If you’re particularly avaricious and covet hardware, you were probably quite upset with Roma’s midweek result against Lazio in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals. However, don’t despair, a two-goal deficit isn’t the end of the world; it will be difficult for sure, but not impossible. The other salient point is this, securing second place is Roma’s main objective, and in that sense, Roma is in fine shape, having won four straight league matches by a margin of 13-2....13-2!
So, despite their midweek fatigue, this club is in great shape domestically, holding a five point edge over third place Napoli, who are, coincidentally enough, tomorrow’s opponent. The 153rd edition of the Derby del Sole is a make or break match for both sides, where the battle to hold the Old Lady’s bridal veil may ultimately be decided.
Before we delve into that, a quick look back at the reverse fixture.
October 15th: Roma 3, Napoli 1
A brace from Edin Dzeko was the decider in this sun soaked match, as Dzeko’s double helped secure Roma’s first victory at the San Paolo since 2011. While Kalidou Koulibaly would pull one back early in the second half, Mohamed Salah’s 85th minute goal secured three points and helped give Roma an early edge over Napoli in the race up the table.
Roma v. Napoli: March 4th, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Wojciech Szczesny has billed this as matchup between two angry clubs, so let’s take a quick look at whose fury will burn the brightest.
A Dollar And A Dries
While Napoli is propelled by all the usual suspects—they have 26 goals and 22 assists between Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon—the real secret to their success has been the Belgian midfielder, Dries Mertens. With 16 goals and four assists in league play, Mertens has been a revelation this season, who has already tripled his goal haul from last season. With Callejon and Insigne flanking him, and with Piotr Zielinski and Hamsik behind him, Mertens’ season has been a walk in the park, averaging four shots on goal per match, putting 61% of those on target, while converting 22% into goals.
Mertens is really just the tip of the iceberg, the Partenopei are running roughshod over the league, pacing the league with 60 goals and have four players with at least eight goals. Don’t let Mertens eye popping numbers fool you, Sarri’s boys spread the ball around; there is no simple solution to stopping Napoli. But...but...if there is one key to slowing down the Sarri machine, it’s bottling up Hamsik.
Through 26 league appearances, Hamsik has tallied 10 goals and seven assists, while averaging 2.1 key passes and 2.0 dribbles per match. Every club has a guy like Hamsik, he may not lead the club in goals, but he’s the straw that stirs the drink—think Borja Valero and Fiorentina, Alejandro Gomez and Atalanta or even our very own Radja Nainggolan—and Hamsik is most definitely Napoli’s nucleus. If Daniele De Rossi and Nainggolan can harsh his mellow, they may slow down Serie A’s most lethal attack.
Roma: Fighting Fatigue
Full credit to Lazio for scheming to defeat Roma earlier this week, but we can’t discount the mass of minutes heaped upon Roma’s most important legs this season. Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko, Federico Fazio and Kevin Strootman have all exceed 2,200 minutes this season, and, to exactly no one’s surprised, looked pretty fucking tired during this match. But, when you only rotate four midfielders, that’s bound to be expected. At this point, Clement Grenier and Gerson might as well be Trolls, hiding from the Bergens underneath the stands at the Olimpico.
As we’ve long feared, that fatigue came home to roost on Wednesday as Roma, particularly the midfield, looked a step behind for most of the match. While the Giallorossi have ridden the wave quite well over the past two weeks, they haven’t pulled out of this barrel yet. The Derby del Sole comes only three days rest, with the crucial round of 16 Europa League match against Lyon looming on Thursday, meaning Roma’s already weary legs will be pressed even further over the next several days.
There’s isn’t much else we can add to that; times like these are what separate the pretenders from the contenders. Roma simply must find a way to weather this storm. A win tomorrow would increase their second place lead to eight points, thereby tightening their grip on next season’s Champions League. Any slip ups, whether they were caused by tired legs or not, could make the final few months of the season a dicey affair.