Kolarov Sits It Out
Going into this game, SPAL’s ‘unbeaten in 7 games’ headline seems impressive but is also based on a very insidious string of draws. You could easily say the Ferrara-based club haven’t won in 6 games and be just as correct, which says everything about where their season has gone: A struggle for goals and a fierce will to hold onto the ball, to counter that struggle.
SPAL’s reaction to Serie A pressure has been one of keeping the ball wide on the wings in their own third of the pitch, ever since they won their six-pointer against Crotone - their last win in the league some weeks ago now. This could offer a very easy game for both Roma’s fullbacks defensively, and comes as a very opportune moment for Di Francesco to announce Kolarov is out of the squad with Jonathan Silva and Luca Pellegrini vying to replace him, but heaps pressure on the Lupi to play it wide themselves thanks to SPAL packing the midfield with numbers.
SPAL v. Roma: April 21, 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT. Stadio Mazza, Ferrara.
Ultimately the TL:DR version of this game: Roma may need to make the most of set pieces and corners to open up the scoring here, something the Giallorossi have largely failed to this season, but just pulled off successfully in their mid-week victory over Genoa.
Return of an ex-Roma Flame (... Not Marco Borriello)
Through a midfield injury crisis at SPAL, one that’s kept their usual playmaker Schiattarella at the treatment table, the focus has been on another regista to step into the void: none other than former Roma talent Federico Viviani.
In the ex-Roma name, SPAL have a guy more in the style of David Pizarro. Viviani is keen to hang onto the ball for longer, less inclined for one-touch football or the one-two plays with the wingbacks that Schiattarella brought to the side. Instead, Viviani is not only that quarterback waiting for the chance to launch balls forward but also very willing to bust a lung and get himself into the box. It doesn’t hurt that he happens to be pretty handy at direct free-kicks, too.
Viviani is an unlikely source of goals to cover for the dry spells of Floccari, Paloschi, Antenucci and... oh yeah... we were just thinking about him...
Marco Borriello Update
Marco ‘Superdotato’ Borriello’s time at SPAL has, unfortunately, been a climbdown from the epic success of last season’s stay in Sardinia. Just 12 months ago there was talk of Borriello staging a comeback for Italy at the World Cup; it was a natural and deserved reaction to him banging them in (goals, not Sardinian wives) for Cagliari in Serie A. Now, including but not limited to reasons of Borriello’s own, that World Cup dream won’t happen.
Repeated calf and muscular injuries suggest that Borriello’s season, and SPAL career, could be over entirely. Last week, a SPAL fan took issue with Borriello’s Instagram post showing him out and about on the town for the evening. Wasn’t he meant to be focusing on recovery training instead?
Borriello bluntly replied that his season was over, before deleting the comment. Maybe the striker himself is resigned to calling it a day on his career.
The Stadio Paolo Mazza Cauldron
All in all we are looking at a game that means just as much for SPAL as it does for Roma. The 3 points are a lifeline for their respective campaigns, be it relegation survival or Champions League qualification. But are SPAL actually capable of getting 3 points in any game? Their lack of firepower up front could come back to haunt them.
Eusebio Di Francesco is likely to wager it all on getting 1-2 goals in the first half, knowing that could be enough to sink SPAL by half-time. Should that plan follow through, he would then be free to make second half subs with a view to Anfield in mind. The main aim of the game defensively is not to give up free-kicks for Viviani to capitalise on.
For Roma team news, the biggest changes are Kolarov’s absence with muscle fatigue and Diego Perotti’s return from injury. Juan Jesus remains one yellow card away from suspension.
Di Francesco was keen to emphasise, pre-match, the central defenders have a less physically demanding role in the team. He views Fazio and Manolas’ long run of games as an advantage for their match condition in the run-in, whereas Jesus’ previous lack of games would put him more at risk of injury. Expect to see more of Fazio and Manolas in the run-in. EdF also talked up Gonalons, saying he didn’t consider him at fault for the Genoa goal while praising his passing. Either him or Pellegrini could continue their run in the team this week.
All of this is set to the backdrop of the main reason I want SPAL to stay up: the Stadio Paolo Mazza’s atmosphere. The Ferrara location is small but uses that to its advantage to become a wall of noise once it gets warmed up. SPAL has brought back the ‘Vinci Per Noi’ chant into heavy rotation around Serie A grounds, complete with megaphone-supporter banging on the racktom drums to get them started - something it now seems every other Serie A club is bringing into their stadium again.