I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret: I prefer watching Roma in European competitions compared to Serie A. Don’t get me wrong, the Derby Della Capitale, the Derby Del Sole, and Roma vs. Juventus are always incredibly entertaining, but there’s something unique and lovely about European midweek matches. Maybe it’s the “win or you’re out” element, maybe it’s the fact that each season brings at least one new serious opponent for the Giallorossi to face, but nothing gets me as excited as a European competition.
Based off of his success in the Champions League, the Europa League, and the Europa Conference League, it’s safe to assume that José Mourinho agrees with me, and tomorrow’s match against Real Sociedad is yet another chance for Mourinho to continue staking his claim as the best manager in European cup history. We’re down to sixteen clubs in the Europa League, and while Roma certainly could’ve been paired with a more challenging opponent than Real Sociedad, this match nevertheless could be quite the show. Erreala sit fourth in La Liga and are practically Roma’s Spanish twin this season - the same number of goals scored in the league, only two more goals allowed, and just three points behind the Giallorossi.
Still, I have confidence in Mourinho and his men to get a positive result as they host La Real at the Olimpico. Roma’s home field advantage can’t be overstated at the moment, and while sides like Bodø/Glimt have beaten the Giallorossi handily despite lacking in the star power department, I feel confident that the “We have Paulo Dybala and you don’t” argument bumps Roma’s chances up in this tie significantly.
What To Watch For
I Got Two Strikers
Paulo Dybala will definitely be decisive in this tie one way or the other (more on that later), but who will be playing ahead of him? If José Mourinho’s pre-match presser is any indicator, a tactical shift may be on the cards, with Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti playing in a two-striker formation and the defense shifting to a two-center back formation to compensate.
We haven’t seen too much of Belotti and Abraham on the field together this season; quite often, we’ve instead seen Belotti as a second-half sub once Abraham has gotten too tired or been uninspiring. On paper, though, pairing Dybala with Belotti and Abraham gives the Giallorossi their most talented attacking trio (with apologies to Stephan El Shaarawy and Ola Solbakken). Roma’s attack on paper hasn’t always translated to reality incredibly well this season, but let me hold out hope that this can work, okay?
Battle of the AMs: Mendez vs. Dybala
As I looked over Real Sociedad’s squad, it struck me that there isn’t necessarily one star player driving the club in the way that Paulo Dybala so clearly does with Roma. Yet a quick glance at La Real’s page on WhoScored does indicate that they also get a lot out of one of their attacking midfielders - specifically, Brais Mendez. The 26-year-old Spaniard has notched ten goals and four assists in all competitions this season, and with a pass success rate in the mid-80s, it’s clear that he’s a key part of what’s put Sociedad in position for a Champions League spot next season.
Normally I’d trust Roma’s rock-solid defense to contain just about anyone not named Kylian Mbappé, but it’s an open question what exactly the Giallorossi might lose by switching from a three-man to a two-man back line. If Roma loses this match, it will likely be because the attack is uninspired and a Mancini/Ibañez pairing cannot hold up to Sociedad’s attackers on their own. I’m still hopeful that Roma will push through and find itself with a lead to protect when they travel to San Sebastian, but as any Romanista knows, cautious optimism should always be the order of the day.