Europa League Quarterfinal • AS Roma-AC Milan Preview: When In Rome

Last week, Milan's seven match winning streak was broken by an early goal scored after a wrong referee call, as well as a lack of a penalty that could have at least atoned for the first error, so Roma lead this tie 1-0 as we head to the capital. Credit to Roma, as De Rossi has woken up his players from their Mourinho-induced slumber and has created a new mentality in his team. He also spoke of having studied Milan's losses to Inter last season as inspiration for his tactics in the first leg, which was certainly not a bad idea at all. However, for all that he is criticized for, Pioli does actually know what he is doing, and often gets the team to come up big in matches like this, when his back is up against the wall. So if De Rossi has his Roman soldiers pumped, Pioli will have our Milan players ready for battle. Because, as they say, "When in Rome..."

When in Rome, do as De Rossi the Romans do...

Roma did have something happen that could distract or galvanize them over the weekend. In their match away to Udinese, Ndicka collapsed on the pitch with chest pains and difficulty breathing. Fearing the worst, he was rushed to the hospital, and their match was abandoned at the 72 minute mark. However, the good news is that tests showed no signs of cardiac issues, rather he had suffered some trauma to his chest during the match, and was suffering a partial pneumothorax, or a partially collapsed lung. He has already been discharged from the hospital, and will undergo more tests, but this injury is far less concerning than cardiac problems, so I wish him a safe and complete recovery.

Heal up, Ndicka.

With their 1-1 draw in Udine having been abandoned early, the last 20 minutes will have to be replayed at a future date, as per Serie A rules. However, to start that match, De Rossi had lined up: Svilar; Diego Llorente, Huijsen, Ndicka; Zalewski, Cristante, Paredes, Aouar, Angenliño; and Lukaku up front. Obviously, Ndicka, who was suspended last week, will be out again for our match, this time to injury. Of the players included in the Europa League squad, Former Milan runaway player Cristante will also be suspended for his yellow card accumulation and will miss the second European meeting with his ex team.

As for the referee, UEFA stepped up their game and assigned the best of the best, Szymon Marciniak, who not only refereed last year's Champions League final, but also the last World Cup Final. Marciniak has actually refereed three of Milan's Champions League matches in the past two seasons, our 4-0 away win over Dinamo Zagreb in 2022; our 1-1 draw with Napoli in the quarterfinals last April, and our goalless draw away to Borussia Dortmund in October. (Yes, I have become one of those suspicious people who looks at past referees performances with us, but can you blame me?)

How to spot a fair referee... one who will actually appropriately card a deserving Inter player.

In spite of the fact that Milan struggled in some of those performances, Marciniak called tight, fair games in all three instances, with no controversies. Not that I am entirely relieved, because last week's referee, Turpin, was also one of the best. However, it does give me some hope of a fairly called match, which means that Milan simply need to do their part to overturn the deficit.

Is that possible? On a good day, absolutely. Much will depend on Pioli and his lineups, substitutions, tactics, and mentality. He will be missing Kjaer and Kalulu to injury. Pobega is now back in full training with the squad, and although he is included in the Europa League Squad, it is unclear how soon he will be match fit. Other than those players, Pioli should have a complete squad, with Maignan returning after his issues that caused him to miss the 3-3 draw to Sassuolo on Sunday.

Thiaw specializes in stopping Lukaku, but has also made errors.

In defense, Tomori will be back from suspension, then Pioli has a choice to make as to who is Tomori's defensive partner. Will he go with the bigger, more physical Thiaw, who has struggled with errors since returning from injury, but is good at keeping Lukaku quiet and nearly scored on Sunday? He will also be suspended for the Derby, so Pioli may wish to give Gabbia some rest ahead of Monday's showdown. However, Gabbia has been virtually infallible since returning in January, had an assist on Sunday, and also more than held his own against Lukaku last week. They say it's good to have options, but making the wrong choice here alone could be costly for this match or the Derby.

Then there is the rest of the squad. Pioli will undoubtedly start his strongest eleven, and he should have the players to get the job done. But he will have to change his tactics if he expects a different display than last week. Roma effectively shut down the wings, which is typically how Milan make everything happen. However, Pioli has some new midfield and tactical options this season that he did not have in last year's Derby losses. While he is still missing key defensive midfield protection, he definitely knows what to do to beat this Roma side.

A result that burns this badly can light a fire in this team... or burn it to the ground. 

The mentality of the team will be more important than the lineups or tactics, though. And that starts at the top. If you saw De Rossi last week when the cameras panned toward him, there was fire in his eyes, just like when he was a player. He clearly transmitted that mentality to his team, and they went out onto the pitch like they would die for him. Pioli's fire has been doused by five seasons of the Pioli Out fans, the constant media criticism and speculation, the club only giving him full support when things go well, and all of the politics and changes from last summer. His fire is flickering, and the team have struggled to consistently ignite their own fire from his inspiration.

If fans really want this win, they will unite unquestioningly behind Pioli and the team and give their full support. Considering that did not even happen when we won the Scudetto, I am not going to hold my breath. But if Pioli can gather enough fire to ignite the flame in each of the players and unite the team for this match, there is no reason why Milan cannot overturn the one goal deficit and come out victors at the Olimpico. After all, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's "Gasoline"

Our next match is 
Europa League Quarterfinals
AC Milan vs AS Roma
Thursday, April 11 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)
In the U.S., you can use a VPN to access a Europa League provider elsewhere*
(*one that does not also sponsor Inter's kits)

Europa League Quarterfinal • AS Roma-AC Milan Preview: When In Rome Europa League Quarterfinal • AS Roma-AC Milan Preview: When In Rome Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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