We’re still gutted that Chris Smalling has not been cleared to finish his Europa League journey with Paulo Fonseca’s troops. But Sevilla have gone through a number of last-minute will they or won’t they conflicting changes to their squad this August, too.
The uncertainty around both team’s lineups tells you everything you need to know about the haphazard nature of hosting a “winner takes all” Europa League tournament at the end of summer; a tournament that will last no longer than two and a half weeks, until that very winner is raising aloft the EL trophy.
Will the winner be Roma? Unlikely. But to dream is free. And now the squad has traveled to Germany, they should make the most of it.
Sevilla v. Roma: August 6th. 18:55 CET/12:55 EDT. MSV Arena, Duisburg, Germany.
So what of Sevilla’s changes? There’s the MCL injury to first-choice keeper Tomáš Vaclík, though it didn’t stop reserve keeper Yassine Bono walking in from the cold and helping Sevilla to maintain their 17-game unbeaten record in all competitions that’s still going strong. Bono has conceded just one goal in Sevilla’s last four games, but Vaclik has travelled with the squad.
Further up field, maybe Ever Banega was forced out the club after his curfew-breaking antics, or maybe he simply walked out of Sevilla on his own steam. Either way, Banega signed for Saudi Arabian club Al-Shabab; the same club rumored to be chasing Diego Perotti’s signature.
Then there’s fellow Sevilla play-maker Nemanja Gudelj, just tested positive for Covid-19 last week. If he had traveled with the squad (as was being reported until late yesterday) it would have completely defeated the purpose of social distancing in general. So common sense has prevailed.
Despite Sevilla being stripped of their first-choice midfield and uncertainties at the back, the bookies make Sevilla the favorites to score first, and to beat Roma, who themselves are dealing with the loss of Chris Smalling, a suspended Jordan Veretout and the questionable match-readiness of Lorenzo Pellegrini.
What To Watch For
Can Roma Counter Monchi?
There will be mentions of exes crossing paths, and a revenge sub-plot touted by the commentators. That’s exactly when TV images of Monchi in the stands could create a 1 vs 0 overload on Roma’s flank.
Stripped of their first-choice sporting director Gianluca Petrachi (who could have easily counter-pressed Monchi’s bald + beard combo with a devastatingly square-jawed beard of his own) Roma will be relying on CEO Guido Fienga to aggressively dominate any cut-scenes of Monchi; Fienga himself is tasked with the role of flying through the stands and turning this bout into an aerial duel.
At that point TV directors will be forced to cut away from the stands and back onto the pitch for fear of any class-action lawsuits, while the pitchside mics are left to pick up the background noise that should be easy to explain, but hard to understand.
A Long Night Ahead For Roma’s Wide Men
Both Paulo Fonseca and Julen Lopetegui like their sides to play narrow and condensed towards the ball for 90 minutes. Leonardo Spinazzola and Bruno Peres will want to be open for Roma switching the play to the weak side, and fancy their chances of taking on and getting behind Sevilla’s wide players, though it’s far more likely to be Peres trying to attack the space behind La Liga Left Back of the Year Sergio Reguilón, than Spinazzola taking on the more conservative, deep-lying veteran and club-captain Jesus Navas.
If Roma can keep somehow psyche out Sevilla’s full-backs, then box-to-box midfielders Torres and Jordan may be tempted to come out wide and help Sevilla defend the flanks. That’ll leave the middle of the pitch open for Roma, and it’s up to Peres and Spinazzola to distribute the ball wisely.
It’s a huge ask of Bruno Peres mentally, though. We could just as easily see the ever-confident Reguilón win that battle early on and cause Roma to sit deep instead.
It doesn’t end there for both Roma’s wide men. Sevilla will want to try and build-up through their wide forwards Ocampos and Suso, so Spinny and Peres can’t just sit up field and attack all day, no matter how many center backs Roma field on the night.
That’s really a big workload to ask of Roma’s full backs, knowing that they’ll potentially have to do it all over again just four days later in the quarters. But it’s better to just play this game like it’s their last.
Will Sevilla’s Backline Come Out Too Aggressive?
One of the many weapons Sevilla do bring to Germany are a couple of strong, fast and confident ball-playing center halves in Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé. Both defenders are wanted by Europe’s richest clubs this summer. Once you get over the fact Diego Carlos is linked with a 66 million-euro move to Premier League champions Liverpool, you’re immediately met with rumors of Koundé being headhunted by Barcelona for similar monopoly money.
Diego Carlos, in particular, can play aggressive in rushing up field to tackle the ball early, while Koundé loves to bomb up field and join in attacks. Lopetegui has mitigated this danger by playing 4-3-3 this season but, with Gudelj unavailable, Sevilla may have to turn to 33-year-old Fernando to drop deep and cover for Sevilla’s unit playing up field.
That leaves Sevilla’s backline potentially lacking recovery speed in defensive transition, if they get caught with their center-halves out of position. Two of the three Sevilla players most likely to sit back off the ball with be Navas and Fernando, which has counter-attack attack written all over it for the Giallorossi.
Roma can pick among a number of pacey attacking midfielders like Zaniolo (a confirmed starter in Paulo Fonseca’s pre-match comments today), Mkhitaryan and Perez - but to name a few - that have to break behind the last Sevilla man, and get through onto goal. Meanwhile Fonseca has openly debated whether to start Lorenzo Pellegrini or Bryan Cristante alongside Amadou Diawara in midfield.
With Cristante, you get a better chance of recovering the ball early in transition but Pellegrini offers you the ability to put Roma clean through on goal. Nicolò Zaniolo starting this game is a gamble on the player’s fitness, but it highlights Fonseca’s desire to get the psychological advantage on that right side of the pitch, evening out the physical match-up for Roma straight out the gate.
Roma are clearly second-favorites in this game, and treating this match as anything more than an extra excuse to crack open a summer beer is likely to leave you open to disappointment by final whistle. But there’s enough uncertainty in Sevilla’s makeshift lineup to leave room for an upset.