AC Milan and AS Roma have a chance to take advantage of dropped points from Juventus and Lazio. To get a better idea of the opposition, we sat down with @chiesaditotti and asked a few questions, which they were kind enough to answer for us!
Question: Milan’s come in on the back of a poor run of form where teams have found success in either pressing Milan’s backline relentlessly or letting them bring their high defensive line forward and then taking advantage of matchups. Roma being a high press team, what do you expect to see from the Giallorossi from a tactical perspective?
Answer: Honestly, Roma isn’t really that dissimilar in that regard. They’ve been predator and prey when it comes to pressing and high lines. Looking at the last match, it seems like Milan were vastly more successful in their presses than Roma (31% vs 17%), so I’m not sure they’ll be quite as aggressive. If I had to guess, I think Roma may play the counter game here and focus on the transition game through Cristante, Gonzalo Villar, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Question: It looks like both Smalling and Kumbulla are expected to return for the match. Do you anticipate either/both to slot back into the starting XI or might they be eased in, perhaps coming off the bench?
Answer: That’s an excellent question. They’ve both been out quite a while, so I’m not sure they’ll be thrown right back into the fire in such an important match. Bryan Cristante has actually done quite well as a make-shift center-back, particularly in terms of his ability to build play from the back, so I think he and Gianluca Mancini will make up two-thirds of Roma’s backline. If Paulo Fonseca does choose to reinsert one of those players, I think Smalling would be the safer bet given his age and experience.
Question: Many fan’s favorite former Rossoneri of the last 5 years, Stephen El-Shaarawy, has returned to Roma after a short stint in China. How’s he fared since he’s been back and can we expect to see him feature against his former side?
Answer: Well, it’s still too soon to really pass any judgment on him. He’s made two second-half cameo against Benevento and the first leg of Roma’s Europa League match against Braga before starting the return leg on Thursday. He’s looked good though, as nimble and exciting as ever, and nearly had a goal in Roma’s last match. I’m not sure he’s up for the full 90 yet, but he’s likely Roma’s first option off the bench on Sunday.
Question: With Dzeko out, Borja Mayoral may very well get the nod up top. What does he bring to the table different from Dzeko?
Answer: He’s a more direct player, faster, more agile, and can keep up with Roma’s attacking players better than Dzeko can at this stage in his career. His scoring record this season has been fantastic, albeit in a relatively small sample size, but he’s meshing well with players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini. There’s a lot to like in his game, but he’s yet to really produce against larger teams and doesn’t offer quite the same physical presence as Dzeko, but he’s scorching hot right now, so I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he scored on Sunday.
Question: How’s life under new ownership treating you? Outside of obvious league and European success in the short-term, what does their long term vision look like for the club? We’ve heard of some links regarding the Friedkin group potentially bringing in Ralf Rangnick, any truth to that?
Answer: Well, they just officially announced they’ve killed the stadium plans we’ve been tracking for nearly a decade now, so I’m not sure exactly what their long-term plans are! Getting a new Lazio-free stadium has been the club’s top priority for nearly 20 years now and they’re no closer than they were back then. In the short-range, they seem set on shedding some of the bloated salaries remaining from the Monchi era and focusing on young and high-upside players.
I have no way to confirm this, but my suspicion is they’re angling for a hard reset and once all the ghosts of the past have been exorcised, they can really start their project. That might take another year or so, but they’ve got a new GM and a new kit deal starting next season, so they’re laying the groundwork.
I’m not sure the Rangnick rumors ever held much water—he wants too much control for a new ownership group’s tastes and they just hired Tiago Pinto from Benfica to serve as the new GM, and to date, he’s denied that anyone else is coming on board in sort of a traditional DS role, so I can only assume that Pinto is our Rangnick.
Question: Who do you expect to be the impact man for Roma in this game? Any players you’re particularly worried about on Milan?
Answer: Generally speaking, Roma goes as far as Pellegrini and Mkhitaryan take them. If Milan are able to jam the middle of the park and make life miserable for those two, they’ll force Roma to spend more time on the wings, firing crosses into the middle, and without Dzeko, that becomes an even flimsier tactic.
In terms of who we’re afraid of, it’s obviously Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but certainly, Calhanoglu and Rebic are players Roma must consider when prepping for this match.
Question: Finally, a score prediction. How do you see this one playing out at the Olimpico?
Answer: I seldom make match predictions..haha. But I think we’re staring down the barrel of another draw, which may be a fair result given our club’s respective form over the past few matches—they’ve both been too scattered to really predict, right?
Make sure to watch as Milan head to the Giallorossi at 2:45 PM EST on Sunday, 2/28 on ESPN+. Thanks again to @chiesaditotti for taking the time!