On the balance of things 2017 was a rousing success for Roma. While the club intermittently flirted with the Scudetto during the tail end of the 2016-2017 season, they ultimately had to settle for second place and a club record for points in a season. Part and parcel of that disappointing second place finish was an automatic berth into the Champions League group stage, which Roma promptly, well not dominated, but won a group featuring Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.
Beyond the actual on the pitch stories, Roma reached new highs in the transfer market as well, shelling out €42 million for Patrik Schick, not to mention doling out a further €42 million on two players—Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp—who were essentially luxuries. Things around Roma are changing for sure, and 2017 may prove to be the tip of a much more impressive iceberg.
Roma v. Sassuolo: December 30, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Of course, this is still Roma we’re talking about, so they’re not exactly closing the calendar year with a bang, as their sputtering offense has failed to register more than one goal in almost an entire month, and while last week’s loss away to Juventus was to be expected, as we mentioned those same issues (the one dimensional attack, the lack of precision in front of goal) reared their ugly heads once more.
So, yes, 2017 was nearly an unmitigated success for AS Roma, but they’re in danger of ending on whimper rather than a bang, but the good news is this: 2017 isn’t over and there is one match remaining on the fixture list before we enter another leap year.
Sassuolo: It Ain’t Easy Being Green
Standing in the way of a Roma victory is Sassuolo, arguably the team with which Roma is the most familiar, and vice versa. Not only are the Neroverdi Eusebio Di Francesco’s former team, but the trail between these two clubs is a well worn one. In addition to EDF, Roma nabbed Lorenzo Pellegrini and Gregoire Defrel from Sassuolo over the summer, and may have designs on two more of their star players, Domenico Berardi and Matteo Politano, both of whom look to feature tomorrow when Roma welcomes Sassuolo to the Olimpico.
While Sassuolo aren’t enjoying the same level of success they did before Roma robbed them of three key pieces, they’re riding a three-match winning streak, ripping off victories over Crotone, Sampdoria and most impressively Inter Milan in successive weeks. And if we look to that Inter match as a template, it begins to look awfully familiar.
Spalletti’s side dominated possession last week, passed circles around the Neroverdi, and nearly doubled their shot output, yet were found wanting. By sitting back and absorbing the Nerazzurri’s pressure, Sassuolo were able to strike at Spalletti’s side when they were at their most vulnerable, on the counter attack. Inter countered by playing wide, focusing on one specific wing, and pumping in cross after cross.
See what I mean by familiar? Sassuolo couldn’t have had a better precursor to this match than playing Inter Milan. Swap out the proclivity for attacking on the right with the left, and everything else stands—the hallmark of Roma’s attack is width and at times, due to their lack of creativity in the middle, it seems like pumping in crosses is their first and last recourse.
So, what hope does Roma have of breaking this hex?
Roma: Move it to the Middle
While Roma has historically been able to cope without having a true attacking midfielder—beit by using Francesco Totti or Diego Perotti as a false nine or relying on a more withdrawn Miralem Pjanic to provide a spark—something seems different, more intractable about this current playmaking predicament. The skeptics among us will immediately point to EDFs tactical intransigence, but as we pointed out early this week, a possible solution, one which would work within a 4-3-3-, may be sitting on the bench already.
However, our fellow internet sleuths all seem to point towards a return to the Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi trio in midfield, which is all well and good when Roma wants to choke an attack, but hasn’t done so well in the reverse, creating an attack. Whether or not Lorenzo Pellegrini starts, there may be another cure to Roma’s ails, one that doesn’t require shuffling the midfield.
Earlier this week it was reported that EDF was toying with the idea of starting Edin Dzeko and Patrik Schick alongside each other on a more permanent basis. While Schick seems like a center forward in form and function, when the rubber met the road last year, Shick did a lot of damage from out wide, using his impressive close control and agility to create scoring chances while cutting in; so perhaps the solution to Roma’s problems lies within the finishing and not the creating. Shick hasn’t done much statistically during his brief Roma tenure, but every touch he takes seems like it could be a game breaker, and with Dzeko eating up space and defenders in the middle, starting these two together might be the perfect solution to EDFs current quagmire.
Sassuolo shouldn’t stand in the way of a Roma win, but we’ve learned how dangerous those types of assumptions can be lately, so whoever starts for Roma tomorrow, let’s pray that Santa brought them new shooting boots for Christmas.