Both sides are fighting for key goals heading into the season finale: Roma must win to secure a Europa League berth, while Spezia have to do better than Hellas Verona to avoid relegation.
Serie A Week 38 – Sunday 4 June 2023 – Stadio Olimpico | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Roma and Milan demonstrated the drawbacks of going all in on Europe but coming up empty-handed. The Rossoneri were ultimately bailed out by Juventus’ point deduction, while the Giallorossi risk dropping to the 7th spot if they don’t win in this one. Appetite comes with eating and, when you reach the later stages, it’s hard to resist the temptation, but it’s supremely risky because everything can go haywire due to an unfortunate bounce or random stuff.
There’s no counter-evidence, but the threshold to qualify for the Champions League was low this campaign, and they probably would have had a serious shot if they hadn’t punted multiple Serie A fixtures and were more healthy in the past couple of months. Neither they nor Milan have the depth to cope with two competitions appropriately. They’ll either have to bolster their bench in the summer, but they have to navigate significant Financial Fair Play restrictions, or pick one of the two. It wasn’t a good look to get eliminated twice, but Lazio are the ones left laughing in the end.
It’s not an easy spot as José Mourinho staying or not hinges on what the ownership will be willing to provide. Everything is on the table since he has just a year on his contract, and he made his intentions pretty clear after the Europa League final. Their outlook changed drastically since he took over. They had a grand reinforcement campaign right away, for instance signing Tammy Abraham for €40M, while they spent zilch in the ensuing windows. It’s unclear whether it happened due to the impositions by UEFA or because the Friedkin family prefers focusing their resources on building the new stadium.
They’ll have to tread very carefully with the Special One as, even though his style is outdated and leaves a lot to be desired flair-wise, they’ll have trouble finding another manager that hides all sorts of problems, represents the team, and is the heart and soul of it so effectively. It’s a perfect match with the city and its passionate fanbase. In addition, the future of a few players could be directly correlated to the boss. They better do what they can to keep ahold of him; otherwise, they’ll have to be ready to undergo massive changes. Their activity on the free agent market is a good sign because it’ll strengthen the squad for relatively cheap and also signifies that they have the proper sense of urgency.
The silver lining of the last few weeks is that backups and youngsters have gotten a lot more run lately, but only a couple of them stood out. First and foremost, Edoardo Bove, who’s a ball of energy and already possesses a well-rounded skill set. Ola Solbakken had some flashes and has strong physical traits, but he’s still a work in progress and not consistent.
They’ll predictably be in shambles physically after the humungous effort exerted midweek, and their lineup could reflect that. Paulo Dybala looked good for somebody expected to play just 20/30 minutes against Sevilla due to a lingering ankle injury. That was supposed to be his last game of the season to allow him to heal fully, but he might have to bite the bullet since there’s something up for grabs in this one too. Nemanja Matic has rarely played on short turnarounds, and Leonardo Spinazzola has some problems with that too.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Llorente; Missori, Bove, Cristante, Zalewski; Pellegrini, El Shaarawy; Belotti.
Doubts: Llorente/Ibanez, Missori/Solbakken, Belotti/Abraham.
Injury Report: Mkhitaryan (thigh distraction), Correa (calf distraction), Skriniar (back surgery) – Out.
Spezia find themselves in a highly hairy situation because of a downward spiral that started back in January, which they haven’t been able to stem despite a pair of victories along the way. They turned to a usual instrument, a coaching change, in late February to address the situation. It provided an immediate jolt, but they fell back into their sorry ways a month or so later. They have won just three matches in 2023. Weirdly enough, two victories came versus Inter and Milan.
They are level with Hellas Verona entering the final matchday. Due to a recent rule change, rather than the head-to-head record or the goal difference being the decider, they would face off in a single-elimination playoff to determine who avoids relegation. It would be high drama, top-level entertainment, and a fitting way to settle the duel.
The Aquilotti have a better and more experienced squad than a pair of sides ahead of them, but they have been slumping for ages. The switch from Luca Gotti, who seems like an old-fashioned gentleman, to the grittier Leonardo Semplici made some sense given the circumstances, although they weren’t so much in peril at the time, but it didn’t lead to the outcome they were hoping for. While the Scaligeri dropped some points lately because they looked tight and due to gaffes, they have worryingly failed to display the proper fighting spirit at times.
They recently switched back from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2, which they used under the previous gaffer. There’s not a ton of difference in their overall posture, but some pieces fit a little better. One of their main issues is that a few cornerstones constantly dealt with injuries or couldn’t play a full complement of minutes because they weren’t 100 percent.
M’Bala Nzola is a stud and is more than half their offense on his own. While he’s great in the box and on counters thanks to his combination of speed and size, getting the ball to him is a major struggle. Daniele Verde, Simone Bastoni, Kevin Agudelo, Szymon Zurkowski, and Daniele Maldini, their most inventive players, have never been available and completely healthy at the same time in the last two months. That’s a lot of firepower down the drain. The imperfect conditions of the winger, in particular, forced them to move on from the trident, which supported the no.9 better.
Their January window has been hit-and-miss. Eldor Shomurodov occasionally has tantalizing moves but isn’t a clutch player or a prolific scorer. Despite his frame, he’s a pure second striker, but he and Nzola haven’t clicked. Salvatore Esposito had a terrible start but eventually took the reins in the midfield. While he’s a work in progress as a distributor, although he already has the necessary vision and confidence, his set-piece prowess is an asset for a team that doesn’t create a lot.
They could use some more oomph in that area, as Mehdi Bourabia and Albin Ekdal are fine on both ends but not glitzy at all. Zurkowski would have been a big upgrade and a threat in the final third, but he has never been in acceptable shape. The sturdier tactical solution would allow them to field Agudelo as a box-to-box, and he’s their best change-of-pace guy, but they have very seldom utilized such a solution from the start. Emil Holm, who might be back to the bench after a bout with a sports hernia, was also a meaningful loss, but Kelvin Amian has been dynamic enough, even though he’s more defensive-minded.
Przemyslaw Wisniewski has been a success and added an element of physical dominance that wasn’t there beforehand, but they were ultimately hurt by the January departure of Jakub Kiwior. It’s understandable why they pulled the trigger, as the fee was robust, and you never know what could happen, but their defense hasn’t been as stingy afterward. Ethan Ampadu has played there regularly in recent months, but he tends to be more impactful as a midfielder, where he has the freedom to chase after opponents all over the pitch, and his positioning or concentration flaws aren’t exposed.
They quickly threw in the towel against Torino and weren’t much better against Lecce, where both teams settled for a point. They’ll face a spent opponent, have had more time to prepare, and the form of a few linchpins should be improving, but they won’t be able to accomplish anything without the right attitude.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Dragowski; Wisniewski, Ampadu, Nikolaou; Amian, Bourabia, Esposito, Ekdal, Reca; Gyasi, Nzola.
Doubts: Esposito/Zurkowski, Ekdal/Agudelo, Reca/Shomurodov.
Injury Report: Bastoni (thigh injury), Bastoni (ankle sprain), Moutinho (ankle fracture) – Out, Holm (sports hernia), Maldini – Questionable.
Draw – Under 2.5 goals