Hmm, where should we begin? Should we talk about the reported locker room rift following Roma's draw against Sassuolo last weekend? Or what about Paulo Fonseca's uncertain future? Maybe you're more of a Maurizio Sarri rumor fan? And what about Max Allegri? Does that melt your butter? Or how about the litany of injuries plaguing Roma at the moment? And we haven't even mentioned Rick Karsdorp's suspension for this match; an interesting wrinkle to an already disheveled outfit.
If that awkward opening didn't clue you in, let me state the obvious: Roma are in a world of hurt right now. As if traveling to Amsterdam to face first-place Ajax in the quarterfinals of the Europa League weren't difficult enough, the Giallorossi have practically been capped at the knees by a string injuries, suspension, and off the pitch controversies.
Ajax vs. Roma: April 8th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam.
Normally, we'd say this is simply the Roma way, but this is harsh even by the club's already absurd standards. Needless to say, putting all of that behind them and gutting out a result in Amsterdam will be exceedingly difficult.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few keys to Thursday's Europa League clash with Ajax.
Keep An Eye On
With stops in Serbia, England and the Netherlands, 31-year-old Dusan Tadic is a relatively well-traveled footballer but he's found new life since signing with Ajax. With 64 goals and 50 assists in all competitions since the beginning of the 2018 season, Tadic has made the Eredivisie his personal playground. With 14 goals and 12 assists through 27 appearances, Tadic is second to only Feyenoord's Steven Berghuis in terms of total goal production this season (goals +assists).
Just how good has Tadic been this season? Check out these comps:
Tadic's performance this season puts him in some elite company. According to Football Reference, the closest comparisons for Tadic over the past year have been Memphis Depay, Timo Werner and Roberto Firmino. Granted, those guys all play in superior leagues but none of that matters tomorrow; Roma simply has to find a way to stop Tadic.
Typically slotted on the left of Ajax's 4-3-3, Tadic has terrorized Dutch defenses this season with his goal scoring and playmaking. Through 27 appearances, Tadic has served up a league-leading 102 key passes, pacing the Eredivisie in crosses and corners leading to shots. He's also played the most short key pass and the most long key passes in the league.
In a word: Tadic is Ajax's Francesco Totti. He can, has, and will make mincemeat of any defender foolish enough to confront him. Which brings us to our next point...
Who's Playing At the Back?
While Roma got a bit of good news with the late week return of Roger Ibañez, Paulo Fonseca's defense has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions heading into this first leg. Marash Kumbulla and Chris Smalling remain out due to injury for Roma's trip to Amsterdam while Rick Karsdorp will be sidelined thanks to card accumulation. All of which puts Fonseca's already shaky defense under enormous pressure tomorrow.
Assuming he sticks with the three-man backline, we'll likely see a return to the Ibañez, Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante troika with Bruno Peres and Leonardo Spinazzola manning the wingback spots.
The return of Ibañez makes this far more palatable than it otherwise would have been, but any slight knock or rash challenge by any of Roma's five defenders/wingbacks could put the Giallorossi in a world of trouble.
And then there's the small matter of containing Tadic, who is, as we just outlined, arguably the front runner for the Eredivisie MVP. With Tadic doing most of his damage down Ajax's left, the onus will likely fall on Peres and Mancini. Peres’ defensive struggles have been well chronicled while Mancini has been all over the map lately, so if you're the betting type, put a pony on Tadic scoring the game's first goal.
Will Mayoral or Dzeko Score?
Between the two of them, Edin Dzeko and Borja Mayoral have scored 23 goals and dished out eight assists in all competitions. In that light, Edinorja Dzekoral is one of the best forwards in the game, but that well has run dry over the past few weeks. While it's more of a league concern, both Dzeko and Mayoral have struggled to find the back of the net lately, with neither man scoring a Serie A goal since the darkest days of winter. Granted, Mayoral bagged a brace against Shakhtar Donetsk last month, but those are the only goals he's scored since the end of February.
Making matters worse is the absence of Stephan El Shaarawy from this week's squad list. If Dzeko and Mayoral can't get their respective grooves back, who's scoring the goals for the Giallorossi?
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has nine goals this season, but he's out injured. Jordan Veretout has cracked an impressive 10 goals, but six of those came via the penalty spot and he's only just returned from an injury of his own, so we can't necessarily pencil him in for a couple of goals.
And beyond that, we're looking at Lorenzo Pellegrini, who is more of a playmaker, Pedro, who has completely vanished in 2021, and Gianluca Mancini, who is a threat on set pieces, but those are hardly a reliable source of goals.
If Roma falls behind early to Tadic and Ajax, mounting a comeback could be extraordinarily tough if Mayoral or Dzeko are off the mark.
On the pitch and off it, Roma are at sixes and sevens at the moment. If Paulo Fonseca's future in Roma is truly riding on these next to matches against Ajax, he needs to pull out all the stops.
This poll is closed
Ajax wins via cleansheet
Ajax wins but Roma scores
Roma wins, full stop
Draw with an away goal