Last week's 1-0 victory over Sampdoria was many things: needed for one, and an orgiastic explosion of Roma joy when Daniele De Rossi thrusted home the match winner with his (presumably) magical pelvis. It wasn’t a pretty victory by any means, but it was one Roma could not do with out. With all four teams above them dropping points, not to mention the two directly below them, fortune (for once) shined on Roma. Win big, win ugly, win by VAR; it doesn't matter, just win, and for the first time in what felt like ages, Roma gained traction in their Champions League quest.
With that victory, Roma ran their total to 51 points, good for sixth place, one point behind fifth place Atalanta and fourth place AC Milan. It didn't seem possible, but the race for fourth place got even tighter thanks to last week's results.
Standing in the way of further Roman advancement are the Zebras of Udinese, Italy's 15th place side, though they are the more in-form team at the moment, riding a three-match unbeaten streak as they enter the Olimpico on Saturday evening.
Roma vs. Udinese: April 13th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Roma have fared pretty well against Udinese in the post Antonio Di Natale era, winning five straight until Rodrigo De Paul did us dirty in the fall.
November 24, 2018: Udinese 1, Roma 0
At this point in the season, Udinese hadn't won a match in nearly two months, and Roma very nearly deepened their misery with several near chances in the early goings. However, thanks to a moment of brilliance from De Paul (you'll never guess who he beat in the final third), the Zebras broke their woeful losing streak. For Roma, this was one of many matches they have grown to rue in the ensuing months.
So, can Roma start another winning streak against Udinese tomorrow? Let's take a quick look.
Can De Rossi Do it Again?
Now, I'm not saying De Rossi could (or should, for that matter) single handedly win the match for Roma at the death, but what I am saying is this: even in the twilight of his career, De Rossi remains arguably Roma's most important player. From his level headed play at the back to his game saving tackles, De Rossi remains nearly as integral to Roma's success as he ever was.
The problem is that, outside of a 19-year-old sensation, he hasn't gotten much assistance in his quest to lift Roma out of the muck. And for much of the week, it looked like De Rossi would abandon his young charge Nicolo Zaniolo due to a minor knee injury, but Roma's captain has been deemed fit and should suit up for Claudio Ranieri tomorrow.
Speaking on his captain and his influence on the opponents tactics, Ranieri was optimistic De Rossi could hack it in back-to-back matches:
Daniele can play and that’s the most important thing. We’ll need to be alert because they’ll want to lure us into their trap and then break. If they have 60 or 70 yards to run in to they can cause us problems with their pace.
The inference one is left to make is, presumably, that De Rossi is all that stands between that 70 yard gap and Antonio Mirante's goal, or at the very least his presence and patience will prevent Roma from walking into said trap. Whatever the case may be, De Rossi is Roma's most cerebral player and will be a critical component of Ranieri's chess match with Igor Tudor, under whom Udinese are undefeated.
They’ll be our toughest opponents in this spell. We’ll be up against a resolute side who will keep it tight and then look to break. I’m very worried. We need to show clear heads, intelligence and patience and make sure we don’t get caught on the counter, because that’s exactly what they want: to keep it tight and then break.
Outside of De Rossi's influence, Ranieri hinted at a major tactical shift ahead of this match, suggesting that he'll opt for one striker to combat Udinese and possibly even use a three-man backline, which seems a bit incongruous with a lone-striker setup, so perhaps he's envisioning some sort of malleable 3-4-3.
Truth is, one never knows what Ranieri is thinking until it's too late. One thing is abundantly clear, however: last week's victory over Sampdoria was, in a sense, precisely the kind of win Roma needed.
It was ugly and perhaps a bit undeserved given how they failed to really mount a credible attack, but they showed mettle and rose to the occasion when it mattered most. And that is the type of character a team in this sort of fight needs.