With the Nicolo Zaniolo transfer saga behind the club, Roma travels to the “Florence of the South” to take on Lecce. And while the city may be compared to its Tuscan counterpart for its baroque architecture, the club can almost pass as Roma lite because of its red and yellow kits, as well carry the same nicknames: the Giallorossi and Lupi.
And after returning to Italy’s top flight this season after being crowned Serie B champions a year ago, the Puglian Giallorossi have been far from relegation fodder. Currently sitting 14th in the table, Lecce’s 23 points are closer to the top half of the table than the drop zone. And a big reason for this has been due to success against some of the peninsula’s biggest sides, especially at the Stadio Via del Mare.
U.S. Lecce vs. AS Roma: February 11th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EST. Stadio Via del Mare, Lecce
This season in the friendly confines of the Via del Mare, Lecce has taken seven points off of top-four contenders Lazio, Milan, and Atalanta—so Roma may owe a debt of gratitude to their southern twins. However, if the Roman Giallorossi doesn’t enter this match at the top of their game, then they could become the next big conquest for a tough Lecce side.
Lecce doesn’t score a lot (21 goals) but boasts a defense that has numbers worthy of the top half of the table (24 allowed). This brings us back to the two sides’ last match.
October 9, 2022: Roma 2, Lecce 1
The first time these sides met, Roma struck early when Chris Smalling delivered from a Lorenzo Pellegrini deep cross. It looked like the home side would be well on its way, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite Morten Hjulmand being sent off for a vicious challenge on Zaniolo in the 23rd minute, Lecce wasn’t going away with their tails between their legs.
In fact, in spite of its numerical disadvantage, Lecce leveled the score in the 39th minute with a goal from Gabriel Strafezza. The match went to halftime level,and Roma looked to have a real battle on its hands. A Paulo Dybala penalty put Roma back up for good in the 48th minute, but Roma was unable to find a third to really kill the match off. It was a nervy 2-1 victory for Roma in the end.
Keep An Eye On
Roma Potentially Getting Caught Looking Ahead
A lack of European fixtures during the first six weeks of the calendar year helped Roma get out of its pre-World Cup funk, and sure, the Giallorossi have had to play in the Coppa Italia, but both fixtures were at home. Now the Europa League is back, with Roma traveling to Salzburg to face Red Bull on Thursday, so it’s certainly something that could creep into the back of Roman minds during the course of the weekend.
Nevertheless, if José Mourinho’s side isn’t careful and doesn’t put its full attention on the task at hand, then dropped points are a distinct possibility. I’ve already mentioned just how tough Lecce was in Rome, even with the Romans up a man in the reverse fixtures. Couple that with Lecce’s penchant for taking points off of big clubs at home, and Roma will need to keep its foot on the gas throughout. With the top-four race being as tight as it is and Lazio hosting Atalanta, Roma can’t afford to drop points here.
The Attack is Starting to Click
Roma’s difficulties in scoring have been well-documented this season. To this point in the season, Roma has scored seven fewer goals than a season ago, with just 28 goals through 21 league matches. Those 28 goals mean Roma’s attack ranks just joint seventh in Italy’s top flight. However, the Giallorossi’s 34.4 xG means that Roma’s attack should have scored the third most in the league. But xG is not reality.
However, Roma’s attack has begun to buck that trend in recent weeks. In fact, in the last five league matches, the Giallossi have outperformed their xG and scored twice in four of those matches. With a defense that has allowed 10 fewer goals against this time last season (18 vs. 28), two goals from its attack are usually all Roma needs to win a match.
The main reason for the improved scoring is the fact that Roma is starting to get contributions from players other than Dybala. Besides Dybala scoring twice, three other Roma players have scored multiple goals in the six games since the 2023 restart: Abraham (3), El Shaarawy, and Ibañez (2). That varied attack has made Roma more dangerous in 2023 and allowed the Giallorossi to finish more chances than in 2022.
Dybala is still the straw that stirs Roma’s drink, with his seven goals and six assists directly contributing to just under half of Roma’s goals scored this season. However, he’s no longer the only one being relied on to put the ball in the back of the net. This is a great sign for Mourinho, and it’ll have to continue if Roma is going to achieve its top-four objective.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Mancini; El Shaarawy, Cristante, Matic, Zalewski; Pellegrini, Dybala; Abraham