After a sputtering start to their 2017-2018 Serie A campaign, Roma clapped back in a big way over the weekend, dusting off Verona in a 3-0 romp at the Olimpico. While that resounding victory won’t silence all her critics, Roma seems newly resolved now that they’ve rallied around the flag. Fortunately for Eusebio Di Francesco, the fixture list has provided another seemingly soft serve opponent, Serie A debutants Benevento Calcio, holders of perhaps the best crest in all of football...the wizards!
So, will Roma be able to hand this gaggle of Harry Potters or are they bound to be cursed the minute they enter the Stadio Ciro Vigorito. Through four matches, the Wizards have yet to score a goal or garner a single point. Life in the big time is tough, doubly so if it’s your first trip to the Serie A party.
Benevento v. Roma: September 20, 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT.Stadio Ciro Vigorito, Benevento
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at this match, which is potentially full of pitfalls.
Clever Hogwarts Reference
I don’t know enough about fictional adolescent English wizards to make a clever subtitle, so we’ll be plain and obvious. Having said that, facing a club for the first time, and on the road no less, can and has spelled doom for Roma before, so we can’t simply assume this will be a walkover.
Benevento may be new to Serie A, but they do have a few familiar faces to Roma fans. The Wizards feature former Atalanta midfielder Marco D’Alessandro as well as former Roma farmhand Luca Antei, but the real peacock of this club is Amato Ciciretti, Benevento’s number ten and himself a born and bred Roman.
But that’s really about it, Benevento is largely a club built on loanees, taking in youngsters from everyone from Juventus to Newcastle to Pescara. Surviving in Serie A, and hell even cracking 20 points, will be a tremendous challenge for Benevento this season.
But, new opponent, unfamiliar stadium, uncertain tactics...bad things could happen, folks. Bad things.
As we mentioned in and around last weekend’s Verona match, Roma simply needed a decisive victory to even their keel. No PK fueled victories, no free kick bailouts, just a balls to the wall display of attacking football; that was the only way Roma could fend off the tide of negative press. And hey, look at that, that’s precisely what they did.
Led by a fresh injection of young blood (Lorenzo Pellegrini, Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Under), Roma looked like a completely different side from the one that was repeatedly frustrated by Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid. Pellegrini and Alessandro Florenzi dominated the right hand side of the pitch, while El Shaarawy and Under did just enough to create chances and space for Edin Dzeko. It was everything EDF could have possibly hoped for when he took the job, a seamless and succinct attack ebbing and flowing from the midfield outwards.
So, the natural question as we head into this match is simply, who plays? Will EDF continue to ride the youth wave or will he harken back to Kevin Strootman, Diego Perotti and Bruno Peres, among others?
Squad rotation is always a point of contention for Roma fans, a fact suddenly made worse given the depth and breadth of talent at EDF’s disposal; call it a Catch-22. Fortunately for Mr. Di Francesco, with such a timid opponent lining up against them, he has a convenient excuse to continue play kids in need of development, saving the heavy hitters for Udinese over the weekend and the crucial Champions League trip to Azerbaijan on the 27th.
Tactics and 4-3-3 aside, the extent to which Di Francesco incorporates all this vibrant young talent should be the subplot of the season. Pellegrini, Under, Schick, Karsdorp and even El Shaarawy are at critical points in their development, so getting them consistent and meaningful minutes will be crucial for their progression and Roma’s fight for the top three.
At this point, some 24 hours before kickoff, we have no idea which way EDF will lean, simply because cogent arguments can be made either way. The youth brigade was simply sensational over the weekend, so riding that hot streak may be the wise move, yet leaving Strootman and Perotti on the bench for too long will dull their edges ahead of Roma’s hellish October fixture list.
It’s not easy being a Mister, and over the next six weeks, EDF will have his mettle tested like never before. Just....just...for the love of god, Eusebio, whatever you do, don’t put Gregoire Defrel on the wing.