After facing another Atalanta onslaught on Thursday, one in which the Bergamo club bombarded Pau López and the rest of the Roma defense with 22 shots, the Giallorossi were fortunate to escape with one point thanks to a splendid strike from Bryan Cristante in the 75th minute. Despite surviving by the skin of their teeth, Roma dropped points for the sixth time in their past 10 matches—likely the final nail in the coffin that housed Roma's top-four hopes.
While Roma's league path to next season's Champions League is dead and buried, they can still qualify for Europe's most illustrious non-JP Morgan financed competition next season if they lay claim to this year's Europa League title; a matter that may be indirectly settled next Thursday in the first leg of their semifinal matchup against Manchester United.
Cagliari vs. Roma: April 25th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT. Sardegna Arena, Cagliari
With the league route closed and millions of euros and Paulo Fonseca’s job likely at stake in Old Trafford next week, Sunday's fixture against Cagliari feels a little...pointless?...unnecessary?...anticlimactic?...sadistic?
No matter which adjective one prefers, Sunday's trip to Sardinia is bound to feel a little hollow given the circumstances, but that doesn't mean Cagliari will simply roll over or forgive Roma for any absent-mindedness they may exhibit.
They certainly didn't last time...
December 23, 2020: Roma 3, Cagliari 2
The Giallorossi got an early holiday gift in the 11th minute when Jordan Veretout found himself in the perfect spot to capitalize on a deflected Rick Karsdorp cross to give Roma an early lead. Cagliari was able to keep Roma in check for the next half an hour plus before Joao Pedro lashed one home from the edge of the 18, beating López low and to the left.
Roma would have their revenge later in the second half as Edin Dzeko and Gianluca Mancini struck in quick succession in the 71st and 77th minutes, respectively. Cagliari would get a break deep into stoppage time when Gonzalo Villar fouled Joao Pedro in the box, giving the Brazilian midfielder his second goal of the evening.
This was a remarkably close match and was in keeping with the recent history in this fixture, which has produced 25 goals over the past six matches. However, despite all those goals, both squads enter this match in a bit of scoring drought, so something has to give.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the key stories ahead of this Round 33 fixture.
Keep An Eye On
Who's Going to Play?
We're not ones to mince words around here, so let's cut right to the chase: Fonseca's personnel selections are really the only point of interest in this fixture. While Fonseca will likely spend his pre-match presser saying all the right things about respecting opponents and denying that he's thinking about Manchester United, it's all just white noise. Every decision Fonseca makes tomorrow in Cagliari will be made with an eye on Thursday.
In that light, Fonseca received some good news late in the week with the returns of Chris Smalling, Stephan El Shaarawy, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Marash Kumbulla to training, which should give the Man From Mozambique more flexibility as focuses only on this match (wink, wink).
Spinazzola and El Shaarawy, who have featured over the past few weeks, will likely still receive ample rest in this match but Smalling and Kumbulla, neither of whom have played since March, should get some run on Sunday to get them up to speed prior to Thursday's trip to Manchester.
Fonseca is still in a delicate situation where can't simply rest all eleven of his regulars but I'm not sure he'll go so far as to start the likes of Ruben Providence, Tommasso Milanese, and Daniel Fuzato tomorrow.
Roma can’t simply stroll into Old Trafford on Thursday after treating their best players with kid gloves for a week, so we'll likely see Edin Dzeko, Rick Karsdorp, and a few others get quick 15 to 20-minute cameos but make no mistake every substitution, every card, and every kick to the shin will be carefully weighed and measured with an eye on Manchester.
About Those Goals
As we just mentioned, the past six Roma-Cagliari encounters have produced 25 goals, with Roma conceding two or more goals to Cagliari in four of the last six fixtures. There may not be much on the line domestically Sunday afternoon, but Roma can't really stroll into Old Trafford riding high if they just shipped two or three goals to a relegation-battling side like Cagliari.
No matter who Fonseca plays at the back, Roma must approach this match as a tune-up for Thursday. That means no lax defending, no hasty challenges, no uncovered back posts, and no careless buildup from the back. Whatever they do Sunday should lay the foundation for Thursday. Careless practice produces careless results, so Roma will have to be careful they're not too distracted tomorrow.
Roma's Relegation Struggles
Of course, Roma has only been relegated once in their over 90-year history, but right there, right now, in 2020-2021 the clubs facing the drop have given Roma fits. We all know what happened in Torino: Roma was run off the pitch by an amply motivated Andrea Belotti and the rest of the Toros. But the Giallorossi have also dropped points to Parma (currently in 19th place) and were held in check by Benevento (currently in 17th place) and have one match remaining against bottom-dwelling Crotone.
These can be classic trap matches under normal circumstances, but when you consider Roma's dwindling domestic agenda (if it hasn't disappeared completely), the two-legged fixture against Manchester United, Fonseca's uncertain future, and the “senioritis” that can accompany this stage of the season anyway, Roma may be primed for disaster tomorrow.
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They get distracted chasing butterflies and forget about the match.