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Roma Head to Turin For Yet Another Critical Match in Champions League Hunt

Roma got the pre-Christmas win versus Napoli; can they get the pre-New Years’ Eve win against Juve?

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

The price of poor performances against the minnows is that every match against a major club becomes a must-win. That’s been the theme of Roma’s season so far, as their slow but steady rise up the table following a very unimpressive start has added additional pressure to every big match. Fortunately, the Giallorossi have been able to find success in those critical matches, including last week’s 2-0 defeat of Scudetto holders Napoli. Yet there’s no rest for the weary, as tomorrow’s match against Juventus promises to be just as much of a challenge as the Derby Del Sole, if not more so.

While Juventus aren’t dominating Italian football as they did in the 2010s, they’re still a formidable foe and second only to Inter in the Serie A table. A lot of that comes down to the fact that the Old Lady doesn’t have to worry about European competition this season due to controversies surrounding a false accounting investigation; giving a Champions League-level side one match a week at most allows for less rotation and better results. Yet that excuse won’t get Roma anywhere if they come up short against the Bianconeri; it will most likely just leave them five points adrift of Champions League qualification with challenging matches against Atalanta and Milan on the horizon.

What To Watch For

Dybala’s Return, Renato’s Goodbye?

Football, Italian Serie A: AS Roma vs Empoli FC Photo by Elianto/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

It’s honestly incredible how much Roma’s fortunes hang on the legs of Paulo Dybala. The injury-prone superstar has been a revelation since he joined the Giallorossi, and much like Francesco Totti, La Joya’s availability has become a deciding factor in Roma’s ability to consistently expect three points out of each match. No Dybala No Party doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the rule still applies. Hell, I’m pretty surprised that Roma was able to nab three points against Napoli last week without the Argentine forward; he’s that important to the creative element of Roma’s attacking play.

The good news on that front is that Dybala looks set to play against Juventus tomorrow; he’s in the squad list and will at least make a substitute appearance. Another interesting addition to the squad list that I certainly didn’t expect is Renato Sanches. The rumor mill has indicated that the Portuguese midfielder is all but guaranteed to return to Paris Saint-Germain in the January window, with siren songs from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere calling to the injury-prone yet talented 26-year-old. I’m not entirely sure why Mourinho would call up Sanches if he was on his way out of the club; sure, Roma lacks midfield depth, but every appearance Sanches makes in a Roma kit counts towards a potential redemption obligation. That makes me tend to think that Sanches might actually stay in Rome for the rest of the season, as strange as that sounds.

Whatever the case may be with Sanches, Roma is definitely at its strongest with both him and Dybala on the pitch (when healthy). Let’s hope that we see both of them tomorrow and that they play up to their capabilities.

What Should We Make Of Kenan Yildiz?

Football, Italian Serie A: Frosinone Calcio vs Juventus FC Photo by Elianto/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

If this were a typical Roma-Juventus match preview, this section would be about Federico Chiesa, Dusan Vlahović, or any of the other attacking superstars that Juve typically starts up front. Yet with Chiesa likely out due to injury and Vlahović underperforming this season, the star of recent matches for the Bianconeri has been Turkish teenager Kenan Yildiz. His first start was only last week against Udinese, but in that start, he managed to score the first goal against Udinese — not bad for a kid with only 94 minutes of top-flight football under his belt total.

I’m always nervous when Roma goes up against the exciting new young forward for a big club, in part because the hype is often justified and in part because it’s unlikely that Roma’s team has had much of a chance to gameplan for someone like Yildiz. It reminds me of Nicolò Zaniolo’s explosion onto the Serie A scene back in 2018; half the reason he looked so exciting was because nobody really knew what to expect from him. Now, José Mourinho isn’t your average manager, so I’m sure that he’s got some thoughts on how to contain Yildiz, but make no mistake, if Gianluca Mancini or Evan Ndicka give Yildiz too much space, I’m sure he will find a way to punish them for it.

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