After losing to previously unbeaten Cremonese two weeks ago, Roma’s top-four hopes seemingly took a massive hit. After all, the Giallorossi had fallen out of the top four, and big bad Juventus was coming to town. What a difference a fortnight can make, though.
Instead of backing down to the Bianconeri, José Mourinho masterminded a plan to neutralize a Juve side in great form. A 1-0 win over Juventus in a match that wasn’t pretty to the eye was beautiful on the table for the Giallorossi. With the win and dropped points by Milan and Atalanta, Roma found its way back into the Champions League places (via goal differential) with two-thirds of the season in the books.
It was a massive win during a busy two-week stretch for Mourinho’s side as the Special One tries to continue Roma’s march not only into the Champions League places but more European glory. And the latter also got a big boost on Thursday when Roma defeated a tough Real Sociedad side 2-0 at the Olimpico in their first-leg Europa League Round of 16 encounter.
Roma vs. Sassuolo: March 12th. 18:00 CET/1:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
The win will not only have the Giallorossi feeling good about the return leg in San Sebastian, Spain, next Thursday but also riding high into Sunday’s match against Sassuolo. With just one defeat in their previous 19 league matches, Roma has had plenty of success against the Neroverdi, though they have drawn four times in their past six matches against Sassuolo.
Before we look at the keys to victory this week, let's look back at the reverse fixture.
November 9, 2022: Sassuolo 1, Roma 1
The reverse fixture was a tense affair that ended in one of the aforementioned four draws. It was a 0-0 affair for 80 minutes, thanks to a few big saves from Rui Patricio on Davide Frattesi and Hamed Traore. The Giallorossi struggled to create many big chances with a heavily rotated attack that was without Dybala and Pellegrini (injuries0 and saw Tammy Abraham start from the bench.
However, Abraham bailed out a listless Roma when he put his side up 1-0 on a headed goal. Unfortunately, the lead would be short-lived though, as Armand Lauriente set up Andrea Pinamonti just five minutes later. In the end, the two teams shared the spoils as the number 9s canceled each other out. The result was part of a three-match stretch that saw Roma drop seven of nine points heading into the World Cup break.
What To Watch For
Roma’s Indomitable Home Defense
The Giallorossi turned the Stadio Olimpico into a veritable fortress in 2023. Roma has won all five of their league home matches by clean sheet since the calendar flipped to the new year. And when you factor in all competitions, Roma has eight wins and just one loss (in the Coppa Italia against Cremonese) at home. Those three non-league wins were also by clean sheet against Salzburg, Sociedad, and Genoa. That amounts to just two conceded in nine home matches in 2023.
Continuing that great run of form in front of the home crowd will be no easy feat against Sassuolo. The Neroverdi may only sit 13th in the table, but Alessio Dionisi’s side is in an outstanding run of form, having won four and lost once in their last seven. That stretch includes a 5-2 thumping of Milan at the San Siro and a 1-0 over Atalanta.
The Neroverdi have also had a penchant for scoring at the Olimpico, as both teams have scored in eight of nine head-to-heads in Rome. To secure just their second home clean sheet in league play against Sassuolo, Roma should be wary of three players in particular: Laurient, Frattesi and Domenico Berardi.
Those three have scored exactly half of Sassuolo’s 30 team goals. And in addition to the goals scored, Laurient and Berardi have also contributed nine assists. Roma will need their midfielders to be particularly attentive to Frattesi’s late runs into the box and their wingbacks to track Laurient and Berardi tightly on the wings. This Sassuolo attack may be the most dangerous Roma has faced in this great run of home form.
Roma’s Scoring Streak
Lost in all of the great defense is the fact that the Roma have been scoring in nearly every match. With 32 league goals scored in 25 matches, they aren't scoring a tone, but when you concede as little as the Giallorossi have (21), sometimes you only need one goal to win, something Roma has done often lately.
In fact, Roma has scored in 12 straight league matches. And if the Giallorossi can make it 13 on Sunday, it would be the longest such streak since the 2016-2017 season when Roma scored in 21 straight matches under Luciano Spalletti. Of course, that Roma attack was the most prolific in club history, with 90 goals scored. So, considering how little this team scores, it makes the streak just a bit more impressive.
In order to keep that streak alive, Roma will have to do it without three of its attacking threats, albeit only one starter. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Andrea Belotti were both injured on Thursday and will miss this match at a minimum. Meanwhile, Ola Solbakken remains out with a muscle issue.
Additionally, Mourinho will be without stalwart Bryan Cristante and his long passing range through yellow card accumulation. Nevertheless, with Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham and their 14 goals scored leading the line, plus an in-form Stephan El Shaarawy filling in for Pellegrini, Roma should feel confident of running the goal streak to a baker’s dozen.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Ibañez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Matic, Wijnaldum, Zalewski; Dybala, El Shaarawy; Abraham.