It’s rarely a sunny holiday when Roma take a trip to Sardegna. The Serie A scorescard reads, since 2004 (the first year Cagliari were promoted back into Serie A since Roma’s last Scudetto win): 12 league games at the Sardegna Arena, 4 Cagliari wins, 5 draws, 3 wins for Roma.
The goal difference in all 12 games favours Cagliari by some 24 goals to Roma’s 20.
And, with Diego Lopez’s job on the line, Cagliari have been in a week-long training camp to focus on this game alone. Benevento are relegated, Verona are relegated and there’s only one relegation spot left for Cagliari to avoid.
Cagliari’s Defensive Crisis: Injuries, Suspensions and no Leandro Castan
Roma fans may be disappointed to know there is no Leandro Castan for this game, with Roma in need of defensive reinforcements for next year; it would have been nice to see his form close-up, but he racked up enough yellow cards to sit this game out on suspension.
Their midfielder Luca Cigarini is also suspended, along with a slate of injuries to the defence with Filippo Romagna and Fabio Pisacane missing, and stand-in defender Senna Miangue also injured.
Roma’s Sunday Evening Kick Off - Team News
Roma no longer enjoy the benefit of playing before Inter and Lazio for this week. The Lupi are slotted into the Sunday evening’s TV fixture, while their top 4 rivals can ramp up the pressure on Roma by getting a good result before the Giallorossi take to the field.
For team news: Strootman, Perotti, Defrel and Karsdorp are all out. Di Francesco described the team situation as having “many borderline” situations going into the Cagliari game, from a mental perspective. After the semi-final exit to Liverpool, who can the coach trust to mentally refocus on the task at hand?
Cagliari’s solid home form is the only thing keeping them sinking into the relegation zone, but the one noticeable 5-0 home loss against Napoli saw a lot of wide play from the Partenopei to get it done.
Will Bruno Peres and Jonathan Silva be brought in for fresh impetus on the wings? And will there be a surprise league debut for Antonucci up front?
Highlights from Di Francesco’s Pre-Match Presser
What are the dangers of tomorrow game besides the mental aspect of this past week?
EdF: “There’s Cagliari’s great desire to get a result, because they need to get points. And then whenever we go to play these kind of games, Cagliari is always a difficult pitch and place. It’s always been a difficult place over the years for Roma. It will definitely be a hard game physically and emotionally, and one where they’ve been in a ritiro for a number of days leading up to it. For that we have to be ready for a battle.”
There have been a lot of statements from the club recently about the great desire to hang onto Di Francesco. Does that give you a lot of strength considering that not even Juventus and Napoli are sure of holding onto Allegri and Sarri?
EdF: “Well I believe all of the positive things said from the club is in line with the mental strides the team has made, first and foremost. In good and bad times, you can usually say the same things that could be achieved with a copy and paste. But I think we’re all happy about the mental growth of the club. I’ve heard the question of a new contract or no new contract for me, I can only repeat that on these things I’m very calm and happy with the job, but... and there is always a big ‘but’... there is a need for this club to reach it’s objectives. The first of which is to secure Champions League football for next season.”
De Rossi has spoken this week about the importance of not dismantling the team...
EdF: “In general, when we achieve something positive it’s very correct to give it continuity and not demolish everything, on that I’m fully agreed. But it’s obvious that you also have to understand the desires and goals of all the players. No one can possibly know all of this from now until the season is over. How each player sees their future is always going to be influenced by what I just mentioned before: reaching the Champions League. Once we get to that point, then we can have a serious talk about all the other things.”
Six points gets you the Champions League...
EdF: “No, for me, today we’ve no need to open up a discussion about six points. Before anything we have to think about getting the three points at Cagliari. We’re going into this game in a delicate moment, we’ve consumed a lot of energy. I’m afraid of what could happen, or I’m at the very least worried. I know well the mindset of players who have to fight for survival because I’ve coached that myself, at Sassuolo.”
Is Stephan El Shaarawy borderline for tomorrow? We saw both De Rossi and Gonalons on the pitch against Chievo. Can they both can start tomorrow?
EdF: “For me, they can co-exist. With a trequartista, you can always defend with two mediani, or you can change the way you press opponents when one of your mediani is willing to double pivot as a mezzala. Gonalons has these traits compared to Daniele, for both the legs and passes he has and the consistent mileage he can put in. Gonalons can do all this very well.
For Stephan, yes I’ll have to evaluate between today and tomorrow. He doesn’t particularly have any physical issues but, in the last game, he gave a great deal from both a physical and tactical point of view.”
Where have you seen - in particular tactically, mentally and organisation-wise - this Roma team improve the most this season? Where is it they can improve even more?
EdF: “What I’ve liked the most, this year, is the ability they’ve shown to keep working with the same playing principles even when we’ve changed the setup. A setup that has given us, in so many cases, satisfaction and - in other cases - has give us cause to reflect upon different solutions.
I’ve also noticed so many things, whether in Europe or in the league, that I’m not here to talk about because they can give so many advantages for the future. Those of which could be based on a 3... or a 4... 3-3, 2-3-1, based also on the teams we’re going to face. Based on the passing game we have.
As for what I like the most right now: the team’s desire to always go and take the game to others, to not be passive. That has to give us strength. Because I don’t want a team that waits for things, I want a team that does.”