We mentioned it in the aftermath of Roma’s 2-0 victory over Crotone over the weekend, but the Giallorossi are entering the toughest stretch of the season. Tomorrow’s away tilt to Villarreal kicks off a brutal stretch of six matches between now and early March in which Roma not only plays the yellow submarine twice, but faces crucial domestic matches against Inter Milan, Lazio and Napoli in successive weeks.
Needless to say, the extent to which Roma can survive that stretch, which chronologically is only about three weeks, will go a long way in determining not only their success in this tournament but whether or not they can circumvent it altogether next season by landing an automatic qualifying berth into the Champions League.
Villarreal v. Roma: February 16, 21:05 CET/3:05 EST. Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal.
Roma will be taxed to the max for sure, so let’s take a quick look at the first hurdle in their path, Villarreal.
Quien Es Villarreal?
Good question. The yellow submarine is currently slotted sixth in La Liga, five points behind fifth place Real Sociedad and a distant ten points behind third place Sevilla, holders of La Liga’s final Champions League spot for next season—Remember when Italy had one of those? Yeah, me neither.
Head coach Fran Escriba’s men typically lineup in a base 4-4-2, one that has struggled to produce goals this season, as their 29 tallies is good for only 11th in the league. Leading that charge is 25-year-old Italian Nicola Sansone, formerly of Sassuolo and Parma. Sansone’s seven goals and three assists each lead the club, though he trailed closely by a pair of Sorianos, Bruno (five goals) and Roberto (four goals).
What Villarreal lacks in goal scoring prowess they more than make up for in defensive acumen. Villarreal’s back four has allowed 15 goals all season, the best mark in La Liga. The yellow submarine has a few familiar faces to Roma fans as well, as our old pal Jose Angel has caught on with the Spanish outfit, playing 540 minutes (all comps) this month alone, while Mateo Musacchio, the subject of many a Roma rumor over the years, helps anchor the middle of the Villarreal defense.
Given all that, you can probably guess what their tactic will be tomorrow, sit back and choke the life out of Roma’s attack. So how will Luciano Spalletti counter?
The Be Sharps
Looking back on it, I was probably a bit harsh in my review of Roma’s squeaker over Crotone—a win is a win is a win—but can you blame me? The euphoric high of the 4-0 thrashing of Fiorentina was so thoroughly undermined by Roma’s performance on Sunday, it was hard not to overreact.
Truth be told, they did what they needed to do against that sort of opponent on the road—just keep pressing and hope that your quality will eventually win out, which it certainly did. But against an unfamiliar opponent and in an unfamiliar stadium—this is only the third time these sides have met, the first since March 25, 2004 when Antonio Cassano helped deliver a 2-1 win—can we really rely on that formula once again?
Point being, Roma absolutely cannot squander chances tomorrow at the Estadio de la Ceramica. Ironically, while we hurled a lot of vitriol towards Edin Dzeko for his penalty miss and general lethargic play over the weekend, he will be the key to victory Thursday. In three previous matches against Villarreal, Dzeko has played to two victories and one draw, while scoring a goal to boot during his Wolfsburg days.
Given Villarreal’s stout defensive record, getting direct and consistent service to Dzeko is imperative to victory. If you’ve watched Roma at all this season, this hasn’t really been an issue—not in terms of gross shots at least—and not to pin too much of this on him, but he absolutely has to be on point tomorrow; there is simply no other way.
With Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy lacking in consistency this season, and with Mohamed Salah just returning from AFCON, apart from another miraculous Radja Nainggolan goal, Dzeko is option A through Z.
So get him the ball early and often and hope his head is in the game. In tomorrow’s battle, Edin Dzeko is the depth charge sure to sink the yellow submarine.