Roma’s resounding victory over both legs against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League made them the last Italian team standing in European competition this year, no small feat when you consider the increased quality seen throughout the top six of Serie A so far this season. Even with their next tie against Ajax is on the horizon, though, the Giallorossi need to get their house in order domestically. After that stinging 2-0 loss to Parma last weekend, Paulo Fonseca needs to show both his employer and the fans that he can make the fight for that last Champions League spot a fight to the last breath. That hopefully starts with giving a performance against Napoli that is the polar opposite of the first leg of this tie.
November 29, 2020: Napoli 4, Roma 0
In all honesty, this was probably the worst Derby Della Sole that I’ve watched while covering Roma for CdT. There was a sentimental element at play given Diego Maradona’s passing prior to the match, of course, but losing 4-0 to our southern rivals is unacceptable regardless of context. Add in the fact that the Giallorossi could have secured a grip on second place with a win against the Partenopei, and it’s clear that any performance remotely like this tomorrow would be utterly unacceptable.
Roma vs. Napoli: March 21st. 20:45 CET/3:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
This match was probably Antonio Mirante’s death knell as starting goalkeeper for the Giallorossi, as he let in goals from Lorenzo Insigne, Fabian Ruiz, Dries Mertens, and former Roma man Matteo Politano. Just as the Roman defense was non-existent, the offense left much to be desired, and although you could say some of that was down to COVID and injury issues, a team with Champions League aspirations needs to make matches like this more of a fight.
Here’s what Bren had to say after this nightmare:
From possession percentage, to shots on goal, to dribbles, to corners taken, Napoli controlled virtually every aspect of this match, looking like the more credible threat to Milan than Roma; the club that entered this match riding a five-game winning streak.
If you find yourself at a loss for words, you’re not alone; this time felt different. Roma were in fine form entering this one, beating any and all comers with ease, so at the very least we should have expected a gutty draw rather than a 4-0 drubbing.
What To Watch For
Whose Seat is Hotter: Gattuso’s or Fonseca’s?
If you mainly pay attention to Roma’s news cyclone, you might not be aware that Gennaro Gattuso is on similar levels of thin ice as Paulo Fonseca. It’s undoubtedly true, though, as Napoli have reportedly offered Gattuso the same ultimatum that Roma have offered Fonseca: Champions League or bust. With Napoli out of all competitions save Serie A, Gattuso has fewer routes to that Champions League spot than Fonseca, but the desperation they both must feel on some level has to be similar.
Being a manager under Aurelio Di Laurentiis can’t be easy; he’s a notoriously tricky guy to work with, whether you’re trying to buy one of his players or simply leave his club in peace. That’s the extent of the sympathy that I can provide for Gattuso, though, and I obviously am crossing my fingers that an emphatic win for the Giallorossi on Sunday could be one of the final nails in the coffin for this Napoli side’s chances at Champions League football. Roma needs every point it can pick up at this point in the season, and forcing Napoli down into firing Gattuso and a year of Europa League purgatory would certainly be sweet revenge for that 4-0 loss earlier in the season.
When Will Pedro Have His Last Chance?
Just as Paulo Fonseca and Gennaro Gattuso seem to be in the hot seat right now, one has to think that Pedro, who represents Roma’s most recent attempt at the “Buy An Experienced, Slightly On The Downturn Champion” mercato strategy, is on similarly thin ice for a continued stay at the Stadio Olimpico. After impressing quite quicky during the first month and a half of the season, the Spanish international has practically disappeared as a game-changing force. Part of this certainly comes from him being 33 and Paulo Fonseca pushing him a bit too hard when he was in that good stretch of form, but nevertheless, you get the sense that his time in Rome might come to an end once Nicolo Zaniolo is back in the fold.
If Pedro wants to stay in Rome (and who knows if he does, considering the rumors of a dust-up with Fonseca in recent weeks), it would probably help for him to bang in a couple of goals towards the end of the season. He’d certainly get back in my good graces if he scored a goal against Napoli on Sunday, and I imagine the same would hold true for Paulo Fonseca and the Friedkins.
Napoli Reloaded: Worrisome For Roma, Or A Subtle Chance?
Just like the Giallorossi, Napoli have really struggled with both the injury bug and the COVID, uh, pandemic this season. Football Italia is even reporting that this upcoming match will be Gli Azzurri’s first match with a full contingent of forwards since November 8 of last year. Some might see that new level of health as a worrisome sign for Roma, since Gennaro Gattuso now has his full complement of options up front. I’m skeptical of that idea, though, for the simple reason that I watched Roma’s 4-0 loss to Napoli earlier this season.
That loss was built off of the return appearances of critical cogs in the Roma machine, including Edin Džeko, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and more. They were all returning to the side after layoffs due to either injury or COVID, and because of that, they didn’t mesh as well into the side as they typically did, and Roma suffered for it. I’m not expecting that exact same thing to happen with Napoli this time around; Gattuso is rumored to be starting Dries Mertens and Matteo Politano tomorrow, two players who he’s had the fortune of playing consistently as of late. Even so, the combination of Mertens and Politano feeling more tired after less rotation since November and Osimhen and Lozano probably not being at 100% could be exploited by Paulo Fonseca. Run their forwards ragged if possible during the first half, then sub in Stephen El Shaarawy or Carles Perez to exploit that tiredness. Considering the fact that the Giallorossi weren’t exactly pushed by Shakhtar Donetsk in the midweek match, it’s possible this strategy could work against Napoli, helping to make sure that another nightmare 4-0 loss doesn’t happen.
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