There was a time that this fixture, Roma vs. Udinese, was among my favorites every year, not because it was a great historic rivalry, not because of my fondness for zebras, but simply because it meant one thing: Totti vs Toto, two modern day legends, who nearly teamed up in the Eternal City. No matter their respective standings on the table, or their fans shared frustrations, one thing was certain: Francesco Totti and Antonio Di Natale were sure to entertain.
Those days are gone, of course, Toto retired last season with 600 some odd appearances and over 250 goals to his credit, while Totti is still plugging away, inspiring Roma from the bench. And while the Giallorossi have carried on in the post-Toto v. Totti world, Udinese is mired in 11th place, winless in their past two matches.
Udinese v. Roma: January 18, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Friuli, Udine.
Despite losing the leader of their zeal (look it up), Udinese is still a side with which Roma must reckon.
Before we delve into this one, a quick look back at the reverse fixture.
August 20th: Roma 4, Udinese 0
Not much to rehash in this one, Roma opened up the 2016-2017 season in cracking fashion, blasting Udinese 4-0 on opening day, thanks to two Diego Perotti penalties ten minutes apart, capped off by goals from Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko.
Del Neri Difficulties
Historically speaking, Roma is quite familiar with Luigi Del Neri, thanks to his six month stint heading the club, but in the present sense, he’s been a different sort of thorn in their side.
Del Neri is a strong Coach, someone who has always focused his football on the battle, physicality and counter-attacks. He has remained entirely consistent in his view of the game. His teams take your breath away, because they are so aggressive and leap on you from the first moment.
I remember last season when his Verona came here on my debut and caused us huge difficulties. Del Neri plays the football he wants without fear or remorse, so I praise that consistent vision
Spalletti is, of course, referring to last January’s 1-1 draw at the Olimpico, his first match in charge of Roma, when it seemed like the club was destined to repeat their recent form under Rudi Garcia, grabbing an early lead only to cough it up twenty minutes later.
This season, Del Neri’s side has been decided average, sitting 11th on the table, 11th in goals scored and 13th in goals allowed. Led by Cyril Thereau’s eight goals, Udinese has struggled to mount a consistent attack, failing to score in 21% of their matches, putting them slightly behind the league average of 26%. However, in typical midtable fashion, Udinese has been much tougher at home, keeping a cleansheet in 30% of their fixtures at the Friuli, which matches the league average, while they’ve scored in 90% of their home matches.
So, much as they did last week against Genoa, Roma must overcome a decidedly average opponent that happens to be indomitable at home.
How exactly will Roma manage this? Let’s take a quick look...
Roman Roll Call
When Spalletti takes attendance tomorrow afternoon, he’ll notice more than a few missing faces. Besides the injured Alessandro Florenzi and the AFCON-bound Mohamed Salah, Roma will be missing Antonio Rüdiger and Daniele De Rossi to suspension, while Diego Perotti remains questionable due to, you guessed it, a muscle strain.
All of which, in a roundabout way, means one thing: Jesus saves!
With Rüdiger and Thomas Vermaelen out, Spalletti will likely roll out a three-man backline consisting of Kostas Manolas, Fabulous Federico Fazio and Juan Rrruan Jesus himself, a formula that worked fairly well last week. While Manolas will be new to this particular troika, Fazio and Jesus should be more than enough to contain Udinese’s attack.
The forward reaches of Roma are a bit of a question mark, as Leandro Paredes looks set to make his 2017 debut in place of De Rossi, lining up next to Kevin Strootman with Emerson Palmieri and Bruno Peres splayed out wide. Beyond that, should Perotti be ruled out officially, look for Stephan El Shaarawy to get the nod, and not a moment too soon, as Perotti seems to have hit a wall the last couple weeks.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between this fixture and last week’s 1-0 victory over Genoa, but the story is really the same: Roma simply cannot relent.