Roma’s in fourth place in Serie A. It’s been a hot second since I could write that in a match preview, so I’m going to savor it. This continuous climb up the table has happened because of consistently good form from key players and a tendency for the side to score in the last fifteen minutes of a match — Roma’s match last week against Sassuolo is the perfect example of this, where goals from Paulo Dybala and Rasmus Kristensen after the 75th minute turned a 0-1 disadvantage into a 2-1 win.
Of course, getting into contention for a spot in the 2024-2025 Champions League is only half the battle; now that the Giallorossi are in fourth, they need to maintain and grow a gap between themselves and all the clubs nipping at their heels. Napoli may have lost their match to Juventus yesterday; Atalanta may face a challenging match today against AC Milan; and Fiorentina, well, they need to face Roma. Yet one too many slip-ups turning into one too many losses for the Giallorossi could put Champions League football out of reach faster than you can say, “I miss Francesco Totti.”
Roma vs. Fiorentina: December 10th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma
Sunday’s match against Fiorentina isn’t the most challenging one Roma will face in December; that distinction has to go to their pre-New Year’s match against Juventus. It also isn’t the most emotional match that the Giallorossi will face this month; that distinction must go to their pre-Christmas Derby Del Sole against Napoli. Yet, I would argue that this match is going to be more indicative of Roma’s true potential this season.
It’s more than acceptable for a club with aspirations of Champions League football to lose points against sides in the top four like Juventus; it’s a fact of life that derbies are often a coin flip—but dropping points to a side with only two goalscorers who have scored more than twice this season? Dropping points to a side with the eleventh-best defense in the league and four losses in their last six matches? That’s simply an indicator of not being made of stern enough stuff to deserve a top-four finish.
I think Roma has what it takes to succeed for the rest of the season, but anything other than a win tomorrow will have me second-guessing that belief.
What To Watch For
How Does Mourinho Balance His Options In Attack?
Roma’s attack has gone from being a weak point last season to one of the main reasons the Giallorossi are competing for top-four football. Naturally, much of that is due to the work and talent of Romelu Lukaku, who has returned to Serie A like he never left. Yet beyond that, the sheer depth that the Giallorossi now has in attack is a game-changer in and of itself. Sardar Azmoun might not be in the running for a Capocannoniere award soon, but he provides just the right amount of tactical opportunity as a substitute or a mid-week start. Similarly, the good form Andrea Belotti displayed to start the season before Lukaku’s signing became official has made it clear that, just for once, Roma doesn’t need to run its star striker into the ground if it wants to win any given match.
Yet, if I were Azmoun or Belotti, I would be starting to wonder just when my good form as a sub will pay off with an occasional start. Sure, Belotti has been on the starter’s list from time to time, but this is a former star of the Italian national team and the former face of Torino we’re talking about. As for Azmoun, we all know that strikers are finicky beasts who can fall off form at a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t it be better for both players to get more time on the pitch, allow Lukaku to take a breather, and keep as many squad players as happy as possible?
Lukaku is obviously on another level than any of his striker compatriots, but even the best player can be worn down by overuse. Just ask Lorenzo Pellegrini or Rick Karsdorp, who have both fallen victim to this problem in the past. As much as Roma needs to win matches against sides like Fiorentina, Roma also needs to maintain enough health throughout the squad such that the key matches in April and May feature star players, not benchwarmers or Primavera graduates. More time for Belotti and Azmoun now could mean more time with Lukaku later.
Is Renato Sanches Truly Back?
I’ve written about this before, and knowing Renato Sanches’ history with injuries, I’ll probably write this again. Yet still, for a side that is so intriguing already without Renato Sanches, one has to wonder just how much better Roma could be if they had the Portuguese midfielder consistently starting matches. If they’re top four now, could they perhaps be closer to second or, dare I say it, even first if they had a titanium-strong version of Sanches?
We’ll never know the answer to that, but we do know that reports indicate Renato Sanches will be back in the side tomorrow. That’s a start. I’m not getting my hopes up, but that’s a start. Bringing him back into the fold will hopefully take some pressure off Bryan Cristante and Edoardo Bove, who have both been putting in excellent midfield shifts but could use more breathers than they’re currently getting. Bove, in particular, throws himself into every match so much that it’s practically a guarantee he’s one of Mourinho’s subs each match, despite being one of the younger members of this Roma side. If Sanches can even just be the sub on for Bove consistently, that adds yet another tool to Roma’s toolkit against sides big and small. Let’s hope it actually happens.
Past Versus Future: Bonaventura Versus Bove
Remember GIacomo Bonaventura? The former Milan star and Italy international has carved himself out a decent spot with Fiorentina over the last four seasons, helping a side that admittedly has beautiful kits slowly but surely return to its place as a consistent top-six side. He’s also Fiorentina’s joint top goalscorer at the moment, which partially says something about their lack of attacking options and partially indicates that yup, he’s still got it.
While Roma’s defenders will know that their assignment is to keep Bonaventura quiet, I’m most interested in seeing how Edoardo Bove plays against Bonaventura. They have different playstyles, sure, but it’s not hard to picture Bove slowly but surely moving up the field into a more attacking role throughout his career. The hopes for Bove are that he reaches a higher echelon than Bonaventura ever did, but still — there are some things I wouldn’t mind the Roman stealing from the Atalanta youth product, including his technique. The main goal for Bove should be to hound Bonaventura into submission tomorrow, but young players should always be looking to incorporate something from their opponent’s bag of tricks. Bonaventura would be a good guy for Bove to imitate, even in a small way.