After weeks in the wilderness, Roma emerged from the bush two weeks ago, eeking out a 1-0 victory over Verona. Cengiz Under’s 44th second strike was the wolves first fresh kill in weeks, one they followed up with an even more impressive hunt last week against Benevento. The dirty little secret of that orgy of blood is that Verona and Benevento aren’t exactly the most formidable prey.
Oof, that was tough. I try to stay away from the wolf metaphors for a reason. Point being, Roma feasted on (not intentional, I swear) two lesser opponents to get their mojo back, making tomorrow’s opponent, Udinese, the next logical step. The Zebras are currently mired in tenth place—not showing off but not falling behind—making them the perfect foil in Roma’s incremental rise back to the top three.
Udinese v. Roma: February 17, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Friuli, Udine.
But was Roma’s Turkish-fueled resurgence legit or simply a product of happenstance?
September 23, 2017: Roma 3, Udinese 1
Roma made quick work of Udinese on this sunny fall afternoon, running out to a 3-0 lead after only 45 minutes. Dzeko’s 12th minute goal was quickly buttressed by an El Shaarawy brace in the 30th and 45th minutes, respectively. And while they gifted another late goal to an opponent, Roma ran off 3-1 winners, continuing their recent dominance over Udinese.
Lupi, Get in Formation!
That’s right, we’ve transitioned from animal themed analogies to Beyonce references. I have no idea what I’m doing anymore.
After months and months and months of complaining and hand wringing about Eusebio Di Francesco’s devotion to the 4-3-3, Roma fans have been treated to quite a site the past couple of weeks, a return to the 4-2-3-1, the formation that brought so many of us so much joy throughout Luciano Spalletti’s two stints with the club.
Whether or not EDF’s tactical hand was forced by suspensions and/or injuries is immaterial, his tinkering paid immediate dividends. Transformed by Cengiz Under’s presence, EDF’s attack has had a level of dynamism we haven’t seen since they rolled Chelsea back in the fall. With only 655 league minutes under his belt, Under is already the club’s third leading scorer behind Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy, while his 1.92 key passes per 90 minutes are fourth on the squad.
Small sample sizes? Absolutely, but even from his first minutes on the job, you knew there was just something about this kid. Something indefinable, something exciting and something this team has been aching for since Mohamed Salah left. So we’ll be watching with bated breath as Under takes his talents into the Champions League and against league leading Napoli in the coming weeks.
While the club had to lean on Under last week, with Radja Nainggolan, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Daniele De Rossi all available, it’s almost a full cupboard for EDF tomorrow, which begs an interesting question. If indeed EDF sticks with the 4-2-3-1, it will be interesting to see which of De Rossi, Pellegrini or even Diego Perotti gets the boot.
Last week, again due to a short bench, he had to roll with Gerson and Kevin Strootman in front of the defense, with Dzeko supported by Under, Perotti and SES. In that setup, Perotti served as the de facto trequartista behind Dzeko, and played quite well, providing four key passes and an assist in 88 minutes. However, with Nainggolan, Pellegrini and DDR all active this week, there are no assurances Perotti will start this match. EDF could very well pull a page out of Spalletti’s playbook and use Nainggolan in that advanced attacking role, keeping Under and SES outwide.
From a purely selfish standpoint, I’d love to see this, as it would serve as the best facsimile of Spalletti’s Roma we’ve seen since that glorious bastard left last spring. Nainggolan was a man transformed in that role last season with 12 goals and seven assists in all competitions. His ability to press the ball, retain possession and win it back when necessary is such a wonderful foil for the wide attackers, that it makes up for his lack of traditional creativity, not that Roma has lacked for chances this year.
What they have lacked, however, is that killer edge, those incisive runs into the box. With Nainggolan’s bulldog approach in the area countered by Under and El Shaarawy’s athleticism and flair, that formation and those personnel selections might be the perfect salve for Roma’s finishing woes.
4-2-3-1 or not, this is yet another critical match for Roma. With only two points separating fifth from third, there promises to be constant jockeying for Italy’s final Champions League qualifications spots, making every point a veritable life or death affair.
But that’s a matter for May, in the here and now, Roma are looking for their third straight win, which would qualify as a...