We’re officially at the point of the season where Romanisti need to pay attention to results other than Roma’s own to truly understand just how the Giallorossi are doing. Sure, tomorrow’s match against Sassuolo matters because it’s three points that Roma desperately needs, but it’s crucial to note that Napoli, Roma’s most direct competition for fourth place, faces a hard match against Inter Milan this week as well. If Roma can get all three points tomorrow and Inter can get a win against the Partenopei, Roma will well and truly be back in the hunt for top-four football, despite their disappointing start to this season.
Would anyone have anticipated this being the case in early December? I certainly wouldn’t have thought Roma would have this opportunity after their humiliating loss to Genoa; I had resigned myself to the idea that Champions League qualification for next year would have to come through success in the Europa League. Yet this opportunity will slip through José Mourinho’s grasp like so many grains of sand if they can’t do what needs to be done against the smaller sides each and every week.
Sassuolo vs. Roma: December 3rd. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Mapei Stadium, Città del Tricolore
Sassuolo aren’t the team they were when they were regularly competing in European competitions; Antonio Dionisi is an interesting young coach, sure, but the star quality of Sassuolo’s squad itself has waned. Domenico Berardi, Andrea Pinamonti, and Armand Laurienté could all give the Giallorossi headaches tomorrow. However, this is yet another match where Roma’s greatest enemy stopping it from getting three points will be itself. Cross your fingers and press your thumbs tomorrow for another match like Roma’s win over Udinese, and not one like Roma’s draw against Servette. I don’t know how many more missed opportunities to jump into the top four I can take from this squad that clearly has the talent to succeed.
What To Watch For
Will The Bench Show Up to Play?
Following Roma’s midweek draw against Servette in the Europa League, José Mourinho didn’t mince his words about what he saw as uninspired play from the players who are normally either rotation pieces or bench options. When asked about players who want more playtime following the match, he said, “If someone asks me to play more, I will answer that they will when the others are dead.” Not exactly a vote of confidence for the likes of Houssem Aouar, Zeki Çelik, or Mile Svilar.
Rumors suggest that most of the “best eleven” will be back to starting against Sassuolo tomorrow, including Gianluca Mancini, Rick Karsdorp, and Rui Patricio. While it’s probably for the best that they all get the start, it still remains a distinct problem for the Giallorossi that Roma’s bench cannot be trusted. Edoardo Bove may be a great rotational option for the Giallorossi in midfield, and Sardar Azmoun has shown a lot of promise as a backup striker. Still, they will need their bench players to play better for Roma to succeed on multiple fronts. Pay attention to who Mourinho subs in during the second half against Sassuolo, particularly if the win is far from secure. If he jumps to bringing in Primavera graduates instead of senior bench players, you can bet your bottom dollar that some of those bench players are in the doghouse — and may be for quite some time.
Can Roma’s Defense Neutralize Domenico Berardi?
While Sassuolo isn’t the most imposing opponent Roma will play before 2023 draws to a close, they still have Domenico Berardi, one club man and hotshot prospect of yesteryear. Berardi never reached the heights many anticipated of him, and part of that may revolve around his decision to stay with Sassuolo. Yet he’s still the Neroverdi’s most intriguing attacking option, and the Giallorossi defense will need to be playing at its best tomorrow to ensure that Berardi doesn’t either score himself or assist a crucial goal.
So far this season, Berardi has scored seven goals and assisted two through eleven appearances. His game hasn’t changed much over the last few seasons, so for the Giallorossi to contain him, they will need to do what they have done in the past: they need to exploit his inability to hold onto the ball under pressure, and they will need to make sure that he isn’t given room to score off of a long shot. Roma’s defense should be more than up to the task; there’s a reason why Sassuolo is in the bottom half of the table. But if the Giallorossi draw or lose tomorrow, it will most likely be because of Berardi.
Is Time Running Out For Leonardo Spinazzola?
Leonardo Spinazzola is at a crossroads in his career. Rumors are swirling that he could leave Rome in January, with the Saudi Pro League and other smaller clubs interested in the Italian international’s services. Roma would certainly be more interested in keeping Spinny around if he was performing up to his usual standard, but to be frank, he’s been one of Roma’s most disappointing players this season. Where the Giallorossi could once count on Spinazzola to be a one-man offense, marauding down the left wing and giving defenders nightmares, he now looks a shell of himself, resulting in Roma giving many of Spinazzola’s old responsibilities to the right flank and Rick Karsdorp.
If Spinazzola wants to stay in Rome, he must turn his performances around now. Reports suggest that he will be getting the start tomorrow, but with Nicola Zalewski slowly but surely rounding into better form, don’t be surprised if one or two more disappointing matches from Spinazzola result in a permanent trip to the bench and then a one-way ticket out of Rome. With the hunt for Champions League football alive and well, Roma can’t afford to continue giving Spinazzola opportunities based on the heights he once achieved.