With many of the other big Italian clubs squaring off against each other this weekend, Roma have been afforded the potential to breathe just a little bit easier as they take on eleventh-place Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico. As always, it’s crucial for the Giallorossi to pick up three points from this match, while just as with Roma’s recent match against Hellas Verona, the Giallorossi will be squaring off against one of their targets for goalkeeper this summer: Argentinian Juan Musso.
October 3, 2020: Udinese 0, Roma 1
The Giallorossi’s first match against Udinese this season was a defensive masterclass from Roger Ibañez. The Brazilian center-back’s more manic style of defending paired excellently with the cool-headed Marash Kumbulla, snuffing out Udinese’s offensive talents and making sure that Pedro’s first goal ever for Roma would be the difference-maker.
Roma v. Udinese: February 14th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Also of note from this match, though, is that it showcased some of the flaws in the 2020-2021 season’s version of Fonsecaball. Here’s what Bren had to say after the match:
Roma got their first win of the season today and that’s ultimately all that matters... but... having said that, this match could have easily gone Udinese’s way. The home side managed 12 shots on goal with 50% going on target while only three of Roma’s 13 attempts hit the mark, none more egregious than Dzeko’s first half miss. Couple that with the fact that Roma’s only goal came via an ugly Udinese turnover and Paulo Fonseca may still have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.
A lot of these issues have persisted for Roma throughout the season, particularly against the top half of the table. It will take the Giallorossi continuing their dominance over the minnows in matches like these for a Top Four finish to be achievable.
What To Watch For
Juan Musso’s Audition?
As I mentioned in the intro, the lead-up to Roma-Udinese has seen the rumor mill kick into high gear about Roma’s plans for the summer mercato. It’s obvious that Tiago Pinto will be looking for a new starting goalkeeper, and surprise surprise, Udinese have a good goalkeeper, Juan Musso, who just might be looking to move to a bigger club! Add two and two together and you have enough of a story to fill a lot of column inches in the Gazzetta Dello Sport.
Even if the links between Juan Musso and the Giallorossi are more tenuous than the newspapers would have you believe, it’s obvious that Sunday’s match will be a sort of audition for the Argentinian goalkeeper. Of course, I want Roma to beat Udinese handily, but it would be encouraging to see Musso not get completely shown up by Roma’s attack. Hopefully, he can put in a good ninety minutes, if only to help Romanisti picture him better in a Roma kit.
Džeko With The Start?
I’ve written so much about Edin Džeko in the past couple of weeks that I’m getting annoyed with how often I have to use the Getty Image Search for pictures of him. He’s a fantastic player and one I’ve really enjoyed watching in Rome, but all the hoopla surrounding him and Fonseca has officially rubbed me the wrong way.
Given all of that, there are rumors emerging that suggest that Džeko might be given the full ninety against Udinese as a chance to redeem himself more fully in the eyes of his manager. Borja Mayoral probably does need some rest, as Džeko’s banishment meant he was one of Roma’s only true forwards in the squad, but beyond that, I’m also just excited to see if Džeko still has the juice in him to push Roma towards greatness. A couple goals against Udinese would do a lot to convince both myself and Paulo Fonseca that the Bosnian Batistuta has enough left in the tank to be a piece of the Giallorossi future. I hope he scores those goals, and I hope these rumors die down and things get back to normal again.
Can Kumbulla Force Himself Into The Starting XI Long-Term?
For as long as I can remember, Roma has struggled with the injury bug. ACL tears, concussions, you name it, a Roma player has had it and they’ve had to sit out a match because of it. Given that, it’s not entirely surprising to me that Chris Smalling has been struggling with injuries this season; not only has he been known to be injury-prone throughout his career, it's simply the Roma way to pick up injuries on a semi-regular basis.
I won’t go as far as some might by saying that it was a mistake to sign Chris Smalling permanently. The England international was Roma’s best player last season (save, perhaps, Henrikh Mkhitaryan), so it made perfect sense for the Giallorossi to move heaven and earth to make him a permanent part of the club. However, he’s on the wrong side of thirty now and injury-prone, meaning that although it’s great to have him in the squad, he might not be as consistently available as one would like. Enter Max Kumbulla, Roma’s current fourth center-back but undoubtedly a large part of Roma’s defensive future.
Smalling is likely to be out until at least Roma’s Europa League tie with Sporting Braga on the 18th; in the meantime, I’m curious to see how Kumbulla does as a consistent starter. Roma dropped a pretty penny on the Albanian this past summer, and that’s not even mentioning the permanent transfer of Mert Çetin to Verona that was included in the deal. If Kumbulla can establish himself as the perfect counter-balance to Roger Ibañez, the ice to his fire, then the Giallorossi won’t have to sweat so much the moment Chris Smalling picks up a knock.