The surest sign you’ve been afflicted with the Roma sickness is, following last week’s thrashing of Fiorentina, you’re fully expecting a heartbreaking loss to Crotone tomorrow. There’s simply no other way, the universe won’t allow it; Roma can’t have two easy wins in a row. And with the news that Francesco Totti has been stricken with the flu, your Roma sickness has no doubt gotten worse.
However, this is 19th place Crotone we’re talking about here, a club that has barely outscored Edin Dzeko this season (20 to 17), so Roma can’t possibly cough this one up, can they?
Before we answer that question, a quick look back at the reverse fixture which was actually a laugher.
September 21, 2016: Roma 4, Crotone 0
Roma’s first ever encounter with Crotone was a walk-over, as the Giallorossi bum rushed the Squali from the word go. How one sided was this match? Just look at the restrained celebrations from Roma’s goal scorers for an indication. Given the quality of the opponent and the fact it was early in the season, this was akin to a pre-season friendly.
But will it be that easy this time around?
To Salah or No to Salah
That is the question facing Luciano Spalletti in this week’s oh-so-awesome 6:30 AM kickoff for those of you on the east coast. With Salah returning to Roma with his hat in hand—Egypt having lost the AFCON title—one would imagine he’s raring to go, eager to push forward towards a new objective.
Crotone vs. Roma: February 12. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST (ugh) Stadio Ezio Scida. Crotone
However, if history has taught us any lesson it’s this: the post-AFCON transition has to be treated very delicately; we all remember how Gervinho’s performance dovetailed when he returned from AFCON duty in 2015. In such a compact tournament, where players have to carry such an enormous wait throughout it, the burden tends to linger. Comparatively speaking, Salah and Gervinho’s importance to their respective nations are miles apart; Salah is Egyptian football, so it’s not as if he’s been on holiday for the past month, he has been physically and emotionally taxed.
All of this is to say, despite the level of the opponent tomorrow, Spalletti should be judicious with Salah’s minutes in the early goings. Roma has an absolutely vicious spell coming up over the next six to eight weeks: Villarreal (twice), Torino, Inter, Lazio, Sassuolo and Napoli all before the end of March. Rest and rotation is the order of the day.
Having said that, a brief 45 minute interlude against Crotone might be a good way to get his feet way. This, of course, assumes that Roma can solve the Pythagoreans in relatively short order tomorrow (yes, that is one of their nicknames...a strange one for sure). Starting Salah and rushing out to a 2-0 lead in the first half would be the ideal scenario for #11.
Beyond that, as Jonas noted yesterday, Roma is infinitely better when Thomas Vermaelen doesn’t play, so let’s hope Spalletti doesn’t pull any punches and sticks with Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger tomorrow. Although, with both Salah and Diego Perotti back in action, there have been rumors of a return to the 4-2-3-1. If that is indeed the case, look for Emerson to slot in at left back; the bulk of his success has come as a wingback this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if that translates to a more withdrawn role.
And that’s really that. Roma should win this one walking away. Dzeko has caught fire once again, El Shaarawy has been dangerous in recent weeks and Salah should bring some much needed balance back to the attack.
Roma has to win this one because they’ve got a tough row to hoe in the coming weeks.