Defensive prodigy Alessio Romagnoli departed Roma in the summer of 2015 from the Giallorossi after a superb loan spell with Sampdoria during the 2014-15 campaign. After arriving to Milan and immediately thriving under the pressures of the San Siro this season, the Italy U-21 star will return to the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to face off against his former club for the very first time since his move.
The Rossoneri appointed Siniša Mihajlović as the replacement to Pippo Inzaghi this past summer. With that, the former Sampdoria manager immediately became interested in bringing some of his top performers with him to Milan. Alessio Romagnoli was everything they could have needed and wanted moving forward as they set out to restore order to the Milanese regime.
Romagnoli made the switch across Italy to play with the seven-time Champions League crown winners, with Milan coughing up a handsome fee of 25 million euros for his talents. It was an obvious move and one that was welcomed by all Milan supporters. The star center-half thrived under Mihajlović in his lone season with Sampdoria and at age 20, he was observed as one of hopefully many pillars that were to shape the red and black for years to come. But he did not depart the capital club without controversy.
Alessio Romagnoli switched shirts however, for a brief moment, he put on another: the kit of Roma rival Lazio. Once the image went viral, it didn’t take long for infuriated Giallorossi supporters to respond. Romagnoli received death threats and they were scrawled, in large print, on the walls of his parents’ home in the Italian capital (See below).
Certainly, there is bad blood between the two.
Fast forward to 2016 and Romagnoli is far and wide the best defender in the current squad. Milan, statistically, had one of their worst defensive displays last season when they conceded north of 50 goals, which they hadn’t done since 1948-49. This, and many other facets, contributed to a 10th place finish in the league. Now, the former Roma defender is deemed priceless to a thin Milan defensive unit, especially this weekend as Mihajlović’s men face their first of many tough tests to begin the New Year.
We all have an idea as to how Romagnoli will be greeted upon entering the pitch. However, there is a certain Roma defender who will also be observed and that is the one who replaced Romagnoli in the back: Antonio Rüdiger.
Rüdiger, who is on loan from Bundesliga club Stuttgart, has stepped in to fill the void Romagnoli was supposed to occupy for the next decade. The German international has been a mainstay in the back for Roma boss Rudi Garcia and a player who could very much help Romanisti cope with the loss of their homegrown Italian.
The physically imposing defender has all of the characteristics to be a force in the defence for years to come, standing in at 1,91 metres (6′ 3″) and nearly 190 pounds. But for now, we can only determine the impact he may have this weekend when he goes toe-to-toe with Romagnoli.
Most of the attention will be turned to the two managers currently on the hot seat: Siniša Mihajlović and Rudi Garcia. Our collaboration partner at @SerieAScouted (serieascouted.wordpress.com) has published a match preview to discuss everything you need leading up to the clash.
Both of these men have faced extreme criticism these past few weeks, and rightfully so. Each club limped into the winter break and then began 2016 with rather disappointing results. Milan fell to Bologna 1-0, while Roma squandered an early two goal lead before ending their bout with Chievo Verona at 3-3.
With both sides desperate to go on a run, this match could be the one to do so. Milan travel away to one of the more intimidating venues Europe has to offer in the Stadio Olimpico, while Roma return to their home, hoping to feed off the fans support. Both Alessio Romagnoli and Antonio Rüdiger are locks to start for their clubs in the Serie A Round 19 match of the week. The former will be faced with the tough task of having to fend off whistles and boos while the latter will be asked to prove that Romagnoli is replaceable.
To compare how the two are performing for their club this season, here are some defensive statistics, via WhoScored:
Romagnoli: 16 Serie A appearances, 1392 minutes, 1.5 tackles/match, 2.4 interceptions/match, 1.5 fouls/match, 6 clearances/match, rating: 6.93
Rüdiger: 11 Serie A appearances, 990 minutes, 1.5 tackles/match, 2.1 interceptions/match, 1.3 fouls/match, 5.4 clearances/match, rating: 7.05
As we rapidly approach this key match, there are several stories that come to the forefront:
-The managerial situation between Mihajlović and Garcia
-The return of Alessio Romagnoli to square off with his former club
-The desperation by each side to come away with the desired result to get back in the mix for European contention.
While these talking points could be correlated, you can expect the defensive matchup between the two promising young defenders to be decisive in which team walks away from the Stadio Olimpico victorious.