While this week's news has centered around the man who may no longer be part of the match day squad, Nicoló Zaniolo—at least for the time being—the more important note ahead of Sunday's trip to Napoli is the man who will be on the pitch for this match: Captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Since he’s been nursing a lingering muscle injury, Pellegrini was rested at Spezia to try and get him ready for the showdown against the Partenopei. His presence could be vital as the Giallorossi will have to deal with a Napoli midfield that has been in scintillating form all season long.
More critical than Zaniolo’s absence, though, could be the absence of right-back Zeki Celik through suspension. With Celik suspended and Rick Karsdorp exiled from the squad, José Mourinho will have to improvise a bit on the right side of his formation, with Nicola Zalewski shifting over into that position.
Mourinho: "The team tomorrow will have Zalewski on the right and Spinazzola on the left. The usual three centre-backs. Cristante, Matic and Pellegrini in midfield ... Tammy and Dybala in attack."#ASRoma #NapoliRoma pic.twitter.com/AAmeGDc5qQ— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) January 28, 2023
Celik’s absence means an opportunity for Leonardo Spinazzola to start—a rare sight in recent weeks. Spinazzola seemed to face some competition from Stephan El Shaarawy, who put in a fine performance (albeit in a more advanced role) last Sunday. However, given Napoli’s attacking prowess, Mourinho is opting for the natural defensive player over the natural attacker in El Shaarawy.
Other than the left wing-back position, the other ten starters were never in question once Pellegrini was declared fit. Many tifosi may not be thrilled about it, but the Matic-Cristante pairing is set to start again in the middle of the pitch. In a match of this magnitude, Mourinho is keen to trust his veterans over more exciting youngsters like Edoardo Bove and Benjamin Tahirovic.
ROMA (3-4-1-2): Patricio; Ibañez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Cristante, Matic, Zalewski; Pellegrini; Dybala, Abraham