Embattled Roma welcome Champions League hopefuls Napoli
An embattled Roma down on confidence welcome fellow Champions League hopefuls Napoli to the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday evening in what is a hugely important match for both sides.
Roma are coming off two straight losses against Juventus and Fiorentina and need to win to have any chance of keeping their already thin hopes of playing in the Champions League next season alive. It has been a tumultuous fortnight for the Giallorossi, who were thumped 4-0 by Juventus and then beaten 2-1 by Fiorentina in midweek thanks to a late goal from Andrea Lazzari. Roma have almost lost the chance to qualify for the Champions League, but the recent form of Inter has also put a potential Europa League place at risk.
Although Luis Enrique’s men have been inconsistent all season, they appear to be going backwards at a rapid rate. The first half performance against Fiorentina was one of the worst of the season with most players appearing to lack energy and commitment. The second half was slightly more promising, but it’s hard to imagine anything but another defeat against Napoli if Roma continue on the same path. The two straight losses have seen Roma fall to 7th position on the Serie A table, five points behind third placed Lazio, four points behind Napoli, and two short of both Udinese and Inter.
Standing in their way are a Napoli side who appear to be hitting some form after slumping to three straight losses in the midst of going five straight games without a win. Walter Mazzari’s side come off 2-0 wins against Novara and Lecce, respectively, but conceded nine goals in losses against Atalanta, Lazio and Juventus before getting back on track in the past fortnight. Napoli currently lie in 4th position, just a single point behind third placed Lazio. Given Lazio’s struggles, Napoli appear to be the favourite to finish third.
What to expect
Roma have struggled with injuries and suspensions all season and this match is no different. Luis Enrique has to do without the suspended Daniel Pablo Osvaldo, who was sent off against Fiorentina for abusing the referee, while both Daniele De Rossi and Erik Lamela also miss the game due to suspension. De Rossi picked up a yellow card against Fiorentina and Lamela is serving the second of a three match ban for spitting at Juventus’ left back Stephan Lichtsteiner two weeks ago. To make matters worse, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg will miss the Napoli game with a shoulder injury. Gianluca Curci will again deputise in his place.
Brazilian utility Marquinho was one of the only bright spots for Roma against Fiorentina when he replaced ineffective left back Jose Angel at halftime. He is expected to keep that fullback position, though the absence of De Rossi will again leave Roma’s midfield stretched. The return of Bojan from suspension should mean a starting role alongside Francesco Totti and Fabio Borini up front.
Napoli will have to do without experienced defender Hugo Campagnaro who came off injured in the win against Lecce. Federico Fernandez is likely to start in his place. Midfielder Marco Donadel remains on the injured list but Goran Pandev returns from suspension. Dangerous trio Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavazzi and Marek Hamsik are all fit, but Lavezzi has just returned from injury and is likely to start on the bench.
Where it will be won
It all starts at the back for Roma but their job against arguably one of the best counterattacking sides in Europe will be much more difficult thanks to the absence of De Rossi. His loss and the likely deployment of Marquinho at left back means Roma’s already thin midfield will once again be stretched. The hugely dissapointing pair of Fernando Gago and Miralem Pjanic have regressed after a promising first half of the season and will need to hit some form if Roma are to be any chance of picking up points. Roma youth product Federico Viviani will compete with Leandro Greco, Fabio Simplicio and Simone Perrotta for a midfield place.
Who matters most: Roma
Miralem Pjanic made a promising start to life in Rome but his form in the past month has been poor at best. Like many of his fellow teammates, Pjanic hasn’t been the same player since Christmas and struggled to even complete basic passes against Fiorentina. Despite his poor form, he remains key to a Roma side that has been built to keep possession and his influence will need to be felt in the absence of De Rossi.
Who matters most: Napoli
Everybody knows the threat that Edinson Cavani poses, but Marek Hamsik will need to be shut down if Roma are to get the points here. If Hamsik is given the same time and space to run at the defence that Roma gave Fiorentina in midweek, expect the Slovakian to cause real damage.
Possible line-up: Roma
(4-3-3) Curci; Taddei, Kjaer, Heinze, Marquinho; Greco, Gago, Pjanic; Bojan, Totti, Borini
Possible line-up: Napoli
(3-4-3) De Sanctis; Fernandez, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Zuniga; Dzemalli, Hamsik, Cavani
Roma Journal prediction
Roma are out of form and low on confidence. The absence of Daniele De Rossi is likely to hurt their chances. An improved performance should be enough for a draw, but Roma’s midfield is likely to get overrun by a Napoli side who are excellent on the counterattack. 3-1 Napoli.