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With Rivals Facing Off Elsewhere, Roma Can Climb the Table With Win Over Udinese

With Atalanta and Napoli playing, Roma has the chance to gain on one or both of their rivals for Champions League football. Can they do that with a win against 16th-place Udinese?

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

As the international break draws to a close, Romanisti everywhere should count their blessings that (knock on wood) the Giallorossi have avoided losing even more players to the injury table. Instead, players have slowly but surely come back into availability for José Mourinho (and oh, yeah, Romelu Lukaku was insanely good for Belgium). That’s good news because Roma will need all the help they can get over the next month if they want to firmly reinsert themselves back into the race for Champions League football.

Knock on wood yet again, but Sunday’s match is, without a doubt, a golden opportunity for Mourinho’s men to climb up the table. Roma will be facing 16th-place Udinese, who are only two points out of the relegation zone at the moment; the same match day, Atalanta will be playing Napoli and Fiorentina will face Milan. The best-case scenario for Roma is a draw between Atalanta and Napoli and a loss for Fiorentina; that, combined with a win against Udinese, would catapult the Giallorossi into serious contention for a Champions League spot.

Roma vs. Udinese: November 26th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

The one major silver lining to Roma’s poor start to the season is that aside from Inter Milan and Juventus, every big club has looked decidedly mortal for the last couple of months. Even Scudetto winners Napoli have already parted ways with Rudi Garcia for only being in fourth. There’s been plenty of doom and gloom surrounding Roma this season, but a win tomorrow could be a key building block in reasserting the Giallorossi as a top-four side.

Now go outside, turn around three times, and spit.

What To Watch For

How Much Can Roma Trust Renato Sanches? (Not Much, I Guess)

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

When Renato Sanches was brought In as a de facto Gini Wijnaldum replacement this summer, there was cautious optimism that the Portuguese midfielder could be a crucial part of Roma’s starting eleven. Sure, he’d had a litany of injury issues in the past, but joining Roma usually turns players into Ironmen... just kidding.

True to form for both the player and the club, Sanches has looked great while playing but has barely played since moving to Roma on loan, and in that sense, he’s been an excellent Gini Wijnaldum replacement. In the sense that Roma needs more midfield depth than Edoardo Bove and a roll of duct tape, he’s left something to be desired.

The good news for Romanisti is that Sanches looks to be rounding back into fitness following the international break. Nobody knows how long that will last, and José Mourinho has grown increasingly exasperated over the past couple of months. Yet, if you cross your fingers real tight, maybe Sanches will be available for several matches in a row. If he is, it adds a new dimension to Roma’s midfield; you could make the argument that, barring injuries, he’s Roma’s most talented midfielder right now. It’s just those injuries that are such a pain.

Pay close attention to Renato Sanches against Udinese. If he can play anything close to the full ninety, then maybe the rumors of his loan being terminated (yeah, that bad) are overblown. If he has to come off before the end of the first half, though, understand that it becomes more and more likely that Roma will need to find a low-cost replacement for him in the January transfer window.

Update: José Mourinho has just confirmed that although he is not injured, Renato Sanches will be unavailable against Udinese. Apparently, there’s no rest for the wicked and Edoardo Bove. In bocca al lupo, Edo.

Will The Return of Lorenzo Pellegrini Prove Decisive?

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

While Lorenzo Pellegrini is in no danger of leaving Roma like Renato Sanches, it’s still been a frustrating start to the season for the Italy international. Roma’s captain has struggled to find fitness in the first several months of the season and is only now coming back into the starting lineup after over six weeks of recuperative time following a muscle injury. Move past the fact that he is Roma’s leader on the pitch, and Pellegrini is still one of the Giallorossi’s most talented players and a must-have for a squad looking to compete on multiple fronts.

Heading into this match, reports suggest that Pellegrini is set to return to the starting lineup. That’s fantastic news for José Mourinho, as we’ve seen so few matches this season where Romelu Lukaku, Paulo Dybala, and Lorenzo Pellegrini are all available and match-fit. While there are certainly tactical reasons why Roma has failed to impress to start this season, those three not developing a rapport on the pitch due to various injuries have to be counted as a major factor as well.

If Pellegrini can build up match fitness starting tomorrow and he gets more playing time with Dybala and Lukaku, my sunny prognostications about Roma’s potential to become a top-four side this season become a whole lot more realistic. If he continues to be hit with injury after injury? Let’s not think about that alternative too much — except that it might allow Edoardo Bove to become an even more important part of this side.

Will Udinese’s Offense Continue To Underperform?

Udinese Calcio v Atalanta BC - Serie A TIM Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images

For as long as I’ve written for Chiesa di Totti, Udinese have been a fixture in Serie A. Sure, they’ve never contended for a Scudetto. Still, especially during the Toto Di Natale years, they were a consistent thorn in any big club’s side — a club that fit in with the likes of Torino, Sassuolo, and Genoa. This season has been far less kind to the club from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, as, despite some recent decent results, they are only two points out of the relegation zone and have allowed seven more goals than they’ve scored.

A big reason for that negative goal differential is that Udinese’s offense is completely inert. No Udinese player has scored more than two goals this season, which makes sense when you see that they’ve only had 3.9 shots on target per game. If Udinese is going to get anything out of this match with Roma, it will likely be a scoreless draw - so expect another game where anti-football is the order of the day. The good news is that I have faith in players like Romelu Lukaku to handle Udinese’s defense. The bad news is that I’ve seen Roma look inert offensively at times this season as well, so this could be a very painful watch if the Giallorossi don’t break Udinese’s defense quickly.