”It might be the most important game of the season so far. We have to realise we are facing a really good side, and we have to put the first leg to one side. But I think the players know all that,” said Fonseca in his pre-match press conference.
“We know the tie is far from over. We know we need to play a perfect game again in order to progress.”
With so much riding on this match, it’s no surprise that Paulo Fonseca rested as many as eight regulars over the weekend against Bologna. And while it was great to see the Giallorossi win over the weekend, it’s abundantly clear that the focus is squarely on the Europa League.
With that in mind, expect Fonseca to throw out the strongest starting XI currently available to him. However, he will be without some key options including Chris Smalling, Leonardo Spinazzola, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Max Kumbulla.
Based on form this season, the biggest loss is probably Spinazzola who was injured in the reverse fixture last Thursday in Amsterdam. In his absence, Fonseca did confirm that Italian youngster Riccardo Calafiori will start.
Fonseca’s announcement was expected, as besides losing Spinazzola to injury, Bruno Peres will be suspended. The Calafiori start was the only personnel move confirmed by Fonseca in the presser. However, considering the injuries and suspensions, most of the remaining line-up card will write itself.
Pau Lopez will return to the goal after sitting this weekend for Antonio Mirante. Meanwhile, Bryan Cristante will return to the back three after being suspended this weekend, centering Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez.
Moving into the midfield, Jordan Veretout will start but who joins him is probably the one question mark facing Fonseca tomorrow. Will it be Amadou Diawara or Gonzalo Villar? That duo started on Sunday and I expect Diawara to keep his place because of his greater defensive abilities. Flanking Diawara and Veretout will be the aforementioned Calafiori and Rick Karsdorp who missed the first leg through suspension.
Moving into the attack, it will be Edin Dzeko leading the line. The veteran had a solid performance in Amsterdam and his big frame and hold up play will be invaluable as Roma likely looks to play on the counterattack. Supporting Dzeko will be captain Lorenzo Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has recently returned from injury.