo Higuain, Mattia Destro, Alessio Cerci and Carlos Bacca, among others, left on his assignment list, Rüdiger needs to find some consistency down the stretch. Every miss timed tackle, poor read or over the back foul leaves Roma ripe for the plucking.
By now you're starting to notice a theme, the need for consistency. Florenzi's fluctuations are as much a product of Walter Sabatini's squad construction as they are any particular shortcoming on Ale's part. However, combine the positional uncertainty with calls from overseas, not to mention the melodrama surrounding the future of the club's other Romans, and you've got a recipe for distraction. So whether he's flanked opposite Lucas Digne, supporting the midfield or spelling Mohamed Salah or Stephan El Shaarawy, Roma will need Florenzi's heart, his hustle and his penchant for spectacular goals.
For Roma's resident Frenchman, it's less a plea for consistency than it is a simple prayer his legs don't' fall off. Digne has played a total of 2,286 league minutes--that's 25 starts and only one appearance as a substitute. 22-years-old or not, that's an awful lot of miles at this point in the season. Despite that heavy use, Digne has been fairly consistent lately, especially since Spalletti came to town. While I've made no secret of my admiration for this kid, the balance he brings to Roma's attack will be absolutely essential to qualifying for the CL next season.
Lest you think this is simply a rundown of the starting XI, we'll throw a few reserves in here. Keita has been as advertised since move to Roma; an experienced and quality player. He's not terribly exciting, but he has been a steadying, albeit underwhelming, presence on the pitch. Whether he's filling in for Miralem Pjanic or Daniele De Rossi, Keita simply has to be careful and judicious with the ball. Too often Roma's midfield play becomes passive when he's on the pitch; that simply cannot be tolerated. Indeed, one needn't look any further than his dwindling minutes since Spalletti took over as proof. However, the club's midfield has been heavily taxed this year, and Keita's veteran presence may be preferred over William Vainqueur down the stretch.
Hey, when you fill Francesco Totti's shoes, you better be on top of your game week-in-week-out. By and large, Perotti has stepped up to the plate, bringing a level of dynamism to the center of Roma's attack not seen since Totti was the focal point during Garcia's first season at the helm. We've talked at length about Perotti's transformative performance since making the switch to Roma this winter, but we've also seen, particularly against Inter, what happens to the attack when Perotti is off the mark. I don't think we oversold his impact, but the onus here is on Spalletti. Theoretically, Spalletti can keep Perotti fresh and placate the masses in one fell swoop--who better to mimic Perotti's mimicry of Totti than Totti himself? Sort it out, Spalletti.
For fucks sake, where to begin? By any measure, Dzeko has been a massive disappointment in his debut season, spending much of the year looking completely lost on the pitch and completely useless in front of goal. While there have been a few fleeting glimpses of the old Dzeko, he's spent most of 2015-2016 as a decoy/ hold up agent. However, as we saw during the draw with Inter, Dzeko's mere presence shifts the entire point of attack, keeping defenses from keying on Roma's more dangerous attackers. But, this tilt shift is only effective if Dzeko, you know, actually scores or gives the appearances of scoring. Somehow, some way, Dzeko needs to get the wax out of his ears and start playing with some hutzpah.
We'll end it with arguably Roma's most important player this season. We touched on this earlier in the week, but Pjanic has been all aces this season; really our quibbles with his performance are minor and are only amplified by his importance in Spalletti's set up. While Spalletti initially experimented with Pjanic in a Andrea Pirlo type role, since moving him a bit further up the pitch, Pjanic has responded with some inspired play, dolling out three assists and scoring one goal in his last five appearances. With no other pure attacking midfielder on the roster, Pjanic has to keep his foot on the gas over the next two months; his ability to operate the midfield is the key to Roma's ambitions in the final third.
Eight Weeks, Eight Chances
With two months of play left and 60 points already in the bank, Roma probably needs at least 12 of the remaining 24 possible points to hang onto third place. If they finish with 70 or 71 points, things get dicey, as their odds of retaining third place fall below 50%. On the flipside, if Roma runs the table their odds of eclipsing Napoli for second increase somewhat, but that remains a longshot a best.
Simply put, Roma needs to be consistent throughout the final two months. With the exception of Napoli on April 25th, Roma should be favored in all of their remaining matches. If they remain aggressive and efficient in attack and balanced in defense, third place should be theirs for the taking.