The late June heat had created a tale of two halves, as Roma became exhausted in the last 45 minutes against Milan at San Siro. Having played one game more than the Giallorossi, the Rossoneri took advantage of their early return to action. They were ultimately rewarded as their pressing caused Davide Zappacosta to err, causing a turnover that led to the goal. In that moment, Roma’s chances of fourth place became the most distant throughout the entire season, and virtually unobtainable as Atalanta toppled Udinese.
Perhaps most telling was the fact that Edin Dzeko, the club’s single season highest goal-scorer, became more and more isolated as the match went on. As Milan continued their assault, the wing-forwards in manager Paulo Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1 formation were forced to retreat, leaving the Bosnian with little more than the chance of a massive long ball against the run of play. It never came - unlike the first game since the return, where in Roma-Sampdoria, Dzeko scored two highlight reel goals from over the top.
Roma’s recent history belongs to him. But now, as he is 34 years old and counting, the Lupi need him more than ever. In fact, he has scored in 16 different matches thus far - 11 of them led to wins, and only two resulted in defeat. Dzeko’s scoring, as any striker’s, is a by-product of efficient team play, yet on some occasions, such as those two braces against Sampdoria, his class has been needed to turn the tide.
He remains the only Roma player with over 10 goals this season, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aleksandar Kolarov follow with just six. Unless there will be a breakout for another forward in the Giallorossi ranks, success will teeter on the team’s ability to play fluidly and continue to supply the Bosnian striker. There is one chance looming in the not so distant future, one chance for salvation of the season, and one chance closer than any other to reach next year’s Champions League tournament - the Europa League.
Napoli have made a complete turnaround since hiring coach Genaro Gattuso, and now look to draw level with Roma’s fifth spot in their head to head battle. The Partenopei’s midweek loss against Atalanta will have exposed weaknesses in the boss’ armoured defence, but a Dzeko-less Roma equally struggled as Diego Perotti was sent off, subsequently losing the tie against Udinese.
Having clipped three points off Roma last week, Milan have moved into contention for automatic qualification into next year’s Europa League tournament. The rally for the fifth to seventh places is now the fiercest sub-plot of the Serie A season.
As of now, the format for the Round of 16 will be just one match, played on neutral ground. Sevilla sit comfortably in fourth place of La Liga, yet have relied on Lucas Ocampos throughout the season, with few other players contributing goals. It resulted in four straight draws, preceding their midweek thumping of Leganes. Intentionally or unintentionally reflecting a similar model, Fonseca should have a grasp on out-strategizing the Andalusians.
In just 16 days worth of games, Roma have the possibility to win a highly prestigious competition that will qualify them for the Champions League. It is a massive opportunity to bring the team closer together, at a time when objectives are being realigned. The squad will be put under the continued pressure of a condensed schedule in the late summer heat, yet this tournament provides a backdoor entrance to achieving the season objective. And just maybe, Dzeko will provide a stunner in Cologne to epitomize his career at Roma.
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