Roma vs. Sampdoria: Key Battles to Watch in Coppa Italia Clash
The Italian Cup resumes this week, with Roma taking on Sampdoria in a game that will allow the Giallorossi to provide a quick response to their weekend setback. Their undefeated streak was ended in emphatic fashion by Juventus, a 3-0 loss which they don’t have time to dwell upon.
Rudi Garcia may well be thankful for that, but the red cards for Daniele De Rossi and Leandro Castan means the coach has some difficult questions ahead. Given that they will be unavailable next weekend, he may opt to field both men, or he could also use the tie to allow Nicolas Burdisso and Mehdi Benatia to build an understanding before taking on Genoa this Sunday.
Yet the Giallorossi should not underestimate a resurgent Sampdoria, a side whose form belies their league position. Currently sitting 14th, they have lost just once—a 2-0 loss to Napoli on Monday—since replacing Delio Rossi with Sinisa Mihajlovic at the end of November.
As always, it is difficult to predict the line-ups for a midweek cup tie, but on the following pages are, in no particular order, the five key clashes of this encounter.
All stats are taken from WhoScored.com.
Michael Bradley vs. Angelo Palombo
Angelo Palombo, the Sampdoria skipper, was born just 40 miles outside the Italian capital, but he is undoubtedly the beating heart of the Genovese side. He joined the club back in 2002 and, aside from a brief loan spell at Inter, has been there ever since. With almost 350 appearances in the Blucerchiati, he embodies everything about the club, sticking with them in Serie B to be a major factor in their success.
Averaging 1.9 tackles and 1.9 assists per game, the 32-year-old also keeps possession well and neatly links attack and defence—something Roma must look to shut down if they hope to win. That task could fall to U.S. international Michael Bradley, who finds himself in a worrying position with the Giallorossi.
Already a backup to the regular midfield trio of De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic, he has made just five starts this season, and the club have now added Radja Nainggolan to the squad.
Of course, they require depth as they fully expect to return to the Champions League next term, but the former Chievo man may not want to wait around and find out, particularly with the World Cup looming.
Dodo vs. Manolo Gabbiadini
Having been pressed into action following injury to Federico Balzaretti, the 21-year-old Brazilian has been excellent for Roma, helping them maintain their fine defensive record. Dodo's eight starts at full-back have seen him average 2.5 tackles and 1.5 interceptions, while also providing a steady supply of passes from the left flank.
Gabbiadini, a player co-owned by Juventus, has weighed in with four vital goals for Sampdoria from his role on the right or behind striker Eder, and stopping him will be important to Roma if they hope to progress.
Eder vs. the Roma Defence
As was already discussed, Rudi Garcia has problems in central defence, something he has largely been able to avoid this term.
The Mehdi Benatia-Leandro Castan partnership has featured in 16 of Roma’s 18 league games to date, including September’s 2-0 away win over the Doriani. The only natural backup to them is Nicolas Burdisso, and the Giallorossi have drawn all four games in which the Argentinean has featured.
He is likely to play in this match in order to be ready for the weekend and will play a major role in keeping Eder in check.
The Brazilian striker has netted seven goals this season, but missed the previous meeting between these two sides with a knee sprain. He has also added two assists and is undoubtedly the danger man in Mihajlovic’s system.
Rudi Garcia vs. Sinisa Mihajlovic
The two coaches will be vital to their teams, and both have made an incredible impact since arriving at their respective clubs.
Garcia has transformed Roma from a defensively porous also-ran into instant contenders, and perhaps the only real challenger to a dominant Juventus. His 4-3-3 system relies on penetration from wide areas and midfield solidity, with the whole team working tirelessly to protect Morgan De Sanctis' goal.
The loss to Juve provides teams with a blueprint for stopping the Giallorossi, but very few teams possess the concentration, nerve and quality to mirror Antonio Conte’s tactics, least of all a relegation-threatened Sampdoria. Yet the Serbian has proven to be an excellent coach in his own right, and will certainly have his side ready, which leads us on to...
Roma vs. Their Own State of Mind
This is perhaps the one factor which will ultimately decide the game and, if Garcia hasn’t rotated too many players, will tell us what to expect from Roma in the coming weeks.
If the Frenchman can galvanise the squad, the players can use their loss to inspire another winning run and quickly dispel questions over their ability to challenge the Bianconeri.
If that is not enough, last season’s final saw them pipped by bitter rivals Lazio to the Coppa Italia, a memory that still pains players and supporters today. They will want to make amends for that and are therefore unlikely to underestimate Sampdoria.
If Roma play at their best, or even somewhere close to it, they should comfortably secure a place in the quarter-finals where they would once again face Juventus. They should need little else to motivate them.