Crisis-hit Roma needs to get back to winning ways in Serie A
MILAN (AP) — Roma is in full crisis mode and needs to get back to winning ways immediately if it is to avoid tumbling down the Serie A table.
Roma was booed by its own fans after losing 2-0 at home to Fiorentina in the Italian Cup midweek, which came after four successive league draws saw the club fall seven points behind Serie A leader Juventus.
Now Roma might even struggle to hold on to second spot, as Napoli has slowly but steadily closed the gap to four points.
“To defend second we must aim for first and we still believe we can catch Juventus,” Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini said.
Next up for Roma is a visit to relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday.
“We have a number of issues with the team at the moment and it’s only human to feel a little insecure,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. “That’s why the guys are less daring. We need to get a result at Cagliari to get luck back on our side.”
Roma could find itself 10 points behind leader Juventus, which hosts AC Milan on Saturday in a match that is still one of the blockbuster fixtures of the season, despite the differing fortunes of the two teams.
Sampdoria and Lazio are still chasing third but, already five points behind Napoli, they know they can’t afford another mistake. Both have home matches, against Sassuolo on Sunday and Genoa on Monday.
Here are some of the things to know about this weekend’s games:
In stark contrast to Roma, Napoli will be full of confidence ahead of Sunday’s match against Udinese.
A fabulous stoppage-time strike by Gonzalo Higuain saw it knock Inter Milan out of the Italian Cup midweek, taking its number of successive victories to five.
Higuain has now netted eight goals in as many matches since breaking a month-long scoring drought in December.
“Gonzalo is champion, I knew that when we signed him,” Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. “I have coached many great players, including Raul when he was only 17 years old, and I have to say that today I think Higuain is one of the best strikers in the world.”
MORE INJURY PROBLEMS FOR ROMA
Roma has not been helped by a massive injury crisis.
Just as he was returning to his best following knee surgery, Kevin Strootman was ruled out for the rest of the season. Juan Iturbe has also been ruled long-term, while Daniele De Rossi, Federico Balzaretti and Leandro Castan are still sidelined.
Roma also has Kostas Manolas and Alessandro Florenzi suspended, while Gervinho and new signing Seydou Doumbia are still in Equatorial Guinea with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations.
“We hope our players win the Africa Cup of Nations but I must admit that in a slightly selfish way I would have preferred for them to get knocked out,” Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini said. “It’s hard for us because at the same time we care about our players and hope they can win the trophy.”
The Juventus-Milan meetings used to be perceived as significant for the destination of the title but Milan is languishing in eighth place in Serie A, having lost three of its past five league matches.
“We may be up against a Milan side who aren’t enjoying the best of times, but it’s still a classic of Italian football,” Juventus forward Carlos Tevez said. “It’s a different game to all the others and we can’t let our guard down. We have to give it everything we’ve got.”
The match also pits current Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri against the club which sacked him just over a year ago.
Milan’s new signing Mattia Destro is suspended after picking up a yellow card on his debut, while Alessandro Matri — who is still owned by Milan — will be hoping to make his first appearance of his second spell at Juventus.
Sassuolo visits Sampdoria knowing it will struggle for goals.
The team may be full of confidence following a 3-1 victory over Inter Milan — which had beaten it 7-0 on two of their three previous meeting — but that match cost Sassuolo dearly.
A red card for Nicola Sansone and bookings for Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi mean that all three forwards will sit out Sunday’s match.
Sassuolo will have to rely on Sergio Floccari and Antonio Floro Flores, who have scored only three goals in 30 league appearances between the two of them this season.