With rumors of a managerial change, a supposed clubhouse rift, transfers falling apart before their very eyes and a clerical error that lead to a points deduction against Hellas Verona, Roma were put through the ringer this past week. Normally, we'd say they'd be begging for a return to the pitch, but the Serie A schedule makers did them no favors dropping the nine-time reigning champion Juventus into their laps for this already critical week two fixture.
As we discussed on the very first episode of our podcast, Across the Romaverse, last week's match against Hellas Verona was, in a word, boring. Set aside the Edin Dzeko melodrama and Fonseca's aversion to his bench for a moment and you were left with two teams that played with a decided lack of intensity, particularly in the second half.
Roma vs. Juventus: September 27th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Whether it was the lack of fans at the Bentegodi or the fact that this new campaign feels like one awkward extension of the 2019-2020 season, neither club approached this match with any real sense urgency—neither the near misses from Pedro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, nor the two Verona shots that hit the woodwork, provoked much of a reaction from the men on the pitch, so I'm afraid last week's match is a little short on lessons.
And in a twist that could only happen in Serie A, the man responsible for the Diawara listing gaffe may have actually landed a job...with Verona. As a result of that error, Roma's boring nil-nil draw is now officially a shocking 3-0 defeat and may, if you believe this week's rumors, spur a top down organizational revolution from the Friedkin's as soon as next week.
Not exactly an ideal backdrop to a home match against Juventus, right? But, as you may recall, Roma actually won the last fixture back in August: a 3-1 victory over a Juve side on cruise control.
It will be a tough task to repeat that feat, but let's take a look at a few potential storylines for Sunday's match:
Keep An Eye On
Edin Dzeko's Revenge Tour
A week after sitting out Roma's first match of the season because of his impending transfer to tomorrow's opponents, Edin Dzeko may have a sizable chip on his shoulder Sunday evening. For the third straight year, Roma tried to offload Dzeko to greener pastures, and for the third straight year, the move collapsed—though Dzeko was definitely closer to Juventus than he ever was to Chelsea or Inter Milan.
Now, just who Dzeko reserves more animosity towards is anyone's guess, but with his current club and manager all too eager to get rid of him and the club that wanted him moving on rather swiftly, Dzeko may enter this match with a decided me against the world mentality.
And really, as we discussed on the podcast, a Dzeko goal binge may be Roma's only hope of snatching a point from this one, let alone winning the match.
The Kids at the Back
For the first time, Roma fans will get a look at the club's new trio of central defenders: 24-year-old Gianluca Mancini, 21-year-old Roger Ibañez and 20-year-old Marash Kumbulla, the club's latest acquisition. Ibañez is actually the least experienced member of that trio, but all eyes will be on Kumbulla, Roma's big money acquisition from Hellas Verona.
No one can doubt the talent and potential of that trio, but in addition to their age and relative inexperience, the Pau Patrol (we're sticking with that nickname even if Pau Lopez remains relegated to the bench) were already facing the challenge of learning to play with one another, but line up Cristiano Ronaldo, Dejan Kulusevski, and possibly even Paulo Dybala, across from them and they may be in for a trial by fire.
Wresting points from Juventus is always more about mitigating damage than it is outscoring the Old Lady, but if Mancini and company are up to the task at hand, an upset could be in the cards.
Paulo Fonseca's State of Mind
Moments ago, during his pre-match press conference, Fonseca did something unusual: he named his entire starting eleven a full day before the match. Not a few hours before kick-off, a full day. I can't recall the last time that happened, but was this a clever bit of gamesmanship aimed at the less experienced Andrea Pirlo, or perhaps a sign of something more troubling?
Facing a barrage of transfer-market related questions, Fonseca deflected any and all mention of Chris Smalling, new players, or any supposed refusal from Edin Dzeko during last week's now loss to Verona.
On the face of it, those PC deflections mean nothing, but given the sudden rise of Max Allegri in the rumor mill, not to mention the dreaded voted of confidence Fonseca received from Guido Fienga yesterday, the rather curt nature of Fonseca's responses could paint the picture of a dejected manager delaying the inevitable.
Paulo Fonseca has proven to be cool and adaptive during his brief stay in the capital, but we've been through these motions before. Win, lose or draw, I wouldn't expect anything to change on Roma's bench immediately, but there certainly seem to be storm clouds on the horizon.
A resounding victory over Juventus could still cause those clouds to part, so let's hope Fonseca's press conference was nothing more than a brilliant misdirection.
Given that Fonseca announced his lineup already, we'll dispatch with our usual probable lineups feature for the week