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Roma Face Spezia In Critical Match For Champions League Aspirations

With Juventus down for the count (and more deductions on the way), can the Giallorossi leap over Atalanta and Lazio in the fight for Champions League football?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

While the news of the week, month, and maybe even year is Juventus’ most recent foray into questionable financial practices, there are still Serie A matches to play. The Old Lady receiving a fifteen-point deduction fundamentally alters the race for the Champions League; Atalanta, Lazio, and Roma are all primed to grab that fourth spot, and you better believe that each club will be fighting until the end of the season to avoid the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.

The good news for the Giallorossi is that while Atalanta play Juventus and Lazio play Milan this weekend, Roma has a comparatively easier opponent in fifteenth-place Spezia Calcio. In a perfect world, Mourinho would pounce on this match as a chance to finally rack up some goals because Roma’s +7 goal differential is why they’re technically in sixth place right now instead of fourth. At the very least, I Lupi needs a win; otherwise, the gift from Totti that is Juventus’ points deduction might be for next to nothing.

What To Watch For

Will the Tammy and Paulo Show Continue?

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Coming into 2023, whether or not Tammy Abraham had a future in Rome was an open question among Romanisti. It’s early days, but the month of January has seen the Englishman reassert himself as an important part of Roma’s future. A huge amount of his turnaround comes down to his excellent tandem play with Paulo Dybala since the restart.

The most explicit example of this was Abraham’s pair of assists for Dybala goals against Fiorentina, but even beyond that, it has been impressive to see Tammy Two Goals become a more involved member of Roma’s attack in 2023.

In pre-season, I suggested on Across the Romaverse that Roma’s ceiling for the year rested on Nicolò Zaniolo’s shoulders. For reasons I’ll get into soon, it’s obvious that that prediction was incorrect. As we near the end of the January mercato window, I’ll offer an alternative point of view: Roma’s hopes for Champions League football this year rest largely on Tammy Abraham’s ability to work well with Paulo Dybala.

Dybala has shown that he will do his best to drag the Giallorossi to the Champions League in a way no player since Francesco Totti has in Rome, but even Totti had world-class sidekicks who enabled the club to succeed. If Abraham can be comfortable in the role of Roma’s second most important attacker, and if he can continue his good run of form as the Robin to Dybala’s Batman, the sky may be the limit for Roma’s long-term aspirations.

You Won’t Be Watching Nicolò Zaniolo, That’s For Sure

AS Roma v Genoa CFC - Coppa Italia Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Speaking of Roma’s long-term aspirations, it wasn’t that long ago that Nicolò Zaniolo figured to be an essential part of the Giallorossi sides of the 2020s. For my money, there has been nearly nothing as exhilarating to watch in real-time as his explosion onto the scene under Eusebio Di Francesco. At least from my perspective, there was no sense that stardom was predestined for Zaniolo. Instead, it was opportunity after opportunity being seized at just the right moment, with a whole lot of luck moving things along as well.

Unfortunately, it seems like Zaniolo’s days in a Roma kit are now numbered. As this site has already discussed, the reports that are coming out seemingly by the hour make it clear that Zaniolo has been officially placed on the transfer list, and with that has come a request by Nicolò not to play this match against Spezia. Mourinho and Tiago Pinto have obliged him, suggesting that by the time the winter mercato closes, Zaniolo may be off to the Premier League.

We’ll have plenty of time to digest a Zaniolo sale if and when it happens, but the most pressing issue here is that Zaniolo will not even be on the bench for tomorrow’s match. How does that affect Roma’s starting eleven?

My guess is that we’ll see a starting eleven that’s very similar to the one the Giallorossi put forward against Fiorentina when Zaniolo was reportedly out due to the flu. That would mean Pellegrini higher up the pitch in Zaniolo’s nominal spot in the starting eleven, with Edoardo Bove taking over for Pellegrini in the midfield double-pivot.

I’ll certainly miss Zaniolo a lot when he leaves; from the word go, I’ve been one of his biggest supporters. Still, if this is the end, I’m intrigued to see what Bove might be able to do with consistent starts. If players like Bove and Cristian Volpato seize on their opportunities in the same way that Nicolò Zaniolo did back in 2018 and 2019, who knows? Maybe the Giallorossi will have another set of exciting young Italian stars to rear into the Next Big Things.

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