Can the Giallorossi separate their domestic difficulties from their European exploits? That is the major question heading into the capital club’s date with destiny at the Theatre of Dreams, which comes off the back of a series of poor Serie A showings. Those struggles have stripped the sheen off an impressive quarterfinal triumph over Ajax, and the stakes could not be higher now for Paulo Fonseca and company.
The chances of a top-four finish were already remote before the Giallorossi travelled to Turin less than a fortnight ago, but they are completely gone now after a trio of lacklustre displays. Even a spot in next season’s Europa League looks unlikely, with 6th-placed Lazio holding a six-point advantage over their archrival.
La Lupa have now gone four games without a win in all competitions, but there are mitigating factors for their recent problems on the Peninsula. Torino and Cagliari are both desperately fighting to stave off relegation, while Atalanta are in the thick of a thrilling Champions League chase. Meanwhile, Fonseca chose to rest key starters in Turin and Sardinia.
However, the Portuguese did pick a nearly full-strength lineup against Atalanta. La Dea dominated proceedings throughout, and they should have been home and hosed well before Robin Gosens received his marching orders midway through the second stanza.
A rickety rearguard must be tightened up before visiting Old Trafford, and Fonseca will hope that the returning Chris Smalling can shore things up in that department. The former Manchester United man made a first start since March 7th against Gli Isolani, and he could well be included from the first whistle on Thursday.
The Englishman has suffered a stop-start second season in the Eternal City, but his future in the red half of Rome looks far more secure than his coach’s. It seemed that only the Europa League title would keep Fonseca in a job for a while, but it now appears that even a historic continental conquest wouldn’t be enough.
Maurizio Sarri is set to take over next term, and it remains to be seen how that news affects a group of players who backed their boss through the turbulent period that followed January’s Coppa Italia elimination. The Friedkin’s cannot be faulted for chasing Sarri’s signature, especially after his sustained success at Napoli. However, their search for a new head coach threatens to destabilize the dressing room at a crucial stage of the campaign.
Fonseca is a dead man walking, and that fact cannot help his credibility within the squad. Such turmoil in the technical area is an unwanted distraction ahead of a duel with the Red Devils, who have lost only once since the beginning of February.
Contrasting fortunes over the last few months makes the English giants the clear favourite to advance to Gdansk, but Roma can spring a surprise. Nevertheless, their prospects would look a lot better if there was some sense of positive momentum.