2020’s incarnation of Roma has been unimpressive, to put it mildly. Since we entered the year of perfect hindsight, Roma has ratcheted up two wins, one draw, and seven losses. There have been a lot of reasons for this, including a side ravaged by injuries and Fonseca Footbal seeming to have hit a snag after its generally successful implementation in 2019. Rumors have flown about a meeting of the senior players with Fonseca, with the Senators declaring that tactics are more at fault than mentality (though I’m personally skeptical of that idea). If Roma had overly underperformed against Gent in the mid-week match, there would probably be a growing chorus of Romanisti calling for Fonseca’s head, because Romanisti are nothing if not fickle.
Roma vs. Lecce: February 23rd. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Fortunately, Roma did find a slim margin of victory over Gent, with new signing Carles Pérez getting his first goal for the club in his first start. Considering the poor form of most of Roma’s winger contingent and the season-ending injury to Nicolo Zaniolo, you have to hope that this goal was the first of many for the La Masia graduate. Yet whether or not it’s Pérez who finds the net tomorrow, someone certainly needs to if a prayer for Champions League football next season remains.
Before we delve into this one, let's look backwards.
September 29, 2019: Lecce 0, Roma 1
In their first match against Lecce this season, Roma had a similar squeaker of a win thanks to an Edin Džeko header in the 56th minute. Unfortunately, even in September, Roma did not have the consistency to make Fonseca Football as successful as it probably should be, with bren writing:
Whatever you ascribe the magic of Fonseca Football to just wasn’t there today. Whether it was Jordan Veretout’s misplaced passes, the shoddy link-up between Kluivert, Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Pellegrini or the fact that Pau Lopez was wearing the wrong kit, there was no room for the Holy Ghost in Roma’s attack today.
But I suppose when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Fonseca’s football is at its best when the midfield and forwards are moving the ball quickly and acting decisively in the final third, but when even one scintilla of that equation is off, the whole math falls apart.
Until everyone is fit and he settles on an A-lineup, I’m not sure how he turns it around, but today we should be thankful it was only Lecce because this sort of performance won’t cut it against most sides.
The biggest issue haunting Roma right now is that the insane injury issues that have plagued this season have hindered the Giallorossi’s ability to truly internalize Fonseca’s tactics. This isn’t new, of course, but Zaniolo recuperating from an ACL tear, Diawara regularly missing games, and a multitude of other players spending time on the sidelines have all meant that it has been incredibly difficult for Fonseca to find an actual A-lineup.
It is completely irrational to expect or even hope for a Roma that can avoid these injury crises; it’s just part of following the club at this point. Yet when people talk about Roma’s inability to find consistent form across multiple managers and Directors of Sport, at least half of that has to come down to the ridiculous injury issues the club has had. If Fonseca is able to force Roma into a top four finish with all of these injuries, he’ll demonstrate that he is the right fit for the Giallorossi as they enter the Friedkin era. That starts with a win against Lecce - and preferably a big one.
What To Watch For
Where Oh Where Is Cengiz Ünder?
Remember when Cengiz Ünder was considered Roma’s next big young superstar? Remember when we were worried about him being snapped up by a Premier League club a la Salah to Liverpool? Things have certainly changed since his torrid run of form in the spring of 2018, and even though he’s only 22, it’s looking more and more likely that his time at the Stadio Olimpico may be drawing to a close. The process of moving on from Ünder will certainly be sped up if Carles Pérez finds form and favor under Paulo Fonseca, and with a goal in his first start for the Giallorossi, one does have to wonder if we’ve already seen the last of Ünder as the go-to starting right winger for Roma.
Personally, I hope Ünder gets more of a shot. Pérez certainly looks exciting, and Zaniolo found quite a home on the right wing before his ACL tear, but that doesn’t mean the Giallorossi should ditch one of the best signings of the Monchi era just because things are looking a little shaky. There were times in spring 2018 where Ünder was favorably compared to the man he ostensibly was replacing, Mo Salah, and for good reason; with the wind at his back he was one of the most potent attackers in Serie A. It could take just one good match for Ünder to rediscover his form and force a stay in Rome; the question is, will Fonseca give him that chance?
Somebody Please Score
Look, I’m a fan of catenaccio as much as the next guy, but when this season’s Roma has fallen into a rut, they’ve turned not scoring goals into an art form. With 43 goals forced heading into tomorrow’s match with Lecce, Roma has the least potent attack in the top five of Serie A, with fourth-placed Atalanta having twenty more goals scored than the Giallorossi. Part of this has come down to Father Time slowly getting the better of Edin Džeko and Diego Perotti, and some of this may only be solvable through smart buys and replacements this summer by Gianluca Petrachi. Nevertheless, winning a match like this one against Lecce with a rout would do a lot to help me enjoy watching the Giallorossi more.
Everyone Needs To Find Form Sooner Or Later, Right?
In the press conference leading up to tomorrow’s match, Paulo Fonseca was repeatedly asked about the poor form Lorenzo Pellegrini, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Gianluca Mancini are experiencing. It was certainly interesting to see how Fonseca managed expectations for these three key cogs in his squad; with Pellegrini and Kolarov, he maintains that they need to be playing to find better form, while with Mancini, “He’s a player who will be back in the team when I feel we need him.” Considering Mancini’s excellent form to start out the season, it’s very surprising to see how much of that he’s lost and how Fonseca has more faith in Pellegrini and Kolarov to work through their issues on the field. Regardless, for Roma to find success this season, all three players need to rediscover their top form as soon as possible. Anything less and Dan Friedkin may be buying a club that doesn’t even make the Europa League.