With 20 articles published since Monday (and a couple more to come), it's safe to say that this has been one of the busiest weeks in CdT history. Starting with our season previews, the meat of the U-23 countdown, the Marash Kumbulla signing and all the melodrama surrounding the impending transfer of Arkadiusz Milik, we've barely had a second to breathe—so much so, that it didn't even dawn on me until this morning that we've yet to touch upon Roma's match tomorrow, the first of the new campaign.
And, as you probably could have guessed, given everything we just discussed and, you know, fucking 2020, it's a season opener like no other. From the abbreviated off-season to rule changes to the still empty stadiums, the 2020-2021 season was in danger of feeling like one giant extension of the prior season, but thanks to the flurry of rumors and transfers over the past three days, we may be spared that Groundhog Day scenario.
Verona vs. Roma: September 19th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Bentegodi, Verona.
And since this is still the year from hell, even the transfer rumors are hitting a bit differently. We've certainly seen many last minute moves over the years, but has the club's fourth all-time leading scorer ever suited up knowing that he was heading to Juventus the minute the final whistle blows?
Surreal doesn't begin to describe 2020, so I suppose it's only fitting that we're heading into the strangest round one fixture perhaps ever.
Thankfully, the return of play should ease some of that uncertainty, so let's take a quick look at what to watch for in tomorrow's fixture.
The Edin Dzeko Dilemma
Edin Dzeko, he of 106 goals in a Roma shirt, remains a Roma player in name only. With a slight delay in Arkadiusz Milik's transfer to the capital, Dzeko's corresponding move to Juventus has been delayed for the time being. But, rather than leaving the Bosnian Batistuta on the sideline, Paulo Fonseca may slot Dzeko in his normal position leading the line.
With €15 million hanging in the balance, it seems absurd that Roma would tempt fate by playing Dzeko, but what other choice does Fonseca have?
There is a remote possibility that he could utilize a 4-2-3-1 with a false-nine up top (most likely Henrikh Mkhitaryan) but Fonseca may actually consider that more extreme than fielding Dzeko in the lineup, especially when you consider how successful the 3-4-2-1 was this summer.
Either way, we simply have to hope that Dzeko's final appearance in a Roma shirt is a quick and painless one.
Who Starts at Right-Back?
With Bruno Peres missing this match, Fonseca is facing another dilemma: who to start opposite Leonardo Spinazzola at right-back? Will he opt for the seldom used Davide Santon or inspire another right-back resurrection and bring Rick Karsdorp's career back from the grave?
After turning down a move to Genoa, Roma fans were quick to praise Karsdorp for his resilience (and, yeah, for sparing us the site of Mattia De Sciglio in a Roma shirt) but then Paulo Fonseca gave the 25-year-old Dutch full-back a vote of confidence in his press conference earlier today, confirming that Karsdorp will remain with the club this season.
As we outlined last week, Karsdorp still has potential enough to be an impact player, and the confidence of his coach could go a long way to bringing out the Karsdorp Roma thought they signed several years ago.
Can Roma Handle Verona's Aggression?
The Giallorossi may have won the last fixture against Verona, but the Mastiffs weren't exactly obedient in that defeat. With more dribbles, a higher passing rate and 65% possession, Ivan Juric's side put up quite a fight against Roma and would have shared points with Fonseca's side were it not for an early penalty converted by Jordan Veretout.
For his part, Fonseca didn't seem too worried and chose to focus on his club's adaptability:
We’re certainly going to find it hard and it will be difficult for us to keep hold of the ball. We need to play out quickly when we gain possession because they react and mark up very fast to win it back. We’re going to have to adapt to the way our opponents play.
Facing such a tenacious side, Roma's midfield pivot will be even more...pivotal. If Amadou Diawara and Veretout can maintain and recycle possession, or at least do as Fonseca suggests and move the ball quickly through the transition phases, Roma should be able to make more effective use of their possession.
In July's home match against Verona, Roma managed an astounding 20 shots on goal despite only seeing 35% of the ball. And sure, only 30% of those attempts were on target, but you don't get that many attempts while seeing so little of the ball if you're not moving quickly.
And considering the tight turn around between those two matches, Roma should retain that muscle memory.
In a year like no other, in a season like no other and in an opener like no other, it may be tempting to rely on excuses, but Roma are the better side and the key to victory tomorrow is rather simple: move fast.