With their Europa League life at an unexpected crossroads, Roma head to Istanbul, the crossroads of civilization, with a chance to reclaim the top spot in their group—a chance. After falling to the Bundesliga-leading Borussia MGB in match-day four, Roma slipped from first to third in Group J and are now even with MGB on five points, with both clubs sitting two points behind group leading Istanbul Basaksehir.
So when I say it's a chance, I mean precisely that. Roma have to win this six pointer first and foremost, and hope that Wolfsberger can at least steal a point from MGB in order to reclaim the top spot in Group J. The nightmare scenario, the one that would send us all scrambling for permutation calculators, would see draws in both matches on Thursday, leaving only three points between the top and the bottom of Group J heading into the final match-day.
Istanbul Basaksehir v. Roma: November 28th. 18:55 CET/12:55 EST. Terim Stadyumu
The aim, as it so often is in group stage competitions, is to simply just win the match. Tempting fate by bringing those advancement scenarios into the equation is the last thing Roma needs, unless you're of the mindset they should punt the competition completely.
But, assuming you want Roma to give it their all in Europe's second leading club competition, let's take a quick look at how Roma can win this one convincingly.
September 19th: Roma 4, Istanbul 0
Roma debuted their new third kits in grand fashion on this September evening. While the scoring started with an own goal from Junior Calcara, Roma would throw three more logs onto the fire before the match was through, with Edin Dzeko, Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert each finding the back of the net in the second half.
There's no telling if this time around will be quite as easy, but we may be able to take some lessons from the weekend's 3-0 victory over Brescia.
You Don't Want to See Me Go to Ten
With his side struggling against Brescia's compact defense in the first half of Sunday's Serie A match—lacking aggression and not making proper use of attacking space—Roma coach Paulo Fonseca unleashed the fury at half-time,
Sometimes you need to raise your voice. In the first half, we had space, but didn’t play with the right tempo, we were not aggressive enough, so we had to change that.
My approach depends on the situation. At times I get angry in the dressing room, at others I calmly explain to the players both collectively and individually what they need to do.
We need to improve in every area. It’s true that we won 3-0 today and scored from set plays, but we had other situations where we could’ve had even more goals.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Fonseca needs to pop his top again, but if we look at his critiques, we might see a path forward for Roma tomorrow. If we assume than Istanbul will approach this match much in the same way Brescia did over the weekend—jamming up the middle of the pitch in their defensive third—then Roma has to make better use of, and be more aggressive in, the wide areas of the pitch.
If Istanbul's defense resembles a tightly packed school of fish, Roma can work this to their advantage by simply pulling them to one side of the pitch and then quickly switching play to find a fullback isolated on the opposite side. And then, god willing, they can create a chance through the combination of a well-placed cross and a well-timed run.
We can't, however, assume that what worked against Brescia will work against Istanbul. Indeed, if we look at the highlights of the first match, Roma's breakthroughs came from simple, direct play.
The passes were quick and intuitive, there were give and gos, overlaps and beautifully slotted through balls that met with well times runs from Dzeko, Zaniolo and Kluivert, who perfectly timed their departures off the last defender to get behind Istanbul's defense, creating numerical advantages, and even a few one-v-ones with the keeper.
These results stemmed more from individual effort, concentration and aggression than they did in the moment tactical tweaks. It's simple execution. Roma can't hesitate; if there's an opening or a chance, they have to take it. This is the Roma we expected when Fonseca was hired, and it’s the Roma we saw when the club was closest to fully fit.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and while Fonseca Football has proven to be remarkably adaptable (to injuries, to poor runs of form and to opponents counter moves), sometimes the best path is the most direct one.
Between the size and strength of Zaniolo and Dzeko, and the agility and craft of Cengiz Ünder and Justin Kluivert, if Roma sticks to what they know—what they do best—then they should be able to take care of business tomorrow.