The highs and lows of a roller coaster season (would you expect any different from Roma) hit in tandem last week. First, the Giallorossi triumphed in the Europa League against Feyenoord to move one step closer to another Mourinho-led trophy. However, three days later (and not all that unexpectedly), the midweek match fatigue hit Roma as the Giallorossi fell to Atalanta 3-1 on the road.
It was a tough loss in the race for a Champions League spot. However, with the matches flying at Mourinho's men fast and furious, there's no time to dwell on losses. Roma gets a chance to make things right on Saturday when AC Milan visits the Olimpico in another direct battle for Champions League places. So, let's take a look at the keys to the match.
But first, a look back at the reverse fixture.
January 8, 2023: Milan 2, Roma 2
The first time these sides met, just under four months ago, it looked like Roma's struggles against big sides would continue. The Giallorossi found themselves down on the half-hour mark. Then Milan doubled its lead through Tommaso Pobega in the 77th minute.
It looked as if all hope was lost until Roma scored twice in six minutes in the dying stages of the match to salvage a point at the San Siro. Goals from Roger Ibañez and Tammy Abraham in the 87th and 93rd minutes meant that the Lupi would share the spoils.
It was a massive result for Roma's confidence and perhaps the exemplar of Mourinho's newfound never say die mentality. The draw also did a number on Milan's psyche, as the Rossoneri swooned after that, and is a big reason why the top-four race remains wide open.
What To Watch For
Can Roma Survive the Gauntlet?
In last week's match preview, we discussed how difficult this stretch of matches is for Roma. It all started with the Europa League quarterfinal second leg against Feyenoord last week, which came before a brutal four-fixture run in the league, one that began with last weekend's loss in Bergamo against Atalanta—a defeat that tightened the top-four race.
As it currently stands, Roma is joint fourth with Milan on 56 points, five points behind Lazio, and three behind Juventus. Meanwhile, Inter is two back, and Atalanta has closed within four of Roma. Only three of those six sides will join Napoli in next season's Champions League via the league route. And if Roma wants to be one of them, then three points will be crucial after failing to put La Dea in the rearview mirror on Monday.
After Milan at the Olimpico on Saturday, Roma travels to Monza for a midweek clash. Silvio Berlusconi's side is the only team in this four-match stretch not vying for a European spot. Nevertheless, Monza can't be overlooked after beating Inter, Fiorentina, and Spezia in consecutive weeks to enter the top half of the table. Finally, Roma closes with another direct rival as Inter comes to the Olimpico in a week.
With Roma and Milan level and Inter just two back, Roma can't afford to fall to the Rossoneri. A win would go a long way in propelling Roma into an advantageous position in the table, while anything less than a draw could be disastrous.
Roma's Injuries Down the Middle
A manager never wants to have an injury crisis. That goes without saying. And of all times for Roma to get bitten by the injury bug, this is probably the worst of all. With Chris Smalling and Gini Wijnaldum going down against Feyenoord and Paulo Dybala and Diego Llorente suffering a similar fate against Udinese, Mourinho finds his side suffering a bit, not in sheer numbers, but in players of importance.
When Smalling, Wijnaldum, and Dybala are out simultaneously, most of the team's spine is altered. Smalling has been a rock at the back, and Dybala has carried the attack for most of the season. Meanwhile, Wijnaldum has added a different element to Roma's midfield that was lacking all season.
Smalling's absence was felt against Atalanta when defensive mistakes led to La Dea scoring three times on the Giallorossi. And he'll be out again for Saturday's big match with Milan, as will his replacement—Llorente.
However, in some good news, it's reported that Paulo Dybala and Gini Wijnaldum could play a role in this one. Neither is likely to start, but anything either could give Mourinho in this one will be welcome.
Roma (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Kumbulla, Ibañez, Mancini; Spinazzola, Matic, Cristante, Zalewski; Pellegrini, El Shaarawy; Abraham