The less we have to talk about Roma’s loss this weekend to Parma, the better. Even still, the continued tightening of the race for fourth after that frustrating loss means that I Lupi need to seize even harder on any chance they have for Champions League football next season. That makes their continued success in the Europa League not only ideal but imperative.
I’m going to steer clear from jinxing the Giallorossi’s next match like I did the one against the bottom-dwellers of Serie A, but if things go right, the 3-0 advantage Roma built up in the first leg of this tie should see them through to the Quarterfinals of the Europa League. Who knows, maybe some rotation can even happen on Thursday, and the players who look like they need a breather can get one. The right amounts of rotation will certainly help the Giallorossi maintain the health they need to fight in the Europa League and Serie A.
March 11, 2021: Roma 3, Shakhtar 0
Roma overcame a sluggish start to the match, one that just felt like it was destined to end in a draw, precipitating a 120-minute slugfest in the return leg. However, Roma managed to find a breakthrough midway through the first half thanks to Lorenzo Pellegrini and, after turning up the pressure on the visitors, pumped two more goals past Shakhtar to pad their lead heading into Thursday's second leg.
What To Watch For
Calafiori's Time to Cook?
Riccardo Calafiori has had a bit of an odd season. A surprising addition to the opening day squad list, it seemed like the young Roman was primed for a big role this season. Leonardo Spinazzola was firmly entrenched as the starter, of course, and has been slowly establishing himself as one of the league’s most dangerous attacking full-backs since then, but with no veteran presence behind Spinazzola, it seemed like Calafiori was anointed as Spinazzola's deputy by default.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma: March 18th. 18:55 CET/1:55 EDT. NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kyiv
However, thanks to some minor injuries and about with COVID-19, Calafiori's once-promising rookie season has been reduced to only 200 minutes on the pitch. Still, despite those injuries and illness concerns effectively erasing his debut season, the club still felt confident enough to lock Calafiori down through 2025.
Calafiori's last appearance was a 19-minute cameo against Torino on December 17th, but with Roma's 3-0 lead, Fonseca may feel comfortable giving the 18-year-old his third Europa League start of the season.
One thing is for certain, though. After watching Roma struggle through last weekend's defeat to Parma, Fonseca needs to find rest for his regulars as often as possible, including Spinazzola. Calafiori's time could come as soon as tomorrow.
Is The Heat Turned Up On Fonseca?
The rumor mill is kind to nobody in the long haul, particularly in a city like Rome. No matter what level of success you bring to the Giallorossi, as a player, owner, or manager, you’re going to catch some flak from the newspapermen and Twitterati; it’s just part of the game. Nevertheless, you get the sense that Paulo Fonseca’s supposedly tenuous position is truly tenuous at the moment. With rumors flying that the Portuguese tactician needs to guarantee Champions League football to get a renewal under The Friedkin Group, every single match will be critical in his fight for his job.
In my eyes, it’s a bit of a shame that Fonseca is being given even this short of a leash; I think he has done a lot of good for the club and built up a strong mentality in the senior squad, albeit one that needs some strengthening against the larger clubs of Serie A and beyond. Add in the fact that one of the Giallorossi’s star players, Nicolo Zaniolo, has been beset with ligament injuries and the general craziness that the world has endured since March 2020, and you can definitely say that Fonseca has even overachieved.
At the end of the day, though, it matters little what I think or whether or not Paulo Fonseca has overachieved with the squad he’s been given. A good owner sets a required goal for his manager and forces them to either reach that goal or face the sack, regardless of player injury or any other act of God that might befall the club. If Fonseca is let go following this season, don’t be surprised if he finds post-Roma success along the lines of Luis Enrique. For Roma’s pocketbook and for continuity in the hot seat in Rome, though, let’s just hope that this potential future for the Portuguese manager stays in the realm of potential. Life at the club is made a little bit easier if Fonseca navigates the club to a Top Four finish, for everyone from The Friedkins, to Tiago Pinto, to the squad itself.
Will Roma go through to the next round?
This poll is closed
Duh—we have a three-goal lead
Yes, but just barely
No. Shakhtar will pull off their own miracle