Serie A Week 11 – Sunday 23 October 2022 – Stadio Olimpico | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Roma have survived the absence of Paulo Dybala thanks to a favorable schedule and impeccable defending, but that will be severely challenged by Napoli, which have been clicking on all cylinders in the last couple of months.
Roma haven’t been great and or aesthetically pleasing lately, but they have been winning, and that’s often all that matters. They took full advantage of the Inter woes at the time to come away with their best win of the season, and a rare one versus a top team in the José Mourinho era. They rode the momentum in the ensuing fixtures versus Lecce and Sampdoria, which were too close for comfort, but six points are six points.
The Giallorossi currently occupy the fourth spot have taken advantage of the rough going of two of the main contenders for the Champions League, the Nerazzurri and Juventus. The top of the table isn’t that far, and a victory here would boost their credentials. Yet, it feels like they are quite clearly inferior to Napoli and Milan, primarily because of their lackluster offense.
While the two other powerhouses have fire-breathing frontlines and bonafide stars up front, the capital side has been leaning on random goals, a lot of them coming from set pieces, and on stingy defending. It’s a formula that can work versus the minnows, but it’s tough to imagine them keeping up if opponents score twice or more in a game.
They couldn’t have suffered a more significant blow than losing Dybala, who had quickly become the beacon of their offence. The creampuff schedule after the injury helped, but they need their attackers to get going to sustain their success; otherwise, the defense will have to be perfect in most fixtures.
All thing considered, Nicolò Zaniolo flattering to deceive is nothing new. He occasionally exhibits mouth-watering speed and physical dominance when he has room to run, but the consistency game-to-game isn’t there, and the attitude often isn’t the right one. Instead, Tammy Abraham falling off a cliff is more surprising because he was dependable last season. While not an elite goal poacher, he had achieved an acceptable finishing rate, which is enough considering how much he contributes in the other areas and the fact that, in theory, they also have others chipping in.
But that hasn’t been the case, as Lorenzo Pellegrini found his first domestic goal in the last round, but he has the legitimate excuse of often playing deeper than usual on the pitch, plus he has been a fantastic assist-man, and Zaniolo last scored in the European Conference League final. They don’t have an Henrikh Mkhitaryan this year. They are trying to turn their captain into one, which adds much-needed dynamism to their midfield but does impact their strike force. A boost could come from Leonardo Spinazzola returning to his former devastating self on the reg, which has been the case in just a pair of matches, but he’s the last one they can ask for something more since he’s coming back from a massive injury. The chances have been there, and they just haven’t converted them. Amid the drought, Andrea Belotti is earning more minutes, but he too isn’t exactly the most prolific scorer.
While the offense has been jammed up, the rearguard, while not airtight, has come on strong and will be put to the test. The three center-backs have almost telepathic chemistry, but stopping one of the best attacks in Europe will be a tall order, and they might be a bit slow collectively. They are more comfortable defending very low on the pitch than most sides, especially the top ones.
The starting wing-back Rick Karsdorp recently returned from injury, but he may not be able to handle many minutes yet, so Nicola Zalewski could adapt there again. The question marks are in the midfield and up front. Mady Camara has fared well in the past two matches and is quite energetic. With him rather than Nemanja Matic, the scheme is more of a 3-5-2 than their usual 3-4-1-2. But the Special One might go with his trusted lieutenant, who’s less mobile but more of an equalizer, which they may need in this one. Abraham, Belotti, and Zaniolo will compete for two spots, and they might opt for the starlet in this case since the Azzurri occasionally leave room for counters.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Zalewski, Camara, Cristante, Pellegrini, Spinazzola; Zaniolo, Abraham.
Napoli have quite clearly been the best team in Italy, if not in Europe. They have won ten matches in a row across all competitions, so any kind of carp is nit-picking at best. Some issues are starting to creep in, from injuries to defensive flaws, but the potency of their attack has masked them all.
They didn’t skip a beat once Victor Osimhen went down with an injury. Giacomo Raspadori quickly proved to work well even as a lone striker, and having Luciano Spalletti on the bench, whose schemes don’t necessarily need a full-fledged marksman, helped a lot. The Nigerian star came back with a vengeance, bagging two consecutive goals off the bench. Signing Giovanni Simeone seemed overkill in the summer, but they were aware their top star tends to suffer a major injury every year. It’s better to be overprepared than the contrary, and players are unlikely to mope considering their success. They have been tremendous in exploiting the subs, and El Cholito is an ideal one considering his energy.
They have thrived because Osimhen isn’t the focal point of their offense, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is, and they will have to hope nothing ever happens to him. It took him no time to realize that he could do even more damage by setting up teammates rather than finishing on his own, which is especially demanding for a superb shooter, but he’s done it and has collected four straight assists. And the scoring hasn’t been lacking, either. The quickness with which he adjusted to how Serie A defenders guard him couldn’t be more impressive. His raw and natural talent does the rest because there’s almost no way to stop him when he has the ball. He hits opponents with a series of slick moves to get past them.
It’s not hard to be good offensively when you can count on such a massive difference-maker. The other attackers just have to pick the right spots, and they will eventually get the ball to fire off while being relatively unaccounted for. Hirving Lozano has snapped out of a scoring slump, and he and Matteo Politano, while not super-duper aces, are nice complementary pieces and no strangers to finding the target. Raspadori is very technical and fairly clutch in the box, and Osimhen adds an element of brute force that is tough to contain. On top of the Georgian prodigy, Piotr Zielinski has been an exquisite playmaker too. Their creativity and assortment of weapons are jaw-dropping.
They don’t have much to complain about, but some troubles are simmering underneath the surface of the winning streak. They have been one of the healthiest teams so far, and that is starting to change since Amir Rrahmani and André-Franck Zambo Anguissa recently got hurt. Their defense hasn’t been elite, and losing a key member in Amir Rrahmani doesn’t help because Juan Jesus and Leo Ostigard aren’t on the same level. They last kept a clean sheet in mid-September, which could be a concern in tight matches. In addition, they will have to hope Alex Meret doesn’t unravel after a blunder in the past game. The goalkeeping situation has gone as well as it possibly could after they botched it in the summer, but he always seems on edge. Their multitude of goals has covered up anything, but they should take advantage of the ongoing offensive boon to correct the defects before they start to hurt them. If they do, they might pull away in the title race.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim, Jesus, Olivera; Ndombélé, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratshkelia.
Roma: Dybala (thigh strain), Wijnalndum (leg fracture), Celik (knee sprain).
Napoli: Rrahmani (thigh tendon lesion), Anguissa (thigh pull).