Another year, another flameout in the Coppa Italia. In what seems like the norm for the Giallorossi now, Roma have yet again failed to secure themselves a tenth Coppa Italia, and they did so by losing a Derby Della Capitale. Yet time allows for no long period of mourning, as Mourinho’s men must now face third-place AC Milan in a match with major implications for Roma’s ability to continue seeking a spot in the Champions League through Serie A qualification.
Yes, yes, you’ve heard that Roma are playing a match with Champions League ramifications before, but there’s a lot of weight to this match in particular. Milan-Roma is certainly the match of the week, as most of Roma’s rivals are playing smaller sides who likely won’t give them much trouble. A loss here for the Giallorossi will likely put them seven points adrift of fourth, and on matchday twenty, that would be a challenging hill to climb by the end of the season.
Roma hasn’t been granted any favors by the injury list, but as a wise man once said, sometimes you have to stop making excuses and start making changes. If Roma wants to truly deserve Champions League qualification and all that comes with it, they have to start with a win tomorrow against Milan. That’s all there is to it.
What To Watch For
How Does Roma Survive Without Paulo Dybala?
That win tomorrow will likely have to come without the assistance of Paulo Dybala, who didn’t train with the team prior to the match and is reportedly suffering from a muscle injury. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before, right? This is the cost of having the Argentinian forward as your most talented player: when he’s around, you win, and you win beautifully, but when he’s not, you’re up a creek without a paddle.
The fact that Lorenzo Pellegrini is also struggling with injury won’t make this easy for the Giallorossi either because Pellegrini and Dybala are where much of this side’s creativity comes from. We’ve seen how Romelu Lukaku looks without Dybala, and while it’s still imposing, he’s not enough to win a match by himself. For Roma to get a win tomorrow, it’s going to take a creative burst of energy from a player like Bryan Cristante or Edoardo Bove. I think both of those players have that ability in their system somewhere, but it will be a stretch, particularly against a strong Milan side.
Who Contains Christian Pulisic?
That strong Milan side has been anchored by American forward Christian Pulisic in recent weeks — to the point that he was awarded Serie A’s Player of the Month award for December. Before Pulisic left Chelsea, I had hoped that Roma might be able to snap him up as a buy-low-sell-high option on a player who brings with him the adoration of millions of American “soccer” fans. That didn’t come to pass, and while I’m happy with Paulo Dybala, it’s a shame that it didn’t, if only because Pulisic has adapted to Serie A incredibly well.
Of course, Roma won’t be able to survive this match if Pulisic plays at his best tomorrow. The Giallorossi defense isn’t inspiring me with confidence right now, particularly after the loss to Lazio in the midweek match. Yet there is still quality there — and I’ve seen enough from Dean Huisjen so far to at least be mildly intrigued by him as an Evan Ndicka replacement. If Roma wants to win this one, It will likely be on the back of Gianluca Mancini, who has fortunately only been suspended from Coppa Italia matches after his outburst against Daniele Orsato. I don’t have enough faith in Roma’s fullbacks to provide the defensive cover one would expect from them, so this match will come down to just how strongly Roma’s center-backs can defend.
Date: Sunday, January 14th
Kickoff: 20:45 CET/2:45 EST
Venue: San Siro, Milan