Preview: Empoli vs Roma – Goodbye Lukaku & Good ‘Evening’ UCL

Stadio Carlo Castellani forms the backdrop for a high-stakes Serie A final-day showdown between Empoli and Roma. Sunday’s clash in Tuscany has all the makings of a ‘make or break’ affair for the relegation-threatened home side. 

Conceding a heartbreaking 104th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Udinese last weekend threw Empoli’s hopes of securing top-flight survival into disarray. Stranded a point adrift of 17th-placed Udinese and two of Frosinone, Davide Nicola’s underachieves commence the final round in the bottom three.

But avoiding relegation isn’t beyond Empoli. With Udinese and Frosinone going head-to-head at Stadio Benito Stirpe, an unlikely win over Roma would extend Gli Azzurri’s Serie A status to 2024/25. However, it would have to come at long odds, especially as the visitors still have a valid reason to pursue a positive result. 

Atalanta’s iconic 3-0 rout of Bayer Leverkusen in Wednesday’s Europa League final has revived Roma’s Champions League hopes. La Dea’s stunning triumph has potentially earned Serie A a sixth spot in next season’s competition. 

Roma Out to Claim The Gift

Despite effectively relinquishing their top-five quest with a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta a fortnight ago, Roma could return to the Champions League after a five-year hiatus from Europe’s top table. They head into the season finale three points clear of seventh-placed Lazio, but they are ahead in head-to-head clashes, so they can’t be overtaken even if they lose.

On the other hand, they need La Dea exactly fifth to play in the top continental competition; otherwise, there wouldn’t be an extra spot for Italian teams. The Nerazzurri have a chance to overtake Bologna or Juventus, or both, considering they have a game in hand. 

When Roma hired their club legend to fill the vacancy after parting ways with Jose Mourinho in mid-January, it seemed like a desperate move amidst a severe crisis. But the gamble has paid off. De Rossi’s appointment has been an epic success, with the ex-midfielder turning Giallorossi’s fortunes around against all expectations. 

Champions League Qualification Mandatory Ahead of Summer Overhaul

It promises to be a busy summer at the Stadio Olimpico. In addition to handing De Rossi a new contract, Roma aim to back their manager in the transfer window to address the squad’s shortcomings. But the former Europa Conference League champions will operate on a tight budget.

Securing Champions League football would, therefore, be a much-needed cash injection. Other than the money obtained from a seat at Europe’s top table, Roma will mostly rely on player sales to raise funds for making new signings. 

Worst-case scenario, Roma will finish five points behind the Serie A top four. So the gap isn’t big, meaning a handful of quality additions could solidify Giallorossi’s bid to return to the highest places next term. Avoiding defeat at Empoli on Sunday is the first step.

Arrivederci Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku might have scored his last game for Roma in a 1-0 home win against Genoa this past weekend. After receiving a disqualifying yellow card just before second-half stoppages, the Chelsea loanee is ineligible to play at the Castellani. 

With Roma strapped for cash and Chelsea having plans for Lukaku, the Belgium international will probably return to Stamford Bridge this summer. Lukaku’s imminent departure will force the Italian powerhouse’s hand in the transfer window, as Tammy Abraham alone isn’t enough. 

It brings us back to our previous point. Reaping the benefits from Champions League qualification is a prerequisite to capturing a decent alternative for the robust striker. As such, it all comes down to this encounter. 

Favorable Fixture

Even Mourinho’s Roma proved a few levels above Empoli. In the biggest-margin win of the 2023/24 Serie A season, Giallorossi thrashed Nicola’s side 7-0 in September’s reverse fixture, extending their winning H2H streak to eight matches. 

While it’s almost impossible to expect a repeat of that emphatic result, Roma should still walk away from Tuscany with points. They’ve not lost on any of their last seven visits (W5, D2), noticeably bagging multiple goals on five occasions. 

All the pieces seem to have fallen into place to accommodate Roma’s heavily anticipated Champions League return. De Rossi holds all the aces as Empoli can already start preparing for life in Serie B, where they last were as early as 2020/21. 

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