The winds of managerial change are gathering steam in the Italian Capital. Paulo Fonseca is under pressure after a poor recent run in Serie A, and the first trophy since 2008 is a must if the former Shakhtar strategist hopes to hold onto his job.
La Lupa are still in with a chance of completing that arduous task, but their path to Gdansk is anything but easy. Dutch champions Ajax, whose last loss came on December 9, stand between them and a semifinal spot. English giants Manchester United lie in wait if that tricky tie can be navigated. Meanwhile, Arsenal and Unai Emery’s Villarreal are on the other side of the draw.
Successfully negotiating that gauntlet is a tall order, especially considering the Giallorossi’s struggles against the big boys domestically. That has been the major knock against Fonseca during his time in charge, and the recent 0-2 drubbing at the hands of Napoli only increased the sense that Roma shrink in the crunch contests.
Despite those continued problems against the Peninsula’s premier outfits, a top-four spot was still on the cards until just a few weeks ago. Tactical troubles have hurt the capital club’s cause in duels with the division’s lesser lights.
Since switching to a 3-4-3 formation at the tail end of last season, Fonseca has hardly deviated from a set-up that prizes possession and quick, fluid forward thrusts. Roma’s defensive deficiencies prompted a rethink ahead of the Braga bouts in February.
A more conservative outlook has been successful so far in Europe, particularly over both legs against Shakhtar. Despite that, a similar strategy flopped in Saturday’s stalemate against Sassuolo. La Lupa created plenty of chances on the break at the Mapei Stadium, but their decision to cede the ball and territory backfired badly at the other end.
Fonseca reportedly clashed with some players the day after. Although the Giallorossi denied the report, it is clear the Portuguese tactician is not anymore on good terms with a part of the dressing room, including Edin Dzeko.
In terms of tactics, no matter what the coach has tried to do during his tenure: a glut of goals conceded has been the result. Roma cannot seriously aspire to steady progress with such a wretched record at the back.
An injury crisis in that department of the pitch has not helped matters and the same is true of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Pedro, who have all spent significant time on the treatment table.
Even with those enforced absences in mind, the Friedkins seem intent on replacing Fonseca.
Maurizio Sarri is currently the frontrunner and securing the Tuscan’s signature would represent a coup for the capital club. The ex-Juventus coach has ample Serie A experience, and his preference for a proactive style of play would delight a fanbase accustomed to free-flowing football.
The Giallorossi supporters have been treated to plenty of pretty passing patterns over the last two years, and that is not the only positive legacy that Fonseca will leave behind.
A young Italian core led by Lorenzo Pellegrini and Gianluca Mancini has flourished, and it will be the responsibility of the next man in charge to turn a squad teeming with precocious talents into title challengers.