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Roma's Young Defense Faces Toughest Task Yet Against Zlatan & Unbeaten AC Milan

Can Roma’s youthful backline stand up to Zlatan Ibrahimović?

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

A.C. Milan and A.S. Roma don’t necessarily have the deepest rivalry. Off the top of my head, I’d put the Roma-Lazio, Roma-Juventus, Roma-Napoli, and maybe even the Roma-Inter rivalries ahead of a Roma-Milan rivalry in terms of importance to both sides. Nevertheless, barring Milan’s recent slide into mid-table ignominy, the Rossoneri and the Giallorossi are some of the biggest names in Italian football; any match between them can be counted on as an interesting affair.

There are two things that make this season’s first rendition of the tie more interesting, though. First, there’s Milan’s 4-0-0 record in Serie A. I certainly wouldn’t have put Il Diavolo as candidates to lead the league at any point during the season, even though only four matches have been played. A lot of credit has to go to Stefano Pioli for Milan’s hot form, as he’s been able to juggle injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak in the side while still winning every match played in the league to date.

AC Milan vs. AS Roma: October 26th. 20:45 CET/3:45 EDT. San Siro, Milano.

Of course, a lot of credit must also go to Zlatan Ibrahimović, the Chuck Norris of European football. In two matches played, Ibrahimović has scored four, an impressive feat for anyone but particularly for a thirty-nine-year old. The last time I remember seeing a player perform at this level at such an advanced footballing age was none other than Francesco Totti himself, and although there’s a lot that separates the one-club-man Totti from the merc-for-hire Ibrahimović, their world-class talent is definitely a constant. If Roma want to win this match and break Milan’s hot streak, they’ll have to do something to contain Ibra.

What To Watch For

You Don’t Mess With The Zlatan

SS Lazio v AC Milan- Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Apologies for the Adam Sandler reference, but as I’ve already mentioned, Zlatan has been putting in incredible performances so far this season. If Roma want to have a prayer of getting three points from their match tomorrow, they’ll need to contain the Swedish attacker, and that will most likely come down to the performances of Roma’s young backline. Paulo Fonseca tried to push back against the idea that it’s Zlatan vs. Roma in his pre-match press conference:

“This is not a match against [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, it’s against Milan. I don’t prepare the match with just one player in mind. We worked thinking about the whole team.

That’s very nice to say, Paulo, but the truth of the matter is a lot of this will come down to your defensive plans for Ibrahimović, just like a lot of Milan’s chances at success will come down to Pioli’s attempts to contain Edin Džeko. In particular, I’m interested in seeing how Fonseca uses Max Kumbulla tomorrow. The Albanian international has slotted perfectly into Fonseca’s tactics, and he’s arguably been Roma’s best defender so far this season. He did reasonably well against Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo a couple weeks back; can he do the same against Milan and Ibrahimović?

Wolfman, Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Providence

Ascoli Calcio U19 v AS Roma U19 - Primavera 1 Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

We’re going to have a probable formations article up sooner rather than later for this match, but one thing to note from Fonseca’s call-ups is the insertion of Primavera star Ruben Providence into the squad.

It’s quite a show of confidence on the part of Paulo Fonseca to call Providence up, even if he doesn’t play a minute against Milan. Along with Nicola Zalewski, the French winger has been impressing this season for the Primavera. Considering Alberto De Rossi’s side has been frankly destroying many of its opponents lately, it isn’t completely surprising to see that the senior side might have a space for one or two of the kids. With the Giallorossi somewhat thin on the wings right now, who knows, maybe a new star will be born from the Primavera side sooner rather than later.

Empty Seats At Empty Stadiums


Because of the current spike in COVID cases in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has ordered Serie A matches to be played behind closed doors again. Prior to this, Serie A matches were allowed to have socially-distanced crowds of up to 1,000 fans. With the new rules, I assume that the only people allowed in the stadium will be the referees and the teams (though I bet Dan Friedkin could get a seat if he asked politely).

This isn’t something to watch for on the pitch, but I’ll be very curious to see how playing for empty stadiums might change the home-pitch advantage for Milan. From a health perspective, limiting public gatherings is obviously the right thing for the Italian government to do, and in all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised if Italy made Serie A pause in the near future. For now, though, an empty San Siro could certainly change the dynamics of tomorrow’s match. Playing in front of even 1,000 fans must be an energizing experience, playing on a glorified training pitch might be the opposite.

Stay tuned for our probable formations and viewing guides over the next day!