If Roma wants to be the best—or at least among the league’s four best—it will have to beat the best—something that the Giallorossi have struggled to do recently. Roma is winless in its last 12 home matches (7D, 5L) against teams in the top four (on that matchday). And Napoli has been the toughest side for Roma to crack, with the Giallorossi winning just once (3W, 4D) in their last eight overall against their southern rivals.
Things won’t get any easier when the unbeaten, top-of-the-table Partenopei visit the Olimpico on Sunday, led by former Roma skipper Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti’s men are flying high, and José Mourinho will be tasked with fielding a lineup that can slow down a Napoli attack that’s been scoring for fun. Last season, the sides played to two draws, which kept Spalletti winless against Mourinho in six tries (3D, 3L)—a streak Mourinho would love to extend to seven on Sunday.
Of course, Mourinho will have to do that without his talisman, Paulo Dybala, who remains out. Also unavailable are Gini Wijnaldum, Zeki Celik, and Max Kumbulla. So, just how will Mourinho approach this one tactically?
The media tried to figure that out during his pre-match press conference on Saturday.
“As for the setup; we think about different things but we have to make changes based on the situations presented to us. There are teams where there is only one idea of how they want to play, but in our case if we lose a player then we need to rethink things and find different solutions. Without Dybala available to us tomorrow we have to come up with something different. Playing with three or two [in attack] might seem the same thing, but in reality it’s very different. It’s a matter of finding the right tactical balance.
“Camara is an example for that. One of his issues with us initially was the defensive side of things. Then there are tactical elements that a player needs to learn when they are playing with us. I feel like when we play with three in midfield the team is not necessarily comfortable, but it definitely feels balanced.”
It seems likely that Roma will play with three midfielders, with Lorenzo Pellegrini drifting between central and attacking midfield during the match. The big question will be which two join him out of Cristante, Camara, and Matic. Given the dynamism of Napoli’s midfield, I think Camara gets a start. Cristante likely joins him.
The remainder of Mourinho's lineup will likely keep Spalletti guessing, particularly at wing-back, where Rick Karsdorp recently returned from meniscus surgery. Karsdorp made a short cameo appearance against Samp on Monday. Is that enough to warrant a start in a match this big? I’m leaning toward no and will tip Nicola Zalewski to get the start.
Meanwhile, in attack, Nicoló Zaniolo looks poised to start after Mourinho both defended and heaped plenty of praise on the youngster. Pairing him in attack will likely be Tammy Abraham. The Englishman has struggled to find his best form this season, but Mourinho will hope that the heated atmosphere of the Derby del Sole will bring the best out of him.
ROMA (3-5-2): Patricio; Ibañez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Cristante, Pellegrini, Camara, Zalewski; Zaniolo, Abraham.