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Conference League Q&A with Chiesa di Totti

A look into what the other side are thinking

AS Roma v FK Bodo/Glimt: Quarter Final Leg Two - UEFA Europa Conference League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

This Thursday, the season is very much on the line for Leicester City, as they face off against Roma in the home leg of their Uefa Conference League semi final.

We talked to Chiesa di Totti our sister blog covering the Italian side, to see how they were feeling ahead of the big clash. If you want to see more of their perspective go check them out. They don’t support Leicester, but other than that they’re pretty great.

Fosse Posse: it’s the Ranieri Derby so let’s start with Claudio. His stays in Rome were short and ultimately unsuccessful, so how fondly is he remembered?

Chiesa di Totti: Well, Roma fans don’t really define success with league titles (sadly) but Ranieri got us as close as any manager has since Fabio Capello actually won the league in 2001. Throw in the fact that he’s a born and bred Roman (which is a massive deal among our fanbase) and actually played for the club (albeit briefly) and his legacy among Roma fans is already secure.

But, to me, his status as a club legend was secured when he came back as a caretaker manager in the spring of 2019. After Eusebio Di Francesco was sacked, Ranieri came back to Roma with an impossible task: win a six-team race for the league’s final CL place with only 11 matches remaining. He ultimately came up short, but as he said himself when Roma calls, you can’t say no.

Sevilla FC v Leicester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Photo by Craig Mercer - CameraSport via Getty Images

So, while his legacy is lacking in trophies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more celebrated manager in club history. He’s our grandpa, basically. He’s one of a few figures in club history that is almost universally loved.

FP: what were expectations like ahead of the season and how happy are the fans with how it’s going so far?

CdT: This was perhaps the hardest season to set expectations because of the José Mourinho effect. On the one hand, he’s the most noteworthy manager Roma has had since Capello, so in that light, some fans were expecting an immediate turnaround. But the cold light of the day is this: Roma’s squad was built by three different Directors of Sport for nearly as many managers, so the roster was (and is) kind of a mess, so the title talk died pretty quickly.

But the season began with eight wins in ten matches in all competitions, then they hit a bit of a skid in the winter before ripping off a 12-match unbeaten run that was only halted last weekend against Inter Milan. So things are definitely looking up, and while it’s disappointing that Roma will likely miss the Champions League next year, people are excited about Mourinho: Year Two.

FP: for fans who don’t watch a lot of Italian football, what style of play can we expect to see? A typical Mourinho approach?

CdT: Hmm, that’s difficult to say. In a lot of ways, it’s typical Mourinho and I’m sure your readers will recognize it instantly: the counter-attacking, the rigid defense, Mourinho snarling and gesticulating on the sidelines, etc. But at the same time, Roma’s underlying attacking stats are pretty impressive; they’re currently top three in expected goals, total shots, shots per game, etc. so they’re capable of running with nearly any team in Serie A. The problem has simply been one of efficiency–their finishing has let them down time and time again this season, so you can almost sit back and wait until Roma’s frustration gets the better of them.

I think what’ll you see is a lot of Nicolo Zaniolo in wider spaces with Lorenzo Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan keeping a steady supply line into Tammy Abraham in the middle. The full-back play can be all over the map, but expect to see Rick Karsdorp getting way up the pitch on the right flank.

Roma has found most of their success this year with a three-man backline, so you’ll see plenty of deliberate play out of the back, some quick transitions through the middle, and a whole lot of Abraham and Zaniolo. Their identity isn’t fully formed yet, but over the past few months, we’ve started to see a lot more fluidity in Roma’s attacking play.

FP: Roma are sat in a much better position than we are for European qualification through the league, so how important is the conference league for you?

CdT: Well, you won’t find many (if any) Roma fans claiming the UECL is more important than the more prestigious European tournaments. And at the outset of the season, the Conference League was greeted rather tepidly, but the deeper they’ve advanced in the tournament, the more excited people have become. Roma hasn’t won anything since 2008, so third-tier tournament or not, this would be a mark of progress for our club.

But, even if Roma fails to advance to the finale, they’re in 5th place in Serie A and have the inside track on the Europa League anyway, so that should cushion the blow if they fall to Leicester. Ultimately, Roma fans are starved for a trophy, so I’d still expect massive celebrations around the city if they win this tournament.

FP: Outside of the English players our fans will know, who should we be watching for on Thursday?

CdT: Whoops, guess I sort of answered this one already! Tammy Abraham has stolen the show for Roma this season, but I’m sure your readers are familiar enough with him. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo are arguably the club’s two most talented players. Pellegrini is the latest in a long line of Roman kids captaining AS Roma and is a pretty slick playmaker, doling out 19 assists in his past three league seasons, but he’s also added nine goals to the mix this season.

Zaniolo is perhaps the most talented U-23 player Roma has had since Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi made their respective debuts. He’s strong, aggressive, and willing to take on any defender, but he’s coming off two ACL tears, so consistency hasn’t exactly been his friend this season, but he’s the type of player who immediately commands attention anytime he’s on the ball–it’s not often you see a player his size capable of moving like he does. He’s a bit of Lampard with a dash of Kaka thrown into the mix.

FP: finally, what are your predictions for the game and the semi final as a whole?

CdT: To be quite honest, I have no idea what to expect from this match or the series as a whole. I suspect that the home sides will fair better and I think we’re looking at 120 minutes and then penalties back in Rome next week to decide this.

I’ll say Leicester wins on Thursday but Roma squeaks past them next week, maybe 4-3 on aggregate.

Big thanks to Chiesa di Totti for all their input. We’ve reciprocated with answers to their questions, so check them out here if you want to see our side.

So that’s how they feel and how we feel. As always, we love to hear everyone else’s input in the comments below.