While we await official confirmation on the transfer of the club from James Pallotta to Dan Friedkin, there is the small matter of Roma's pursuit of the club's first trophy in over a decade. The Europa League may be the junior varsity tournament of European Football, but capturing the title could be a major mile marker on the road from Roma: Year Zero to Roma: Top Club. With the club enduring a series of ups and downs in 2020, the most drastic of which saw them fall six points behind Atalanta in the quest for fourth place, taking home the Europa League trophy would be a nice consolation prize for a club going through yet another rebuilding phase.
Thanks to Justin Kluivert's 29th minute goal against Gent on Thursday, Roma squeaked past their Belgian foes by the slimmest possible margin—one away goal. With a spate of fixtures following Thursday's victory in Gent, Roma had to wait another day for the Round of 16 fates to be decided.
With clubs like Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk and Rangers as possible Round of 16 foes, you just knew Roma would be drawn against the juiciest possible opponent, Sevilla. With the first leg taking place in Spain on March 12th and the return to Rome scheduled for a week later, Paulo Fonseca will once again face a series of tight turnarounds, as these two fixtures are jammed in between dates with Sampdoria, AC Milan and Udinese.
So, before we fret about those fixtures, let's take a quick look at Sevilla.
Top Story Line: Monchi, Monchi...and, uh, Monchi
Sevilla could line-up with eleven clones of Lionel Messi and the return of Monchi, Sevilla's former and current Director of Sport, would still be top tagline. You probably don't need me to rehash the gory details, but it may be a while before we see an executive who leaves such an unmitigated trail of disaster in his wake.
Monchi, you may recall, was a Sevilla lifer before taking Roma's DS role in April of 2017, where he made such calamitous purchases as Robin Olsen, Steven Nzonzi and Maxime Gonalons, among others, while engineering the controversial sales of Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker, again, among others.
That Monchi saw out even half of his four-year contract was a miracle. After parting ways with Roma in March of 2019, he quickly returned to Sevilla, signing with his former club on St. Patrick's Day.
He won't see the pitch of course, but expect Monchi to be the center of attention during these fixtures, particularly his return to Rome.
Sevilla, much like Roma, are in a dogfight for La Liga's final Champions League spot. Currently sitting in fourth place, Sevilla have a one point lead over fifth place Getafe, while Real Sociedad aren't far off the pace either, trailing Sevilla by a mere three points. Despite their slim advantages, Sevilla are in a bit of bad form at the moment, winning only two of their last six matches.
Sevilla advanced to the Round of 16 after defeating our old pals Cluj via an away goal in a 1-1 aggregate scoreline.
Top Players and Tactics
Lucas Ocampos, a 25-year-old Argentinian midfielder, currently paces Sevilla with eight league goals, while Luuk de Jong and Franco Vazquez (remember him?) trail Ocampos with four and three league goals, respectively. Ever Banega, who played one season in Serie A with Inter Milan in 2016-2017, is the club's top play-maker, chipping in six La Liga assists.
Led by Julien Lopetegui, Sevilla uses a 4-3-3 as its base formation, though they have morphed into a 4-2-3-1 on occasions and even used a 3-4-3 in last week's win over Getafe. Sevilla has wracked up a +9 goal differential while conceding the fourth fewest goals in the league.
Lopetegui's 4-3-3- hasn't been the most prolific set-up in La Liga, as their 34 goals scored are eighth in the league. Sevilla have also under-performed their xG total by 3.84 through 25 matches.
Hmm...a rigid 4-3-3 paired up with Monchi's guidance that fails to live up to expectations, why does that sound so familiar?
March 12th in Sevilla and March 19th in Rome.
We'll have our usual matchday coverage when the fixtures roll around, but these two matches should kick up plenty of drama.