It's not often that Roma plays on a major American holiday, but with tomorrow's Europa League match against Romanian side Cluj falling smack dab in the middle of Thanksgiving, you'll be forgiven if your attention is more focused on turkey, mashed potatoes and those warm, fluffy rolls that seem to disappear in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, tomorrow's match, while important, isn't exactly a life and death affair, so don't ditch that heated political debate with your brother-in-law to check the score.
Of course, with Roma's backline decimated by injury and illness, the Giallorossi aren't exactly entering this match at 100% but, even in a depleted state, Paulo Fonseca's men should have enough firepower to subdue Cluj.
Cluj vs. Roma: November 26th. 21:00 CET/15:00 EST. Stadio Radulescu, Cluj
Much has been made of Fonseca's domestic vs European approach—the A-Team vs the B-Team—but when push has come to shove on these European nights, more often than not Fonseca's regulars have come to the rescue.
And the first match against Cluj was no exception:
November 5th: Roma 5, Cluj 0
There are blowouts and then there are blowouts. The former can apply to any generic two or three-nil victory where the victor emerges after a deluge of goals in the second half, but the latter requires a front-to-back domination of one's opponent. And once Leonardo Spinazzola found Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a cross into the box in literally the first minute of the match, the blowout was on. Roger Ibañez would double the lead in the 24th minute, Borja Mayoral would push it to 3-0 in the 34th, 4-0 in the 84th while Pedro put the icing on the cake in the 89th minute, wrapping up a definitive 5-0 blowout.
I'm not sure we should expect a repeat of that performance, especially since this match is on the road, but let's take a look at what to keep an eye on during tomorrow's Thanksgiving tilt.
What To Watch For
Group A Implications
While Roma can't ice Group A tomorrow, a victory over Cluj would go a long way towards putting the matter beyond doubt, particularly if CSKA Sofia can take points off Young Boys. A clean victory over Cluj tomorrow would put Roma on 10 points and if the Young Boys from Bern drop points to Sofia (either via a defeat or draw), the Giallorossi would have, at the very least, a healthy five point cushion with two matches remaining.
That wouldn't necessarily put Roma on easy street, but it would setup two pretty low-key affairs against Young Boys and Sofia to close out the group stage, which would be a welcomed development considering that Roma face Napoli, Sassuolo and Atalanta in the coming days and weeks.
How Will Fonseca Cope with an Injured Defense?
We'll explore this topic in greater detail during our probable formations piece, but one look at the squad list tells you everything you need to know about the predicament Fonseca is facing:
| SQUAD LIST— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) November 25, 2020
Here are the players making the trip for Thursday's Europa League meeting with Cluj!
#ASRoma #UEL #ClujRoma pic.twitter.com/N0NkQecKGJ
See? We weren't lying yesterday when we said that Juan Jesus was the only healthy center-back available at the moment. While Primavera captain Filippo Tripi has been called up for the trip to Romania, chances are Fonseca will have to completely change tactics tomorrow, shelving the 3-4-2-1 for some variant of a four-man defense, with Juan Jesus and Bryan Cristante serving as the central pairing, flanked by some combination of Bruno Peres, Rick Karsdorp, Leonardo Spinazzola or the freshly returned Riccardo Calafiori.
Considering how lopsided the first fixture was, even a patchwork defense should be sufficient to walk away winners, but it's not everyday a club fields only one healthy central defender, so it's certainly something to be wary of.
Mayoral's Moment in the Sun
For a kid who's only been with the club for, like, three months, Borja Mayoral has run the full gamut of the Roma experience. With plaudits raining down from none other than Zinedine Zidane, Roma fans were pretty geeked on Mayoral's signing this summer, only to see his standing among the Roma faithful slip after a few non-descript (if not downright awful) appearances in the early Europa League fixtures.
But then came Cluj. In the reverse fixture three weeks ago, Mayoral struck an unexpected but exciting brace, showing the movement, intuition and finishing that almost caused Zidane to pull Mayoral off the transfer block to begin with—remember, we almost had Luka Jovic instead.
Mayoral followed up that brace with a clunker against Genoa before bouncing back with a stellar shift against Parma over the weekend, including a brilliant strike on Roma's opening goal.
With Edin Dzeko recently returning from a bout with COVID-19, chances are Mayoral will get the start tomorrow and another solid performance in front of goal should improve his standing within the squad and the fanbase.
Prediction time: What happens tomorrow against Cluj?
This poll is closed
A squeaker but a win