I’m sure a small part of us is still enjoying Roma’s thrilling win over Feyenoord at the Olimpico on Thursday. That match had it all: plenty of grinta, plenty of goals, and Roma dispatching a side that was starting to get under their skin. And best of all, it gives us yet another European semifinal to look forward to next month.
Nevertheless, we can’t get ahead of ourselves because before Bayer Leverkusen comes calling, Roma enters its most important stretch of the league schedule. With just eight matches left to play, Roma currently sits in the last Champions League place ahead of Inter, Milan, and Atalanta. And as fate would have it, the Giallorossi play all three of those teams over the next three weeks, with a midweek against Monza stuck in there for good measure.
The Giallorossi are essentially in control of their own destiny, one that became just a bit more complicated by the restoration of Juve’s 15 points—pending a final ruling. That means Roma has less margin for error, but the old sporting adage still applies: win and you’re in.
September 18, 2022: Roma 0, Atalanta 1
The last time these teams met back in mid-September at the Olimpico, Roma couldn’t have been any more unlucky. It all started with Paulo Dybala getting injured in warm-ups, depriving the Giallorossi of their most dangerous player, who was in scintillating form to open the season. However, even without Dybala, Roma controlled the match from start to finish. Sadly, the scoreboard didn’t reflect the flow of the match.
In what is probably the most frustrating and regrettable loss of Roma’s season so far, the Giallorossi fell 1-0 to La Dea despite unleashing 21 shots. Meanwhile, Atalanta, who unfurled just four total shots, scored on its only one on target—a wonder strike from youngster Giorgio Scalvini. Roma’s 2.42. to 0.18 xG advantage was all for naught as the Giallorossi couldn’t find a way past Juan Musso.
What To Watch For
Will Fatigue Be a Factor?
Thursday's victory over Feyenoord in extra time was exhilarating for players and supporters alike. Roma fought tooth and nail until the very end, with a late Paulo Dybala strike taking the match into extra time. Nobody involved would trade in that come-from-behind victory and a spot in the Europa League semifinals for extra rest. But you have to wonder how much it took out of Mourinho's men.
Atalanta enters this match considerably fresher, having last played on Monday (a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina), so they'll enter this fixture with not only a physical edge but perhaps a mental one as well. Wins like the one against Feyenoord on Thursday take a lot out of players, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. If you think back to Roma's epic 3-0 win over Barcelona, the next match ended up being a very drab 0-0 Derby della Capitale.
Roma hasn't had a problem getting up for big matches this year, but rarely do they come in such quick succession, so Mourinho will have carefully monitor his club's energy levels as they fight to secure a spot in the top four.
Will The Goals Keep Flowing?
While Roma has created plenty of chances this season, actually converting them into goals on the scoreboard has been a big issue. Roma's 47.4 xG in Serie A is third-best in the league. However, in terms of actually scoring goals, the Giallorossi have 42, which is 7th best.
In recent weeks though, that trend has seemingly started to turn. After scoring two goals in regular time against Feyenoord, Roma put another two into the back of the Dutch net during extra time on Thursday. That four-goal output followed three goals last weekend against Udinese. And two weeks prior, Roma put three past Sampdoria. That's multiple goals in three of their last five matches in all competitions.
And the Giallorossi couldn't have found their goalscoring boots at a better time. Last season, Tammy Abraham scored two goals in Bergamo in Roma's 4-1 win in December 2021. To get a similar result, the duo of Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini could be key. Those two have struggled going forward all season but are growing in confidence after being involved directly in many of the seven goals scored over the last two matches. If Tammy or Lolo can get on the scoresheet tomorrow, the Giallorossi could be in good shape.
How Will Roma Navigate the Smalling and Wijnaldum Injuries?
For all of the positives of Roma's huge victory over Feyenoord on Thursday, there was one big negative: injuries. Both Gini Wijnaldum and Chris Smalling were injured during the match and both look set to miss multiple weeks.
It's a tough pill to swallow, considering the improvements to Roma's overall game with the Dutchman's return. And while you can argue that Roma's spent enough time this season playing without Wijnaldum to get by, the same can't be said for Smalling. The Englishman has been a rock in the center of one of the league's best defenses, with only Rui Patricio playing more league minutes. Depending on the length of their absences, Mourinho will have to manage a much thinner midfield and hope the rest of his center-backs can keep the backline solid.
Luckily for Mourinho, January signing Diego Llorente has looked solid since his integration into the rotation, and he'll be Smalling's natural replacement. In the midfield, it'll mean more of the Matic-Cristante pivot. But Mourinho will have to be careful not to overwork the Serbian's 34-year-old legs and bring down his fine form. That means Edoardo Bove could see more time, but expect Matic to get a start in a game of this magnitude.
Roma (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Llorente, Ibañez, Mancini; El Shaarawy, Matic, Cristante, Zalewski; Pellegrini, Dybala; Abraham