One thing we must compliment Paulo Fonseca for in his brief Roma tenure is the Giallorossi's newfound mental fortitude. Too many times under previous managers—most notably EDF—Roma failed to dispatch of lesser sides due to not having the right attitude. That hadn’t been the case so far this season, until Thursday.
In Roma’s biggest match up to this point—in terms of what was at stake—the Giallorossi nearly laid an egg. In its 2-2 draw against Wolfsberger at the Olimpico, Roma was not up to task from a mental standpoint, which Fonseca let everyone know. The Portuguese tactician has been a straight-shooter in pressers this season and Thursday was no different. Fonseca was fuming.
“We achieved our objective, which is qualification. It would’ve been important to win, but we did not play with the right attitude,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia.
“Evidently, we made the mistake of thinking the game was won before it even began, but Wolfsberg are a good team. We made a lot of mistakes, they pressed us and it’s normal after that many errors that we cannot get the result we want.
“Not with this attitude. Not with this attitude. There are many strong teams out there, I have no preferences for the draw.”
Roma can not afford another mental clunker when it hosts bottom of the table SPAL on Sunday evening at the Olimpico. Approaching matches like this with the right attitude will be key to the Giallorossi achieving their top four objective. Too many times last season Roma dropped points in matches like this, including dropping all six points to Sunday’s visitors.
Roma vs. SPAL: December 15th, 18:00CET/12:00EST. Stadio Olimpico, Rome.
Fonseca expects a big difference in his team’s attitude for this one. In the pre-match press conference he was asked about Roma’s trend of underestimating lesser sides:
“I don’t want to talk about the last match. I didn’t like our attitude and I’ve already said that. I’ve spoken to the lads and we’ve dealt with it. There have only been two matches where we got our attitude wrong – against Sampdoria and Wolfsberg. Tomorrow is a different game and I expect the team to display the attitude we normally see.”
Fonseca expects a different kind of match tomorrow; mentally and in terms of tactics. While the match against Wolfsberger was wide open, SPAL are one of the better defensively organized sides in the league, which was highlighted in Fonsca's press conference.
“SPAL are a good side – one of the best in the league as far as defensive organization goes. They’re a tough side to play against and I think my players have understood that.”
Despite their defensive organization, the visitors’ defensive numbers aren’t the greatest. SPAL concede more than a goal per match and sit middle of the pack with 22 goals allowed. And when digging deeper, it seems the Giallorossi will be wise to go right at SPAL early in both halves, rather than trying to wear them down with long spells of possession. SPAL have allowed nearly as many goals in the first half (10), as they have in the second (12) and the distribution of goals allowed is consistent throughout both halves.
Patience is usually a virtue against these kinds of sides, but Roma can’t become complacent in attack. Knowing the way SPAL play, killer balls from Pellegrini and Mkhitaryan could be key to unlocking an organized back-line.
Where SPAL struggles the most—like most relegation battling sides—is in attack. The Ferrara based side’s offensive output has been anemic this season with just nine goals scored. This would normally be an encouraging sign for a Roma side that has been defensively stout. However, there’s a monkey wrench thrown into that equation. As we discussed in our probable formations, both Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling will be out for this one.
With that in mind, Federico Fazio and one of Mert Cetin and Juan Jesus will be tasked with add to SPAL’s scoring woes. To do that, they will have to minimize the contributions of Andrea Petagna, a Roma transfer target if the latest reports are to be believed. If they can do that, then Roma should be favored to clinch all three points in this one.
With Lazio traveling to Cagliari on Monday, a victory against SPAL would be golden—Roma would gain ground on one or both of its closest competitors in the league table. Of course, for that to happen, it all starts with Roma showing the right attitude.