Roma find themselves in some unfamiliar territory as they head into Thursday’s Europa League Fixture—no, not Lyon itself, they’ve been there before, ten years ago—but rather as the losers of three of their past four matches, dating back to their meaningless second leg against Villarreal in the round of 32. After dusting off Inter Milan 3-1 a week or so ago, Roma are suddenly in free fall, dropping consecutive matches to Lazio and Napoli in the Coppa Italia and Serie A, respectively.
Not exactly a recipe for success heading into the round of 16, right? But rather than dwelling on the recent past, let’s take a quick look at Roma’s next opponent, Olympique Lyonnais.
Good Ole’ OL
The Giallorossi haven’t squared off with Les Gones in over ten years, but we can safely assume things have changed around the Parc Olympique Lyonnais since then, though not with Roma, Francesco Totti was there when Roma dispatched of Lyon in the 2006-2007 Champions League, and he’s still here today. Remarkable. Anyway, back to Lyon.
Lyon v. Roma: March 9th. 21:05 CET/3:05 EST. Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon.
The kids currently sit fourth in Ligue 1, 18 points off league leading Monaco (wow, when did that happen? I nearly typed PSG out of habit!), while boasting the league’s third most potent attack, forcing home 55 goals through 27 league matches. Pacing the kids is everyone’s favorite intermittent/unrealistic Roma transfer target, Alexandre Lacazette. The 25-year-old Frenchman is pacing Lyon with an incredible 22 goals in league play and has benefitted from sitting atop Bruno Genesio’s 4-2-3-1, where he’s receiving ample support from Rachid Ghezzal, Nabil Fekir, Mathieu Valbuena and, as of late, Memphis Depay, another would be Roman.
Lyon has vacillated between 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 for much of the season, but no matter the shape, the attack is predicated upon the playmaking of Fekir, Valbuena and even Depay, while Lacazatte’s sniper like precision (62% accuracy, 35% conversion) is the perfect accoutrement.
Suffice it to say, Roma got the shaft when they were drawn with Lyon for the round of 16. Lyon is tough, but certainly not unbeatable (they’ve dropped four league matches at home this season), so how will Roma counter this threat?
If Roma’s last two matches (losses in case you’d forgotten already) proved anything, it’s this: as Dzeko goes, so goes Roma. Over those two matches, and particularly against Napoli, Dzeko was rendered useless, as each side schemed to deny him effective space. By stacking and compacting the middle of of defense, Roma’s opponents have kept Dzeko out of the danger zone, dulling the point of Roma’s most dangerous weapon.
And without Dzeko’s gravity in the middle, Luciano Spalletti’s attack is left to drift around the outer arms of this particular galaxy, desperately hoping to get past the event horizon. So, in addition to reigning in Lacazette and Fekir, Roma’s top priority is feeding the beast; get Dzeko rolling early and seize the momentum.
And while we talk about Lacazette, it’s worth mentioning the mini meltdown experienced by Roma’s defense over their past two matches. While not quite the nadir we witnessed during the tail end of Garcia’s regime, Federico Fazio and friends didn’t look quite as impregnable over the past two weeks, especially not last week when Dries Mertens pissed all over them, figuratively speaking of course.
There may not be a hotter duo in the game than Lacazette and Fekir, who have teamed up for 11 goals and five assists over the past month. Each are as nimble, as crafty and as creative as the day is long, so Roma’s backline must be cohesive if they are to weather this storm.
Despite that doom and gloom, you can rest assured the Lyon equivalent of Chiesa di Totti, should one exist, is probably just as fraught with anxiety over the prospect of stopping Roma. For the neutrals, this should be one hell of a matchup, but make no mistake, Roma can win this, and by extension the Europa League itself, but they’ve drawn a tough lot.
Lock down Lacazette and make Fekir feckless and we’ll have a good chance.
Bonne chance mes amis!