After tearing through a rather soft spot in their schedule, Roma embark on a decidedly more difficult task on Sunday, an away trip to the San Siro, their first taste of the new reformed AC Milan. However, this week seven encounter is more than just a reunion for former Roma teammates Eusebio Di Francesco and Vincenzo Montella. Not only is this the marquee fixture of the round, it represents a giant litmus test for both managers.
With the bruises from their 4-1 beat down at the hands of Lazio still healing, the last thing Montella needed was another jolting defeat. After seemingly righting the ship with three successive league victories, Montella’s men fell to Sampdoria two-nil last week, which sent Milan careening all the way down to sixth place; not exactly a healthy ROI on that 230 million pound investment made over the summer. So a victory on Sunday would prove to the Milan execs that Montella is more than a handsome face framed by a perfectly perpendicular jaw.
AC Milan v. Roma: October 1, 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT. San Siro, Milano.
For EDF, it’s quite the opposite. After being castigated by much of the Roma faithful after the club’s less than stellar summer and floundering start to the fixture list, Di Francesco has seemingly put those ghosts to rest, with rollicking victories in four straight matches ushering in a new era of good feelings for the capital club. However, the elephant in the room is, quite naturally, the level of those opponents, but as we’ve been discussing, to focus solely on that fact is to miss the point—Roma was nearing full crisis mode after only two weeks, so this stretch has served as a salve for our once frayed nerves.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s take a closer look at each club.
It’s My Aeroplane…But Perhaps Not For Long
While Sunday’s match was always a critical fixture for Montella, his place could be made even more precarious now that Carlo Ancelotti is on the coaching market. Given all they invested in the squad this summer, what better man to lead the club back to the pinnacle than Carletto? Leading super teams is his bread and butter, so if Montella slips up once more, Ol’ Carletto would be more than happy to oblige Milan fans wet dream.
But that’s a matter for another day, in the here and now Roma are facing a slightly troubled but incredibly talented club. While the names that drew the largest crowds, Leonardo Bonucci and Andre Silva have scuffled to start the season, it’s actually been the incumbents leading the charge for Montella, most notably Suso, Riccardo Montolivo and 19-year-old prodigy Patrick Cutrone, who is tied for the club lead in league goals thus far.
Through the season’s first six weeks, Montella has relied mostly on a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-1-2, and while most manager’s have a few go to formations, Montella’s resemble an NHL line change than a simple, subtle tweak of personnel. The 4-3-3 has scored six goals while yielding a +1 goal differential, which may or may not be due to the fact that it features Fabio Borini. The three man variation, while not as prolific offensively, has been a bit sturdier, playing to a +3 goal differential. This formation, and the 3-5-2 variant featured last week, seems to put Montella’s best foot forward, as it seems to put his most creative and/or effective midfielders in advances positions.
Small samples sizes and all, but Montella has been a bit of a chameleon this season, with no one formation or lineup winning out over the other. This is, in many ways, the ultimate calcio conundrum: how much rotation is too much? At what point does flexibility and inventiveness come at the cost of cohesion?
It’s a question all clubs must answer, but given their near 100% turnover this season, a costly one at that, and Montella’s lack of an identity as a top flight manager, Milan might prove the ultimate case study for this nature vs nurture debate.
While not quite as disparate, EDF has been rolling with a few different looks lately, so how about a quick gander at the suddenly scorching hot Giallorossi?
Oh, Where Did You Go, Diego?
Diego Perotti is one of the more divisive figures of the American regime. You either love him or hate him, there is no middle ground. He’s either a dynamic, do it all attacker or a complete hack. The truth, as it always is, rests somewhere in between, but this much is certain; he ain’t playing this week.
With Gregoire Defrel planted firmly next to him at Villa Stuart, EDF will have to do a bit of tinkering on his frontline. At this point in the season, it seem as though Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy are locks, but without Perotti and the winger-in-name-only Defrel, who will lineup to the right of Dzeko Sunday?
Due to a simple lack of options, Di Francesco might have to dip into the old Roma playbook once more, pushing Alessandro Florenzi back to his old (and some would say natural) position, right wing, where his off the ball runs can be best utilized, serving both as foil for Dzeko’s new found play making and a space stretcher for Roma’s other wide attackers.
Of course, if Ale is playing up front, that means Bruno Peres is playing at the back, a prospect that isn’t nearly as reassuring as it was two short years ago. Where in the hell Rick Karsdorp is in all of this is anyone’s guess—so much for that two to three week recovery, eh? Fortunately for EDF, the heart of his defense—Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio—seem to be rounding into form.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, this match will serve as a warp tunnel of sorts for Eusebio Di Francesco, one in which he’ll either emerge unscathed, rescuing Princess Toadstool in the process, or he’ll succumb to the pressure and suffer the wrath of King Koopa.