Sassuolo v Roma preview: Defensive dilemma as Serie A returns

Roma return from the international break with an away match at Sassuolo on Saturday afternoon.

After going into the break on the back of a disappointing defeat to Napoli, Roma now need to turn things around again. The first of their last 10 opponents in Serie A this season is a team two places behind them, Sassuolo.

It seems unlikely Sassuolo will be able to catch Roma by the end of the season, as they are currently 11 points behind. But they do have a game in hand, and if Paulo Fonseca’s side were to drop points to them, it would close the gap further.

Hence, Roma need to be up for the challenge to establish their superiority. But it won’t be easy because of a problem that both squads are dealing with – absences of key players.

Roma are especially short of personnel in defence. Chris Smalling is close to recovering from injury but isn’t quite ready yet, while Marash Kumbulla suffered an injury on international duty and Roger Ibanez is suspended. Furthermore, Juan Jesus has only just recovered from Covid-19 and is not in the squad.

That means the only options to choose from at the back are Gianluca Mancini, Bryan Cristante and Federico Fazio. Having rarely trusted the latter during his time with the club, though, Fonseca may shake things up and play Leonardo Spinazzola or Rick Karsdorp out of position in the back three.

In midfield, there is the welcome return of Jordan Veretout to the squad, but Gonzalo Villar is out with suspension. Captain Lorenzo Pellegrini will likely play a key role against his former club.

Ahead of that area, Henrikh Mkhitaryan remains out with injury. There have been rumours that this may be the game for Javier Pastore to finally make his first appearance of the season, although it would likely be from the bench rather than as a starter.

Up front, Fonseca has confirmed he knows who will start between Edin Dzeko and Borja Mayoral – but didn’t reveal whom. (In fact, the only starters Fonseca confirmed were goalkeeper Pau Lopez and centre-back Cristante). If it is Dzeko – or at least if he comes on – the Bosnian will make his 250th appearance for Roma.

Sassuolo, for their part, will also be without some important players. They have decided to leave their players who represented Italy during the international break – Manuel Locatelli and Gian Marco Ferrari – at home as a Covid-19 precaution, despite both of them testing negative for the virus.

After holding Roma to a goalless draw earlier in the season and winning this fixture last term 4-2, Sassuolo will be a stubborn opponent. But with just one win in their last five games, they will still have the underdog status for this game.

Roma will need to perform at their maximum level to beat them, though.

Kick-off is at 2pm UK time and the game will be available to watch live on the LiveScore app. There will be a replay of the game on Premier Sports 2 at 10pm.

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