After reaching a European final for the second straight season, Roma resume their pursuit of a top-four finish in Serie A when they host Salernitana on Monday.
A resilient display in Leverkusen saw the Giallorossi edge into the Europa League decider, but they have been short of both goals and points in recent league matches; their visitors, meanwhile, are within touching distance of top-flight survival.
Having taken a slim lead with them to Germany, Roma gritted their teeth and defended resolutely for 90 minutes on Thursday, as they eliminated Bayer Leverkusen to set up a Europa League final clash with competition specialists Sevilla.
Last year’s Europa Conference League winners had won 1-0 in the Italian capital seven days earlier, and a classic Jose Mourinho performance saw them hold Xabi Alonso’s side goalless at the BayArena – Roma had just one shot throughout, and even that failed to hit the target.
Between now and their trip to Budapest on the last day of May, Mourinho’s men must play out two crucial Serie A fixtures – against Salernitana and then fellow continental finalists Fiorentina – as they seek to salvage a top-four finish from a challenging domestic campaign.
In addition to their shot-shy effort in midweek, Roma have also failed to score in their last two Serie A matches – a 2-0 home defeat to Inter and last week’s 0-0 draw with Bologna – and they could now fire blanks in three consecutive league games for the first time since 1994.
With Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti both off-form and Paulo Dybala beset by injuries, it is perhaps no surprise that the Giallorossi have scored the fewest goals among teams in Italy’s top eight, and that seems to have left hopes of a Champions League return resting solely on winning the Europa League.
Nonetheless, on Monday, Mourinho will celebrate his 150th Serie A match with 84 wins already under his belt, and one more victory would take him above both Simone Inzaghi and Fabio Capello in that regard; sitting alongside Maurizio Sarri (85) and below only Antonio Conte (102), his fellow ex-Chelsea managers.
Not only have Salernitana have won just one of their seven Serie A meetings with Roma – and that came back in January 1999 – but they have never before beaten them at Stadio Olimpico in top-flight competition.
They have, though, tasted victory in Rome already this season, with October’s 3-1 win over Lazio being one of only two successes on the road this term.
Ex-Laziale Antonio Candreva was on target last weekend, when the Granata took a giant stride closer to confirming their Serie A status for next season by beating Atalanta 1-0 at Stadio Arechi, with the substitute’s stoppage-time strike also helping to avoid adding another draw to his team’s league-high total.
However, the Campanian club have failed to win any of their last seven away fixtures ahead of their latest trip to the Eternal City, and eight of their 14 draws have come when on the road.
That has still proved enough for Paulo Sousa to lift them into 15th place, and after his appointment in February an impressive 10-game unbeaten run saw the Salerno side almost assure their third straight campaign in Calcio’s top tier – that could be confirmed this week.
Following the exertions of Thursday night’s bus-parking exercise by the Rhine, Roma may make several changes to their lineup on Monday.
As wing-back pair Leonardo Spinazzola and Zeki Celik sustained injuries in Leverkusen, Jose Mourinho could bring in Nicola Zalewski and Filippo Missori, while Ola Solbakken is set to feature up front.
Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Llorente are back from injury to increase Mourinho’s options, with Paulo Dybala and Chris Smalling both likely to be given more minutes as they complete their respective returns to fitness.
Either Tammy Abraham or Andrea Belotti should partner Solbakken, though Belotti is yet to score in 28 Serie A matches since joining the Giallorossi last summer.
Salernitana’s Krzysztof Piatek recently ended his own lengthy goal drought, and now set to play his 100th game in Italian football, the Polish striker has scored in both of his previous league starts against Roma – for Genoa and then Milan.
Top scorer Boulaye Dia will join Piatek in the visitors’ forward line, and Antonio Candreva should support them, following his heroics last weekend.
Only ex-Roma defender Federico Fazio is sidelined by injury for Paulo Sousa’s side, for whom Dylan Bronn now returns from suspension.
Roma possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Mancini, Cristante, Ibanez; Missori, Bove, Wijnaldum, Zalewski; Pellegrini; Solbakken, Abraham
Salernitana possible starting lineup:
Ochoa; Lovato, Gyomber, Pirola; Mazzocchi, Coulibaly, Vilhena, Bradaric; Candreva, Dia; Piatek