All things considered, Roma’s had quite the start to their 2020-2021 campaign. The combination of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s scintillating form with Paulo Fonseca’s ability to rotate Edin Džeko, Borja Mayoral, and Pedro into the attack has resulted in the Giallorossi finding themselves in fourth place a week before Christmas. Tomorrow’s match against Atalanta will be more of a challenge than their recent matches versus Bologna and Torino, but considering that all that separates Roma from the winter break is that match and one against 12th-place Cagliari, expect most of Roma’s typical starters to push for the three points against La Dea.
Atalanta vs. Roma: December 20th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Gewiss Stadium, Bergamo.
What To Watch For
Papu Gomez: Coming Soon to The Stadio Olimpico?
Despite finding their way through to the Round of Sixteen in the Champions League, there seems to be something truly rotten going on in the city of Bergamo right now. Manager Gian Piero Gasperini has been at the helm there for four and a half seasons, bringing La Dea excellent results (including third place last season). However, this season just doesn’t seem to be going as well for Atalanta, and a reported dust-up between Gasperini and Nerazzurri captain Alejandro “Papu” Gomez has several clubs circling. The Giallorossi are one of those clubs, and it’s not hard to imagine Gomez slotting into Paulo Fonseca’s attack (even though he would do nothing to add youth to the front lines).
It certainly isn’t set in stone that Gomez will leave Atalanta, least of all for Roma, but a decisive win for the Giallorossi tomorrow would do more than cement their spot in the top four; it might also help push out one of the key players of a recent rival. Can’t get much better than that, right?
Will Fonseca Find The Right Rotational Balance?
In the pre-match press conference, Fonseca didn’t offer too many answers about who will be starting against Atalanta, but he did say that after Thursday’s win against Torino, he “will only make two or three changes at most.” My guess is that those rotations might include Antonio Mirante (who we’ll talk about more later), Marash Kumbulla, and Pedro, but the main takeaway here is that it seems like the Portuguese tactician is figuring out his favored starting eleven.
Granted, the busy schedule Roma has had (and will have, assuming they continue deep into the Europa League) means that rotations will abound as time goes on. Nevertheless, I’ll be interested to see if Fonseca falls into a trap that plagued Luciano Spalletti during his time in Rome; finding that excellent starting eleven, but then proceeding to run it into the ground. So far I’d say that hasn’t happened with Fonseca; he’s rotating well, allowing youth players the chance the shine, and not killing anyone’s fitness (with the exception of Pedro, perhaps). What happens when the pressure is truly on—say, if the race for the Sc****** gets tighter—will show Romanisti whether Fonseca has the tactical ability to do better than many of the managers that came before him.
Pau Patrol Or Mirante’s Miracle Workers?
As I said before, if I had to bet on one of the players who would be rotated out of the starting lineup, it’d be Pau Lopez. He was fine against Torino, allowing only one goal, but having fine stand as your high watermark doesn’t really cut it when the Giallorossi have had Alisson Becker and Wojciech Szczęsny between the sticks in recent years.
There are still rumors that Antonio Mirante is in line for a one-year contract renewal, and although a renewal for a player explicitly signed as a backup shouldn’t make us think Lopez’s time in Rome is coming to a close, well, a lot of other signs make me think that a new goalkeeper will be coming to the Olimpico in January or July.
The only way I could be convinced that Lopez is going to last longer in Rome than COVID-19 precautions is if Fonseca hands him several months of starts in a row, pushing Mirante back to the bench on a permanent basis and if Lopez is successful with those starts. If Mirante keeps on getting starts against any club that isn’t a Europa League minnow or 19th-placed Torino, then the Spanish goalkeeper might as well start packing his bags now.
Match Prediction Time!
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