The period in-between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day is an abyss into which all sense of time and normality disappears. If you're fortunate enough, you were able to dip out of work for this entire block, but even if you only managed to escape for a portion of it, you know what I'm talking about. From holiday movie marathons, last-minute shopping trips, multiple parties (during normal times) to randomly getting drunk on a Tuesday night with nothing to worry about the next morning, the end of the Gregorian calendar is one gigantic blur; day bleeds into night, weekdays meld with weekends and somehow you're expected to magically become a productive member of society by Monday. It's madness.
And if you're anything like me, missing that weekly (or twice weekly) Roma reference point has only served to increase your post-Christmas confusion. But we've reached the end, my friends—Roma has returned!
Roma vs. Sampdoria: January 3rd. 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Back from the break and ready to continue their assault on the top four, Roma kicks off the unofficial start to the second half of the season by welcoming Roma grampa emeritus Claudio Ranieri and 11th place Sampdoria to the Olimpico for a Sunday afternoon showdown.
Given that they've been off for over 10 days, the storylines are a little light, but let's take a look at a few of the big picture concerns heading into this match.
Fonseca Fighting Fatigue & Injuries
While those 11 days may have seemed interminable to us fans, for the players and staff, it likely wasn't enough to stave off the fatigue of an extremely compacted 2020 fixture list, a point Fonseca addressed earlier in his press conference:
It would have been nice, but there is no time to have a longer break than this. It’s true that there are a lot of games, but with the wider issues everyone is having to deal with it’s not possible.
The team is doing okay. The players have been training well, they are all really motivated. When the team is motivated everything is easier, in terms of fitness as well. Physically we are doing okay.
Motivation aside, Fonseca will be without the services of Antonio Mirante, Pedro, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Riccardo Calafiori, all of whom are out with minor injuries ahead of this round 15 matchup. Mirante has been dealing with minor issues all season long and Pedro has been begging for a break for weeks now, but the absences of Spinazzola and Calafiori likely means that we'll see Bruno Peres starting at left-wingback unless Fonseca gets crazy and uses Davide Santon out of position instead.
Despite this being the first match after the holiday break, Roma are looking at an incredibly busy January. With their Coppa Italia campaign starting later this month, the Giallorossi have seven matches in the next 28 days, including tilts against Inter Milan and Lazio. Sprinkled around those fixtures are relatively lighter matches against Crotone and Spezia, and if Fonseca's pattern holds true to form, Roma will need every single point from those “easier” matches.
So while fretting over lineup choices after an 11-day break seems extreme, there's a good reason for those concerns—the long haul towards May begins now.
Sizing Up Sampdoria
Ranieri's crew enter this fixture in 11th place, sporting a -1 goal differential. With only two victories since the beginning of November, 2020 wasn't very kind to Sampdoria, but their struggles go well beyond simple results on the table. Since their draw with Genoa on November 1st, Sampdoria has been held to one goal or less in six of ten matches, an absolutely brutal stretch in which Sampdoria played to a 2-2-6 (W-D-L) record.
But their struggles extend well beyond a two month stretch of rough results. Through their first 14 matches, Sampdoria have outperformed their xG mark by nearly five goals despite being one of the least accurate shooting teams in the league.
In 14 matches, Sampdoria have fired off 182 shots (8th most), putting 55 of those on target (10th most), which equates to a 31% clip—the league's second-worst mark. But, despite that failure to put the ball on target, Sampdoria leads the league in goals per shot (0.14) and goals per shot on target (0.44) and are middle of the pack with respect to shot-creating and goal-creating actions.
Basically, Sampdoria are your classic Ranieri team—confusing as hell. On the one hand, they have no problem finding a shot, and when they do put one on-target, they score more than any other team in the league, but they seem to unleash shots indiscriminately. Were they a bit more selective or patient, there's no telling how their shooting and scoring numbers would improve.
And if you want to be even more confused, chew on these figures: Samp have outperformed their xG on shots outside of the area but have underperformed on shots in the penalty area. And they're doing all this while seeing only 42% of the ball, the lowest mark in the league.
Mix all that together and...and...I don't know! They barely get the ball, they have almost zero shot discipline, yet they somehow do more damage with their attempts than any other team in the league. Like we said, confusing.
Just exactly how Fonseca counters this is anyone's guess, but despite that uncertainty, the secret might simply be Roma playing anti-Samp football: dominate possession, seek out high-quality shots, and make damn sure you convert them. If Roma waffles in attack and leaves Sampdoria even an inch of space, they've proven they can convert the worst chances into goals.
The Giallorossi have a lot to gain and a lot to lose in this new year, and if they want to set a positive tone for 2021, they need to be ruthless tomorrow afternoon. Render all these stats and all these trends meaningless by bludgeoning Ranieri's side early and often.