With Juventus getting knocked out of the Champions League yesterday by Porto, Italy’s chances in European competition have cratered; only Roma look to have a clear path to a spot in the quarter-finals, as Milan face the unenviable task of defeating Manchester United over two legs. Shakhtar Donetsk aren’t Manchester United, but they’re no slouch themselves; Paulo Fonseca will have to treat this first match against his former employer as a critical one if the Giallorossi expect to have an advantage heading into the second leg.
What To Watch For
Borja Back In Business?
Even though Borja Mayoral has been far more impressive for Roma than pretty much any other vice-Džeko, the past couple of weeks haven’t been kind to the Spaniard. He still has the trust of Paulo Fonseca, who said after the tight win against Genoa that “[Mayoral] worked hard and created space for others, perhaps he could’ve done more with the ball but he worked hard for the team.” There are rumblings that despite this support from the manager, The Friedkin Group is less sure about making Mayoral’s move to the Olimpico permanent.
Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk: March 11th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Considering how unimpressive Luka Jovic has been while on loan from Real Madrid to Eintracht Frankfurt, it wouldn’t be a worst-case scenario for Mayoral if Roma didn’t exercise their option on him. If anything, his double-digit tally to date for the Giallorossi has shown that Zinedine Zidane was right to try to keep him around as Real’s backup striker, and Madrid might be happy to have him back at the Bernabeu. Nevertheless, you get the sense that Mayoral would probably prefer to stay in Rome; he’s got a far clearer path to a regular spot in Fonseca’s starting eleven than Zidane’s, especially with rumblings of a potential Real transfer for Kylian Mbappé or Erling Haaland. Roma don’t have the financial muscle to pull off deals like that, and even if they make a move for Italian international Andrea Belotti this summer, it’s easy to imagine a forward line-up that allows both Belotti and Mayoral to hit double-digits in goals across all competitions.
For that Belotti-Mayoral duo to happen, though, seems to require Mayoral kicking into gear yet again and getting more goals - and preferably against bigger sides. Scoring against Napoli at the end of the month will definitely cement the Spaniard’s case for continued employment by the Giallorossi, but if Mayoral is able to score one or two against Shakhtar, you have to imagine that Dan and Ryan Friedkin will notice.
Reynolds’ First Minutes?
Bryan Reynolds, Roma’s first American purchase of The Friedkin Group era and first American in the squad since Michael Bradley, finally made the bench against Genoa. He didn’t get to see the pitch, but the fact that he was definitely warming up on the sidelines with sixty minutes gone makes it clear that if Roma had pulled further away from Il Grifone, Reynolds would probably have been substituted on for the rejuvenated Rick Karsdorp. Similarly, if Roma are able to pull ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk rather quickly, one gets the sense that Reynolds will be one of Paulo Fonseca’s first subs on.
Ironically, Reynolds joins this Roma side in a moment when it has the fewest questions about fullbacks in quite a long while. Bren just wrote a great article about how Karsdorp has become one of this Giallorossi side’s most important players; similarly, Leonardo Spinazzola has shown himself to be quite the attacking fullback this season.
However, one would be remiss when talking about either Spinazzola or Karsdorp to not mention their respective injury histories. They’ve both struggled with staying out of the doctor’s office throughout their careers, and while they’re both avoiding injury scares this season, any smart General Manager would have a capable back-up to both fullbacks just in case worse comes to worst.
Despite his long lay-off due to injury himself, Riccardo Calafiori already looks to be a serviceable backup to Leonardo Spinazzola. If Roma are to have their long-term success not hinge on Rick Karsdorp defying his injury history and remaining healthy, Bryan Reynolds needs to slowly but surely prove himself as a Serie A level right-back. That journey starts with substitution appearances against clubs like Shakhtar.
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