I don't know about you, but I sometimes have trouble compartmentalizing the stressors in my life. While I'm at work I'm fretting about bills, when I'm at the doctor I'm worried about my rapidly aging car, when I'm out to dinner I'm thinking about work. Whatever the scenario, I can seldom leave things be, which really only serves to compound that stress; life is a bitch, ain't it? And after falling firmly on their face in last weekend's Derby della Capitale, I can only hope Eusebio Di Francesco is better at separating his stressors than I am, and given Roma's somewhat disparate records in Europe and Italy, it's safe to say EDF can put things in their proper places.
As we discussed earlier today, with a one goal lead the odds seem in Roma's favor—all they really have to do is hold Porto scoreless, draw and/or not lose 2-1 and go to added time—but after such a crushing loss in such a huge domestic fixture, it's fair to question how focused Roma is heading into the Dragao tomorrow.
Porto vs. Roma: March 6th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Estadio do Dragao, Porto.
It's also fair to question how we got here. In case you forgot how the first leg went down, then, well, you've probably never heard of Nicolo Zaniolo.
February 12, 2019: Roma 2, Porto 1
Since making his completely unexpected professional debut against Real Madrid in the Champions League way back in mid-September, Zaniolo put on some solid displays, including his sensational goal against Sassuolo and a two-assist turn against Atalanta, but this was truly his coming out party. While neither of his goals in this leg were as poster-worthy has his Sassuolo stunner, Zaniolo was every bit Roma’s best player in this match, leading to the cascade of media coverage we've witnessed since then. About the only thing he didn't do in this match was prevent Adrian Lopez from stealing the always vital away goal...but hey, he's only 19, he can't do everything.
Putting Porto on Ice
As we laid out this morning, Roma are in a relatively advantageous position, in that they don't need to win this match—a draw would be sufficient—but going anything less that full tilt has a tendency to back fire on the best of clubs, so I wouldn't expect EDF to take his foot off the gas. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the decisive names and faces ahead of tomorrow's fixture.
The man with the most infamous intestinal track in all of Rome was conspicuously missing from last weekend's Derby della Capitale disaster. While he seemed to recover just in time from the ankle injury he suffered against Frosinone, he was sidelined thanks to some late digestive distress, putting the onus squarely on the slow shoulders of Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus.
While Roma's defense wasn't a complete disaster in the derby, there were several instances in which Manolas’ speed would have come in handy, most notably on Lazio's first goal, where Felipe Caciedo left Fazio completely in the dust, and with Juan stuck in between two men and unable to close down space, Lazio effectively wrapped up the match after only 12 minutes.
With a one-goal lead to protect, it would be wise for Roma to play it conservatively at the back tomorrow, but in those few instances in which Roma has to get a bit wild or finds themselves on the back foot, Manolas’ pace could save the day.
It may sound reductive (or just really, really obvious) but when Edin Dzeko scores, his team tends to win. Dating back all the way to Roma's preseason friendly against Latina in July, a strong correlation between Dzeko scoring and Roma (and even Bosnia) winning appears. Dzeko has scored in 10 separate contests for club and country since the season began, with his team emerging victorious in all but one of them, Roma's 3-3 draw with Atalanta, where he actually scored twice, but thanks to a complete second half collapse in which they blew a three-goal lead, Roma wasted Dzeko's efforts.
Now, Dzeko is so much more than goals—his function in the buildup phases of EDF’s tactics has been massively undersold by the media—but he's banged home nearly 90 goals since arriving several years ago, so life would be so much easier tomorrow if he finds the back of the net.
Of course, in order for that to happen he has to get service centrally from Lorenzo Pellegrini or from Stephan El Shaarawy tucking on from the left—two things that did not happen against Lazio, where he was set adrift from the rest of Roma's forward players.
So, whether by hook or crook, Roma's creative players have to get Dzeko involved early and often.
For the sake of brevity, we'll wrap things up with the giant Swede.
We're about eight months into Roma's Robin Olsen experiment and I'm still not quite sure what to make of the guy. Granted, our expectations for goalkeepers have been warped by successive stellar seasons from Wojciech Szczesny and Alisson Becker, but Olsen has looked a half-step below them at times and completely clueless at others.
With his reach and reflexes, Olsen should be able to stop nearly any shot, but his tendency to pounce on the ball like an elderly cat and his, shall we say, sluggish lateral movement has made a meal out of many easy saves. So, I don’t know, is he bad in comparison to Woj or Alisson or just bad in general?
No matter where your answer lies on that spectrum, with such a slim margin for error, Roma can't spare another howler from Olsen. Having Manolas back should help, but a moment's hesitation from Olsen could cost Roma millions.
In grand Roma fashion, tomorrow's trip to the Dragao should be fraught with anxiety, but if they can manage to get Dzeko involved early, they should be able to put Porto on the back foot and advance to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.