Roma’s grueling stretch of league matches will get a little tougher next week as the Giallorossi drew stadium rivals in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. That will be sandwiched between two big league fixtures against Atalanta and Milan. However, as mouthwatering as an extra edition of the Derby della Capitale will be, Mourinho’s men can’t be caught looking ahead. If they do, La Dea could make them pay at the Olimpico on Sunday.
And Mourinho will have to deal with some big absences, including defender Evan Ndicka who is now with the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations. Aside from Ndicka, Mourinho gave some injury updates during his prematch presser.
“No players have recovered. Is [Gianluca] Mancini able to play? Yes, I think so. But we can’t say he’s recovered because he hasn’t.
“All the others – as we know – are long-term injuries: [Chris] Smalling, Tammy [Abraham]... Renato [Sanches] is injured now too. There are no others who have recovered.
“There’s no update on Smalling. I don’t even hope to see him training with me in January. If he does train with me in January, it will be a pleasant surprise. At the moment, Smalling is not even in my thoughts. I’m thinking of whether Mancini can play, whether he might play today and not tomorrow, whether he might get injured and not be able to play or train for a week or two. That’s the sort of player who’s in my thoughts at the moment.
“Could [Leo] Paredes play tomorrow? I don’t know. He took a nasty knock against Cremonese and hasn’t trained. We were worried there might have been a fracture. There’s no fracture. He’s had all the tests. I don’t know if he can play tomorrow. But that’s the sort of player I worry about. Not Tammy or Smalling – they’re not the sort of player I’m thinking about.”
With Ndicka at the African Cup, Kumbulla still on the mend, and Smalling nowhere to be found, Mourinho has just two center-backs available for this one: Mancini and Diego Llorente. That means Brian Cristante will likely join that duo in the back three.
The likelihood of Cristante having to shift into defense makes Paredes’ status all the more important. With Sanches and Aouar both out injured, midfield options become limited. If Paredes plays he’ll join Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edoardo Bove. If he can’t go, then it’s possible that Cristante remains in the midfield and Zeki Celik slides into defense.
Meanwhile, Nicola Zalewski and Rasmus Kristensen are expected to play on the wings. And Paulo Dybala will partner Romelu Lukaku in attack.
ROMA (3-5-2): Patricio; Llorente, Cristante, Mancini; Zalewski, Bove, Paredes, Pellegrini, Kristensen; Dybala, Lukaku.