Roma travel to a resurgent Udinese as the race for the prestigious Champions League hots up. The Giallorossi stand two points behind fourth-placed Fiorentina while Milan’s recent slump has seen their place amongst Europe’s elite in threat – with sixth placed Roma just four points adrift of Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
Roma’s horrific start to the campaign back in August all but destroyed their title ambitions, but Luciano Spalletti’s side must take credit for the way they have regrouped and battled their way back up the Serie A table. It is now 11 wins in their last 16 league matches, certainly form good enough for the top four, and with the Rossoneri crumbling before our very eyes, Genoa’s indifferent form (just two wins in seven) and la Viola’s inconsistency (although uncanny knack of winning late on!) many are tipping the Romans to prevail come May.
Last Sunday’s thrilling 3-3 draw with league leaders Inter left a sour taste in the mouth, but it should not hide the fact they outplayed their mighty opponents for a large majority of the game. Even without the likes of Francesco Totti and Alberto Aquilani, i Lupi played the Nerazzurri off the park for large periods of the match, especially in the first half, and provided some of the sumptuous free flowing football they had effortlessly produced the previous two seasons.
This coming week will be a vital one in the Giallorossi season, as this weekend’s clash with the Bianconeri is followed by the midweek Champions League crunch tie with Arsenal, culminating with a tricky trip to in-form Sampdoria. Spalletti will be tempted to rest some of his big names this weekend with the Gunners in mind, but would that really be wise? With big names such as Daniele De Rossi, Aquilani, Júlio Baptista, Juan and Mirko Vucinic, la Magica will be at a loss to keep such quality players should they be unable to showcase their talents on Europe’s biggest stage. Spalletti will no doubt have this in mind and although lifting the Champions League trophy aloft on their home turf will be the dream for most Romans, the experienced Tactician will know chasing it can come at a huge cost.
Meanwhile, the Zebrette travel to the Stadio Olimpico with slim European ambitions. Last weekend’s encouraging win at Lecce showed some of the Friulani’s early-season form, with Alexis Sánchez the inspiration. After an exciting start to the campaign, the Chilean startlet has blown hot and cold throughout the mid-season but he tortured the Lecce defence for the entire game on Sunday with the Salentini resorting to fouling the flying teenager as their only method of stopping him.
Sánchez’s individual season reflects that of his team as a whole. A mid season slump almost saw them wave their European ambitions goodbye but with just one loss in six, the Bianconeri lay four points adrift of seventh place. Unfortunately, they are 10 away from Roma in sixth, so will be pinning their hopes on Sampdoria or Lazio winning the Coppa Italia so as to ensure a place in next season’s Europa League is rewarded by a 7th place finish. Much had been expected from Pasquale Marino and his men this term, especially after topping the Serie A standings at Week 9, but an eleven match winless run left their season in tatters.
However, recent wins over Juventus and Lecce have re-ignited their campaign with Marino desperate to push on. Although, with the likes of Lazio, Napoli and Palermo all ahead of the Zebrette and their progress in this season’s UEFA Cup, their ambition may be somewhat tempered. Being the only Italian side left in the last 16 of the competition has seen the Bianconeri rearrange their priorities. A few members of the squad were rested for Sunday’s trip to Lecce, due to tired legs from the previous Thursday’s European exploits. After having reached the latter stages of the competition, Marino looks set to give it his all even if it is at the expense of any slight hopes of a top six (or seven) finish in the league. With Zenit St. Petersburg to come next week we may well see a few first team regulars rested with this is mind – whether or not Roma follow suit is less clear.
What is clear is that i Lupi head into the match not only with the prospect of several key players missing but also their Coach, who will serve a one match touchline ban. It follows the bald headed Tactician’s outburst in the wake of last Sunday’s draw in the San Siro as the aftermath continues to loiter above the Giallorossi. With key man Francesco Totti almost certainly out, along with the likes of Juan, Jérémy Menez and Simone Perrotta accompanying him on the sidelines – the Romans look set to name an unchanged line-up from the draw at Inter.
Udinese will arguably have one eye on the upcoming clash with Zenit but will welcome back influential winger Antonio Di Natale, although Fabio Quagliarella is definitely out. Marino will have to decide between Sánchez and the in-form Antonio Floro Flores as to who features alongside Pepe and Di Natale in the attacking trident.
This weekend’s match will no doubt be affected by both side’s European exploits. The Bianconeri can end their Serie A campaign and concentrate fully on their European adventure if they wanted, while la Magica simply cannot. Finishing outside the top four would be a disaster and the noises coming from the Roma camp seem to accept this. A full strength Giallorossi would no doubt be too strong for their mid-table opponents but after a controversial six days, followed by next week’s crunch Champions League tie, it may well prove to be much less simple. Spalletti has some big calls to make, starting with this match. Some interesting decisions lay ahead.