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Roma Head To Unrecognized State of Transnistria To Play Sheriff FC

You read that right.

AS Roma v Empoli FC - Serie A TIM Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The Europa League group stage isn’t the most glamorous set of matches a club like Roma will ever play; until the creation of the Europa Conference League, it was the club’s sole opportunity to play clubs below a Serie A standard in non-friendly matches. Yet time and time again, the Giallorossi have shown themselves to play down to their competition, to the point where even under José Mourinho, the club embarrassingly fell to Bodø/Glimt 6-1 in the Europa Conference League group stage back in back in 2021. Even though that campaign ended in a trophy for the Giallorossi, that was a loss that Romanisti will never forget (not that our Italian rivals would ever let us forget it).

That Bodø loss is what makes me hesitant to preordain victory leading up to Roma’s first Europa League group stage match of the season, even though their opponent this time around might be even weaker than Bodø appeared to be. FC Sheriff is a club based in Tiraspol, a city that is part of the unrecognized breakaway state of Transnistria. If you have the time, I’d recommend going down the rabbit hole that is the history of that kinda-country; it’s a fascinating window into a post-Soviet world that the average Romanista doesn’t hear about on anything resembling a regular basis. By all accounts, this should be a win for the Giallorossi, but that kind of mentality has steered the club wrong before. Personally, I’m hoping for some but not too much rotation tomorrow. Worst case scenario, the starters get an early convincing lead and then the Primavera kids get a shot in the second half, right?

What To Watch For

Can Roma Avoid Another Bodø?

AS Roma v Bodo Glimt - UEFA Conference League Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

That Bodø loss is going to stick in my brain until I die. I’m not entirely sure how Roma can prepare such that such an embarrassing loss doesn’t happen again; if I did, I’d probably be a football manager somewhere other than a video game created by Sports Interactive. Still, it’s clear to me that complacency is the cousin of death for this club. Players who are rotated in will need to understand that a good performance against Sheriff might garner them more serious minutes in Serie A and deeper in the Europa League campaign; players who stay in their typical starting eleven spots need to understand that this is not the time to hit the metaphorical snooze button.

There’s not much more to say about this than that - though I will admit that I’ll need to take a week-long hiatus from Across the Romaverse if Roma manages to lose yet another match to a club that makes a Serie A minnow look like a whale shark.

Can Svilar Set Himself Up For Success?

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Tim Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Perhaps the most intriguing rotation set to take place against Sheriff is the inclusion of Serbian international Mile Svilar between the sticks in place of normal starting goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Patricio has had some lackluster performances to start the season; you wouldn’t be too far off to suggest that he’s been the direct cause of many of Roma’s eight dropped points. Through all of that, though, the Italian rumor mill insisted that Patricio’s job was not up for grabs, that Tiago Pinto and José Mourinho would stick with the Portuguese number one until the end of the season and then move forward with a younger goalkeeper for the 2024/2025 season.

This match is the first chance that Svilar will have to push back against management’s plan. It’s clear that throughout his career, several managers have thought that Svilar has what it takes to become a solid goalkeeper; you don’t become the youngest goalkeeper to ever start a Champions League match by accident. Yet Svilar’s time in Rome has seen the Belgian-born goalie grasping for chances, staying firmly behind Patricio despite Patricio’s less-than-optimal form. Anything other than a clean sheet from Svilar tomorrow definitely dooms him to ride the pine for the rest of the season, and maybe even gives academy graduate Pietro Boer a chance to feature at the senior level. A clean sheet where Svilar looks impressive, though? That just might make Roma’s hunt for Patricio’s replacement a tad easier - or it might make that hunt a non-existent one.