Some weeks Paulo Fonseca is very forthcoming with his line-up choices in his pre-match press conferences; even going so far as naming his whole starting XI one week early in the season. This presser was not one of those, as Fonseca wouldn’t confirm any starters. That will leave the media, fans, and Shakhtar’s coaching staff guessing ahead of Thursday’s match at the Olimpico.
However, Fonseca did confirm that both Edin Dzeko and Roger Ibañez would be included in the squad after rejoining full training. I wouldn’t expect either to start after extended layoffs, but their presence on the bench will be a boost. With that duo back, the Giallorossi will only be without Jordan Veretout for this one.
In terms of formation, it seems like a given that Pau Lopez will start after establishing himself as the Roma starter in 2021. One place where Fonseca will have to make a decision is in the defense. Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling will certainly start. That leaves Max Kumbulla and Bryan Cristante vying for the third center back spot. I’m going to tip Cristante after Fonseca didn’t name him as an option in the midfield.
Moving into that midfield, Fonseca wouldn’t confirm any of his midfielders; not even for one of the two starting spots.
“You will have to wait until tomorrow to see who will play, but that is one option. Villar could play with Pellegrini, with Amadou Diawara – or Diawara could play with Pellegrini. Those three are all possibilities,” said Fonseca when asked about the possibility of playing Villar and Pellegrini.
Diawara has been in fine form of late and I expect him to start again to provide extra cover in front of the defense. I think Fonseca goes with Villar in the other spot because he’ll want to play his best attack and that includes Pellegrini. Therefore, I’d expect the captain to play alongside Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the attacking midfield. If Diawara and Villar don’t jive well then he could always drop Pellegrini back and bring in Pedro or El Shaarawy mid-match.
The wings will almost certainly feature Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdorp, as each was rested once in the last two matches. Rounding out the XI will be Borja Mayoral, as Dzeko likely isn’t fit enough to start. However, if Mayoral’s goal drought continues that could change come the weekend.