The holiday season may be a time of joy and togetherness for the world, but it hasn’t been particularly kind to either the Giallorossi or their Neapolitan rivals. Both sides have had embarrassing losses recently, though, for my money, Napoli’s 4-0 loss to Frosinone in the Coppa Italia must sting more than Roma’s 2-0 loss to Bologna or even their 1-1 draw to Servette.
The Partenopei and the Giallorossi both came into this season with high expectations: Napoli because they won the Scudetto last year, and Roma because they had added even more quality to a team that was a penalty kick away from winning the Europa League. Yet, heading into the Christmas slate of matches, José Mourinho and Walter Mazzarri are on the outside looking in for Serie A’s Champions League spots.
Roma vs. Napoli: December 23rd. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
That underperformance by both sides adds a flavor of desperation to tomorrow’s Derby Del Sole. A win for either side would effectively be a six-point affair, making it much harder for a rival to sneak into the top four. While Walter Mazzarri is certainly on more of a hot seat than José Mourinho at the moment, that could all change with a loss tomorrow. Conversely, a win for Roma could make it much more likely that The Friedkin Group extends The Special One’s contract.
It’d also be a great Christmas gift for me personally, so yeah, please, José, do me a solid.
What To Watch For
Can Roma Win A Big Match Without Paulo Dybala?
One of the more frustrating aspects of this season for Romanisti has been that when fully healthy, this Roma has looked like nothing less than a top-four side. Yet, as per usual, Roma has struggled with injury after injury, particularly to key players Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala. That’s made it ten times harder for José Mourinho to consistently get Romelu Lukaku the service he needs to be one of the best strikers in Europe — though his goalscoring record this season does bely that fact.
Tomorrow’s match will require creativity from Roma’s midfield to get Lukaku service necessary to score against Napoli’s defense. Mazzarri’s men may be on equal footing with Roma in terms of goals forced and allowed, but make no mistake: on their best day, they’re a hard nut to crack. It will take a strong performance (and maybe even an out-of-character offensive one) from a player like Bryan Cristante or Leandro Paredes to give Roma the offensive firepower necessary for a win.
Will Zalewski Get Another Shot Ahead of Spinazzola?
Romelu Lukaku will be returning from his one-match Serie A suspension against Napoli, and alongside him will almost assuredly be Nicola Zalewski. The Polish international has had a season of highs and lows so far, and due to poor form he’s been swapping in and out of his starting position with Leonardo Spinazzola. Recently, though, it seems as if Mourinho has finally tired of trying to turn Spinazzola back into a completely serviceable player, and due to Roma’s lack of depth in the wingback positions, that has resulted in Zalewski receiving a more permanent starting spot yet again.
Zalewski’s late red against Fiorentina kept him out of Roma’s 2-0 loss to Bologna, but the terrible performance by Spinazzola in that match suggests that we may see Nicola in the starting lineup yet again tomorrow. If he is, and if he’s able to play at a decent level, it may be the end of Leonardo Spinazzola in a Giallorossi kit. Reports suggest that Roma has no intention of renewing his contract, and with Saudi Pro League clubs circling with eyes on a January transfer, this may be the end of Spinazzola in European football period. In terms of the starting eleven, there’s no position decision more likely to tell you about the future of key players at the club than left wing-back.
Is This The Last Hurrah For Osimhen or Kvara?
What a difference a year makes. Where Napoli was once ascendant thanks to the superstardom of both Victor Osimhen and Kvara Kvaratskhelia, the side has now burned out both Luciano Spalletti and Rudi Garcia, with all signs pointing towards Aurelio De Laurentiis’ temper potentially turning a world-class side into a shell of itself by the end of this season. In fact, Napoli’s 4-0 defeat to Frosinone prior to the Derby Del Sole has many wondering if Napoli’s superstar forwards will be leaving the club in the January window.
All of that is to say that Napoli is at its most fragile right now, and that leads to a high variability in potential performance. With a new manager, a noisy owner, a terrible recent loss, and signs that key players will be on the move, it would be natural for team chemistry to take a nosedive — and it would be wise for Roma to seize on that lack of chemistry to grab three points. Yet these are also moments where strong squads come together, and while Napoli may not have the same manager that won the Scudetto, this Napoli side is still the defending champions. They’ve proven their mettle. As always, what this means for Roma is that they must be prepared for just about everything in the Derby Del Sole, and they must have the ability to push for the win throughout the whole ninety.
This Roma side has shown a knack for scoring in the dying gasps of a match. It wouldn’t shock me if this game came down to another goal in those dying gasps, and if it does, that likely means a Giallorossi win.