Daniele De Rossi hasn’t had much of a choice in his midfield selections during his first two matches. With Bryan Cristante suspended against Hellas Verona and Leandro Paredes suspended against Salernitana, the midfield trio basically picked itself. However, in today's match against Cagliari, with those two, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edoardo Bove, all available, De Rossi will have some choice in his midfield trio. He was asked about just that in his prematch presser.
“There’s also Renato Sanches, who obviously won’t start given he’s been out for a while, and [Houssem] Aouar, who can play both further forward and as a midfielder.
“It’s obviously an advantage being blessed with great players. Inter, for example, are one of the best teams out there and [Davide] Frattesi and [Kristjan] Asllani can’t get in the team – they’d be starters in every other Serie A side.
“It’s a plus being able to choose between them and make rotations. Choices are determined by who we’re up against but also our workload – our starting line-up for our upcoming game factors in the following fixtures as well. Sometimes the selections are based on purely the next match or factor in what’s to come. It’s a nice challenge, but it’s not nice to leave players out. That goes for players like [Nicola] Zalewski, who had regularly featured but who hasn’t seen much action since I came into the fold.
“It’s not a nice task. However, I know that I can count on great backup options. Top teams always have many top players – with a strong starting eleven you can win games but with a deep squad you’re able to achieve things in the long term. However, you can only name eleven players so rotations are necessary.
“It’s also positive that my players offer different things. They’re all vital to the cause but since we can’t include all of them for every match we hope that we make the right choices when it comes to leaving our certain individuals.”
It is always difficult for managers when making these decisions, but the newfound depth will be welcome in the coming weeks with Europa League action looming. In this one, it appears that Bove will be the most likely to come off the bench, with Pellegrini, Paredes, and Cristante starting.
As De Rossi mentioned in his comments about the midfield, Renato Sanches is available. And another long-term injury is almost back as well. Here’s what the Roma CT had to say about Chris Smalling.
“You called it - Renato Sanches is a little ahead of [Chris] Smalling. They both trained with the team, but for Chris we alternated his workload - he took part in one exercise, then sat out the following one, then was involved in a lighter exercise, before resting up.
“On the other hand, Renato was involved in the full session. He followed a similar plan to Smalling on the first day but then he was signed off from his recovery plan. He’s training as per normal with the rest of the lads now. We still have to take it steady with him given that he was out of action for a few weeks. Renato is closer to a return than Chris and will be called up, while Chris will probably return to action against Inter or Feyenoord. In short, his return is imminent.”
With Smalling nearing a return and AFCON wrapping in a week, De Rossi will soon have plenty of options in defense. However, for this match, his options will be limited to Dean Huijsen, Gianluca Mancini, and Diego Llorente. With that in mind, the two veterans will play in the heart of defense. And we’ll see a new face in Roma’s starting elven for the first time on their left flank.
Angeliño is expected to get his first start at left-back with Leo Spinazzola still out injured. Meanwhile, Rick Karsdorp is projected to play on the opposite flank.
With Pellegrini projected to play in midfield, it is expected that the same starting trio will be in attack: Paulo Dybala, Romelu Lukaku, and Stephan El Shaarawy. De Rossi also was asked about Dybala’s positioning on the pitch, which he compared to Francesco Totti’s during his time as Totti’s teammate.
“There are certain players who have a talent and an ability to read what’s going on there and then in a match. You’ve got to give such players more freedom. If you stop Dybala from dropping deep, if you tell him he can’t do that, then you’d maybe miss out on a situation in which he finds himself in midfield – even if you think he’d be better off staying up front – and then starts off a move which leads to a goal by a team-mate who’s further up the pitch.
“What’s important is that if he comes into midfield someone else must push up to occupy his position. I consider occupying spaces non-negotiable in football – it’s about having someone there, even if it’s not their position, per se.
“Obviously our aim is to occupy spaces well, escape the press and get the ball close to the penalty area so that Paulo will find himself in the position he found himself in for our second goal against Salernitana. Aside from that – and certain instructions we give him – he’s free to improvise. When most players are within 20 yards of goal they have to have two or three touches – only then they’re able to find a solution. Players must be willing and able to follow unwritten rules and rely on instinct, rather than just what a coach tells them.
“I was [Francesco] Totti’s team-mate for 20 years and nobody told him where to go or what he had to do in the final third. We just knew that we had to focus on getting into a good position in front of goal so that he could set us up. If you see that you’ve got a player with this type of talent, which Paulo also has, you’ve got to make the most of it.”
ROMA (4-3-2-1): Patricio; Angeliño, Llorente, Mancini, Karsdorp; Pellegrini, Paredes, Cristante; Dybala, El Shaarawy; Lukaku.