Things have gone from bad to worse very quickly in the Italian capital. After Roma followed up Sunday’s uninspiring 2-0 defeat to Milan at the San Siro with a disastrous matching scoreline at the Olimpico against Udinese, Roma’s season is spiraling dangerously out of control. Losing to the Rossoneri on short rest was one thing, but falling to Udinese, who hadn’t won in its last nine matches, really hammered home the point: Roma is in dire straits.
Where Roma’s season goes from here is anybody’s guess. Roma’s next match could have big consequences on whether the Giallorossi are able to bounce back and solidify a fifth place finish or completely fall out of the European places. A trip to the San Paolo looms against sixth places Napoli.
Napoli v. Roma: July 5th. 21:45 CET/3:45 EDT. Stadio San Paolo, Napoli.
Fortunately for Roma, the Partenopei are coming off a defeat at the hands of Atalanta on Thursday. That defeat allowed Roma to maintain its three point cushion ahead of its southern rivals. However, that match aside, Napoli has been in much better form since returning to play a few weeks ago.
Since the restart, the Partenopei defeated Inter (aggregate) and Juventus (penalties) to lift the Coppa Italia. Napoli then shutout European place contender Hellas Verona 2-0 and beat struggling SPAL 3-1, before falling to La Dea. The loss to Atalanta will have taken some wind out of Neapolitan sails, but Gennaro Gattuso will have his motivated when the Giallorossi come to town. The big question is: can the same be said about a Roma side that looked disinterested against relegation battling Udinese?
Before we get into the keys for this Derby del Sole, let’s look back at the last time these teams met at the Olimpico.
November 2, 2019: Roma 2, Napoli 1
The first time these two sides met, it was a back and forth affair. Both teams had plenty of chances in a match that saw possession split down the middle. The final scoreline may have been 2-1, but this one had the potential for a couple more each way.
Nicolò Zaniolo opened the scoring with a great individual effort near the top of the box in the 19th minute. And it looked like Roma may put the game out of reach less than ten minutes later when VAR awarded Roma a penalty kick for a Jose Callejon handball. However, Aleksandar Kolarov’s low shot was easily saved by Alex Meret.
That save buoyed Napoli’s confidence and Giovanni Di Lorenzo nearly equaled the score with a header that looped over Pau Lopez. But out of nowhere Chris Smalling flew through the air to make a goal line clearance. Napoli continued to push the envelope when the goal frame bailed Roma out twice on one sequence. The Giallorossi entered the half clinging to a 1-0 edge.
Roma would get the second goal it so desperately needed when Mario Rui was called for an obvious handball in the area. This time Jordan Veretout stepped up and drilled it home despite Meret getting a touch. Roma led 2-0 with 35 minutes to go.
Roma nearly extended its lead to three when Justin Kluivert drilled the crossbar. I Lupi were nearly left to rue that missed opportunity when Milik got Napoli on the board in the 72nd minute. Romanisti were left to sweat out the remaining time as Roma held on for victory.
What To Watch For
Fonseca Needs to Find Consistent Squad Rotation
Managing players during this extremely compact schedule after a three month lay-off was always going to be a chore for managers. However, for once, Fonseca has had nearly all of his roster available for the first three matches. Health was finally on his side.
We saw the Portuguese tactician manage this club to one of its better stretches in the midst of a busy schedule in the autumn. During that stretch, Roma were battered with injuries, but Fonseca looked like a tactical genius when he guided Roma through it with limited pieces.
Now, it seems like too many options has become a problem for Fonseca. After the Sampdoria match, he made six changes against Milan. Then he followed that up by making eight changes against Udinese. Now, three of those were forced with Veretout and Pellergini suspended and Mancini ill, but eight changes is a lot under any circumstances.
Those wholesale changes were likely made with Napoli looming just three days later, but it severely backfired. Rotation is essential due to these unprecedented circumstances. Nevertheless, Fonseca needs to find a way to rotate his XI more effectively so the Giallorossi don’t lose all cohesion like we saw on Thursday.
Roma Needs Sharper Mental Approach
In addition to the lack of cohesion, many of the players desire can certainly be questioned the last two matches. In many ways, Roma looked like it was going through the motions. The heat and rapid succession of matches is bound to take its toll on players. Nonetheless, when a team like Roma is played off the Olimpico pitch by sixteenth place, relegation battling Udinese, the players’ motivation has to be questioned.
Too many times during Pallotta’s reign have we had to deal with the squad seeming not to be right mentally. It’s a common theme with Roma. There’s no knowing for sure what effect the talks of an impending sale coupled with Gianluca Petrachi’s dismissal are having on the players, but many in the side don’t look hungry.
Roma and Fonseca can ill-afford to have players going through the motions. Fonseca needs to field a line-up of players who are going to give it all for the crest or it’s going to be a long month of July.
Fonseca Football Has Gone MIA
Fonseca arrived in the capital with the reputation of being a tactically intelligent manager after his exploits at Shakhtar. Sure, his teams could give up goals, but it would often score plenty in the process. Fonseca was bringing an exciting brand of football to the capital.
We’ve seen that exciting football at times this season, but not enough. And not at all recently. Roma was always going to be rusty after a three month hiatus from football. Fonseca Football requires a fluidity that would be hard to find after so much time off. However, Roma’s attack has looked completely lost the last two matches.
Roma never truly threatened Milan or Udinese enough to make one feel confident it’d even be able to get on the score-sheet, let alone win a match. The heavy roster turnover certainly has a lot to do with the lack of fluidity. But there can’t be any excuses for how bad Roma has played. Fonseca will need to restore his football and begin achieving results. Otherwise, his time in the capital could be in jeopardy.