De Rossi faces biggest test yet with tiring AS Roma in a rut for season-defining week

Daniele De Rossi has a job on his hands with AS Roma's form waning right when they need to secure qualification to the Champions League.

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STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): Daniele De Rossi insists he won’t have to choose between success in Serie A or on the continent, but AS Roma have been here before. Jose Mourinho’s tenure showed that deep runs in Europe came at the cost of extending their lengthy wait for a Champions League return.

If De Rossi isn’t careful, his encouraging start to life in the top job of his boyhood club could have a familiar underwhelming ending in Serie A – but without the excitement of a European final to go with it.

He insisted that “nothing is compromised” after Thursday’s 2-0 first-leg defeat to Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen, while accepting “it will be difficult.” You can say that again. Xabi Alonso’s side are unbeaten in all competitions this season, a run of 47 games, and showed why with a confident, cohesive and composed display in Rome.

But this isn’t just make-or-break week for the Giallorossi in Europe, as Sunday’s trip to Atalanta could decide their fate in the Champions League race too.

De Rossi Roma
AS Roma’s Daniele De Rossi. [@OfficialASRoma]

A tough run-in for AS Roma takes its toll

Last weekend, Roma’s 1-1 draw with Juventus and Atalanta’s subsequent 2-1 win at Salernitana saw the Giallorossi tumble out of the top five for the first time since February.

The season run-in has been gruelling for De Rossi and his side. Four of their last five league games have been against direct rivals for European spots – Lazio, Bologna, Napoli and Juventus – and the other was the abandoned clash with Udinese that required two dates to be completed after Evan Ndicka’s health scare.

This has all come while battling AC Milan in the Europa League quarter-finals to tee up the tie against Leverkusen, an exhausting run of nine outings (including the two against Udinese) in one month.

After a good start to this period, De Rossi’s men are now running out of steam.

Sunday’s draw with Juve marked their third home game in a row without victory, following defeats to Bologna and Leverkusen, and left the Lupi with just one win in their last five in all competitions.

Paulo Dybala’s half-time withdrawal with a muscular issue was a reminder of the physical rigours taking their toll on this squad, although Roma’s star man thankfully seems to have avoided any serious problems.

De Rossi changed his entire back four for the visit of Juve, but there are several players this Roma side can’t do without at the other end of the pitch.

The likes of Dybala, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Romelu Lukaku, Bryan Cristante and Leandro Paredes are going to have to grit their teeth because the Giallorossi are unlikely to get the results they need without their help.

First up is that trip to Germany. And it turns out De Rossi has been crowdsourcing ideas for his tactical approach.

“We must not be in too much of a hurry. I asked Max Allegri for some advice and he told me ‘you can also score goals after 60 minutes’,” said the Roma boss.

Overturning a two-goal deficit against this all-conquering Leverkusen side on their own turf would be a result for the ages, but even if Roma pull it off, there will be no respite given what comes next.

Champions League qualification feels like a must

Atalanta have edged ahead of Roma into fifth, with a game in hand against Fiorentina still to come.

While the Bergamaschi too have a Europa League semi-final second leg coming up on Thursday, they at least host Marseille at the Gewiss Stadium before also welcoming Roma without having to travel.

Given La Dea’s game in hand, a top-five finish is no longer completely in Roma’s hands, but the winner in Bergamo will also have a valuable head-to-head tiebreaker on their side after a 1-1 draw in the first meeting this season.

“On Sunday in Bergamo we will only have one result available, we can’t afford to get to the postponed game between Atalanta and Fiorentina and be there watching. For them it would be a final,” De Rossi said.

Roma Lukaku Europa
AS Roma’s Romelu Lukaku heads the ball against Bayer Leverkusen. [@OfficialASRoma]

Roma, of course, still have a chance of catching Bologna, who are four points ahead and have played the same number of games. Bologna’s run-in sees them faces Napoli (A), Juventus (H) and Genoa (A).

After Sunday’s clash in Bergamo, Atalanta have Lecce (A) and Torino (H), while Roma take on Genoa (H) and Empoli (A).

It has been six years since Roma last graced the Champions League and with five places now up for grabs and the Lupi occupying one of them for so long and so recently, falling back into the Europa League now would be a bitter pill to swallow.

It’s still anyone’s game, but De Rossi faces his biggest test yet in this season-defining week – finding a way to get his tiring side out of their rut in time to produce results that will determine whether 2023/24 is reflected on as a success or a failure.

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