As Roma continues to trudge through the final month of what has been an exhausting league campaign, one can’t help but believe that i Lupi will find the legs needed to battle Manchester United tooth and nail on Thursday. While injuries and fatigue have hampered the Giallorossi on the Italian peninsula, they have found an extra gear playing on Thursdays in Europe. And Romanisti will hope that this Thursday is no different.
Roma enters this one—all things considered—in fairly good health with many of key men rested over the weekend. Of course, the Giallorossi will be without sure-fire starter Gianluca Mancini through suspension in this one, but the returns of Chris Smalling and Max Kumbulla should soften the blow. In addition to Mancini, the only other players missing out will be Stephan El Shaarawy, Pedro, Riccardo Calafiori, and Nicolò Zaniolo through injury.
Considering the absences, the starting XI should be fairly straightforward with key men Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Jordan Veretout all returning to full fitness over the last few weeks. And Smalling and Mkhitaryan will likely be under the brightest spotlights considering their United pasts.
The Armenian’s stay at the Theatre of Dreams was more of a nightmare, but Smalling returns two years removed from a long United tenure; something he’s looking forward to.
“Yes, 100%. I think it’s a big game, a special game and a semi-final. And added on top playing against Manchester United. Having been in Rome for the past two years I know the importance of bringing home a trophy, because it has been too long.
“So there are so many ingredients to this that I don’t think there will be many bigger games to play in. I am happy to be fit and able to contribute because the squad needs to have every player available.”
And Fonseca acknowledged that he has spoken to the ex-United duo about their experience of playing for the English giants.
“We are facing a great club, perhaps the favourites to win this competition. We’ve prepared well for this game. Naturally I’ve spoken with Mkhitaryan and Smalling, as they both played here and also both have experience at this sort of stage of the competition.
“We all know it will be a tough game. We have a lot of respect for Manchester United, but we want to do well.”
Roma is clearly in it to win it, even if it enters this match as big-time underdogs. As mentioned earlier, the Giallorossi will be without Mancini, something that Fonseca acknowledged is a big loss, but he will be looking for more players than just his center backs to defend.
“We know that the United attack is really good, very fast – but we’ve prepared well for this game. For us it is really important to have Chris back. It’s true that Mancini is out, but the players I have available for this game give me confidence that we can put in a good performance. However, I don’t think that the defensive side of the game will just be down to the defenders, but the team as a whole.”
That defending will rely on Pau Lopez in goal to organize the troops. In Mancini’s absence, expect to see Smalling, Roger Ibañez, and Bryan Cristante along the back three. Meanwhile, the wings will be composed of Spinazzola and Karsdorp.
In front of them will be Jordan Veretout and one out of Amadou Diawara and Gonzalo Villar. Considering Villar’s recent struggle for form and Diawara’s superior defensive acumen, I’d expect to see the Guinean alongside the Frenchman.
Moving into the attack, leading the line will be former Manchester City man Edin Dzeko who’ll look to turn back the clock against his old rivals. The Big Bosnian will be crucial in this one as Roma likely looks to play on the counter. Playing in support of Dzeko will be Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini with both Pedro and El Shaarawy ruled out through injury.