The Giallorossi have been hunting for their tenth Coppa Italia since I started writing for Chiesa di Totti. Actually, it’s been even longer than that; they’ve been hunting for what’s colloquially known as “the silver star” since 2008, when Katy Perry, Estelle, and the Jonas Brothers were lighting up the charts and George W. Bush was in the White House. Outside of a bonsai tree here and there, that Coppa drought is also Roma’s overall trophy drought, and for a club with the market and aspirations of the Giallorossi, that’s unacceptable. With a Scudetto out of reach for the moment and a Europa Conference League win feeling unimpressive, that once again leaves the Coppa Italia Roma’s best shot at significant silverware. Tomorrow, they start their fight to the final by facing Serie B side U.S. Lecce at home.
Roma vs Lecce: January 20th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Lecce have ping-ponged between all three levels of Italian football over the course of the past decade, and they currently sit fifth place in Serie B. If they keep that spot in the standings, they’ll be eligible for the promotion playoffs to Serie A, but nevertheless, the Giallorossi should be able to make light work of I Salentini. Granted, with Roma there’s always a sizable difference between what they should be able to do and what they are able to do, so here’s what to watch for as the Round of 16 kicks off in the Coppa.
What To Watch For
Can Some of Mourinho’s Misfits Start On The Path to Redemption?
Given Lecce’s relative lack of talent, there’s definitely a good chance that José Mourinho could look to some of his less-beloved squad members tomorrow. According to the rumor mill, the most likely candidates to get starts against Lecce are Eldor Shomurodov and Carles Perez, and it’s easy to understand why: both are in serious need of mojo revitalization.
Shomurodov came in last summer and was trumpeted as a key member of Roma’s attacking corps going forward, yet because of Tammy Abraham’s good form, the rise of Felix Afena-Gyan, and Mourinho’s attempts to sometimes play Nicolò Zaniolo as more of a striker, the Uzbek Messi has found himself riding the pine more often than not. It’s unlikely that either party will be able to move on from each other any time soon; Shomurodov’s on a long-term contract and his poor form this season means that there probably won’t be too many clubs hunting for his services. Given that, it’d be great for everyone at the club if Shomu can start living up to his price tag. Knocking in a few goals against a minnow like Lecce would certainly be a step in the right direction.
With Perez, it doesn’t seem likely at this point that he’ll be a long-term fixture of any Giallorossi side; he hasn’t even been able to push a decidedly out of form Nicolò Zaniolo for starts. A jump in form might change that, however, and if he’s able to show what made him such an intriguing prospect at Barcelona tomorrow against Lecce, José Mourinho might find that he has more options at right winger than he originally assumed.
Roma Versus Anti-Football
As I’ve already said multiple times in this preview, Lecce are certainly not the most challenging opponent the Giallorossi will face during their hunt for their tenth Coppa Italia; Inter Milan, their likely quarterfinals opponent, would probably take that crown. However, the relative quality disparity between these two sides will likely result in Romanisti everywhere enduring one of the most annoying types of Roma matches you can possibly watch, a type of match I refer to as Anti-Calcio. Lecce won’t be going for a big win; they probably won’t even be going for that many shots on target. Instead, they’ll set up a low block and make every Giallorossi attacker fight tooth and nail for any blade of grass within a mile of the goalposts.
Quite frankly, even if I despite Anti-Calcio, it is the only way for a side like Lecce to earn a positive result against one of the biggest clubs in Italy. In fact, this exact style of play is how Spezia took Roma out of the Coppa Italia last year, in one of several Coppa Italia matches from the past decade that I would really like to forget. Even with that admission, though, watching a minnow engage in this style of football is an absolute pain in the neck to watch for ninety minutes, particularly when Roma has struggled repeatedly against that style of football both in this season and in seasons past. The Giallorossi have to hope that they’ll find a way to score quickly in this match; allow the Lecce defense to set too much and their attempts to park the bus might just prove successful.