A little perspective for your Saturday morning: as stressed out and as anxious as many Roma fans are about facing Barcelona in the Champions League is probably how a small pocket of Crotone fans feel about their home fixture against Roma tomorrow. What? Seriously? We just won our first game in several weeks by dusting off Sampdoria and now we have to play Roma? One of the best eight sides in Europe this year? FML.
I don’t know, I like to think there’s a die hard Crotone fan out there somewhere who thought upsetting Sampdoria last week was the beginning of their climb out of the relegation zone and now they’re fit to be tied because Roma are next up on their fixture list. It’s certainly probable, after all Crotone staying up is roughly equivalent to Roma advancing even further in the Champions League.
Crotone v. Roma: March 18th, 15:00 CET/10:00 EDT. Stadio Ezio Scida, Crotone.
Point being, for every Goliath there is a David and for every David there is...umm, someone help me out here, who did David bully prior to throwing that stone? Barcelona or not, Roma’s main objective must be hanging onto one of next season’s Champions League spots, which is no sure thing, not when you consider only four points separates fifth place Inter Milan, who have a game in hand, from third place Roma—this is the battle that matters.
Whatever Roma achieves against Barcelona is gravy at this point, but any slip up against the Sharks this weekend could be catastrophic. However, before we take a look at tomorrow’s action, a quick look back.
October 25th: Roma 1, Crotone 0
Case in point: Roma needed a penalty to defeat Crotone at home last time. This was a bit of a rough stretch for Roma, one that seemed to set the pattern for much of the season. Roma flat out dominated Crotone, putting up 20 shots and holding an astounding 72% possession, yet they simply couldn’t convert on a single chance, and only managed to win thanks to a penalty drawn by Aleksandar Kolarov of all people. This was the second of three straight 1-0 victories for Roma that month and remains emblematic of their intermittent struggles this season—lots of creation, very little payoff (insert your own sexual frustration metaphor here).
Fight for Four
A victory tomorrow would be Roma’s fourth straight in all competitions, a feat they haven’t managed since November. However, in grand Roma fashion, they enter this match with several question marks. Eusebio Di Francesco is down his captain, Daniele De Rossi, and his chief playmaker, Diego Perotti, meaning he’ll have to mix and match his lineup a bit.
While both of these men have been out at varying points this season, this one still comes at a bit of an awkward time. In case you hadn’t noticed, DDR has dialed back the hands of time over the past few weeks, putting in stellar turns against Napoli, Torino and Shakhtar, looking very much like the De Rossi of old. Perotti has been on a similar upswing over the past three weeks, scoring the capper in Roma’s 4-2 upset against Napoli.
In their stead, look for EDF to play Lorenzo Pellegrini alongside Kevin Strootman in the midfield, while the odds are strong we’ll see an Edin Dzeko, Cengiz Ünder and Stephan El Shaarawy frontline, an intriguing albeit seldom seen trio. With Pellegrini and SES being reduced to part time roles lately, this will be a good opportunity for them to shake out some dust.
Outside of those minor concerns, it should be business as usual for Roma. While an upset probably isn’t afoot, if we see bad Roma tomorrow—lots of possession and creation with no payoff—we should all be concerned. This phantom menace (sorry Star Wars nerds) has plagued Roma all season long, and the sooner they can shake that spectre the better—Roma will need to be efficient and effective if they’re to ward off Inter Milan and Lazio to lockdown third place.
So while can and should talk about Roma’s European ambitions, in the short run Roma need to channel their inner-isolationist and focus on domestic affairs.