With the Romaverse still reeling from Wednesday's controversial defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League finale, the Giallorossi have another final to contend with: the 38th and final fixture of the 2022-2023 season. Armed with the almost inimitable Paulo Dybala, many thought this would be a crowning moment for Roma.
While some (myself included) picked the capital club as a title contender way back in August, at the very least, with the combined talents of Dybala and manager José Mourinho, Roma felt like a lock to return to the Champions League. However, as is often the case with this club, their aspirations vanished amid months of suspensions, shots clanging off the woodwork, missed calls, and a litany of minor injuries that always seem to plague this club.
Roma vs. Spezia: June 4th. 15:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
We'll save the post-season unpacking for next week, but needless to say, a win last Wednesday would have solved many problems for Roma. A victory over Sevilla would have given Roma an automatic berth into next season's Champions League, erasing the club's five-year absence from the sport's premier club competition.
Despite Wednesday's gut-wrenching result, Roma's path to European football in 2024 isn't completely closed, making tomorrow's 38th and final fixture more consequential than it may seem at first blush.
What to Watch For
A Win and They're In
Given how fresh Wednesday's wound still is, competing in next season's Europa may be the last thing on your mind right now, but a win over Spezia would lock Roma into sixth place in Serie A, giving them a spot in the 2023-2024 Europa League.
While it lacks the glitz and glamor of the Champions League, not to mention offering a substantially smaller cash injection, another season in the EL would give José Mourinho (or his eventual successor) further opportunity to test his clubs mettle against continental opponents. And meager though it may be, Roma can use all the cash the Europa League offers.
If we had our druthers, many of us would rather eschew European tournaments altogether next season, but the Giallorossi could use Wednesday's defeat as motivation next season. Take the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, for example. After falling to the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, the Spurs, seemingly fueled by that defeat, stormed all the way back to the finals next season, humiliating Lebron James and the Heat in a 4-1 series rout.
We may be digging deep for motivational tactics here, but a good old-fashioned vendetta can propel Roma to greater heights next season, particularly if Mourinho and Dybala—who each took the defeat to Sevilla incredibly hard—return.
Fortunately for The Special One, the math is simple: win, and you're in.
Who The Hell is Going to Play Tomorrow?
Despite everything we just said, Mourinho could very well turn tomorrow's fixture into a prospect fan's dream come true. While the Spezia match could serve as a Roma swan song for players like Tammy Abraham, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Andrea Belotti, among others, Mourinho could just as easily roll out a lineup littered with U-23 prospects.
In fact, in recent weeks, we've seen U-23s like Benjamin Tahirovic, Filippo Missori, and Mile Svilar see significant match time alongside Edoardo Bove, who, though he's only 21 years old, seems like a lock for a regular role next season and beyond.
Of course, should Mourinho go this route and Roma loses, we may have to face the specter of the Europa Conference League next season, so expect the Portuguese tactician to mix and match his lineup.
Hey, We Can Still Top Juventus!
Thanks to some, shall we say, accounting irregularities, The Old Lady of Italian Football was docked 10 points on the league table, down from the initial 15-point deduction originally handed down earlier this spring. While that appeal allowed Juve to save some face, they're still mired in 7th place, one point behind Roma.
It's not often that the Giallorossi best the Old Lady on the table, and even though it required a judicial miracle, a win tomorrow would ensure that Roma finishes ahead of Juventus for the first time since the 2010-2011 season, when, ironically, they finished in 6th and 7th, respectively.
A small consolation price, admittedly, but still something to hang our hats on.