At long last the dreaded international break is over. While it's all well and good that Italy are leading their Euro 2020 qualification group by a healthy six points over a surprising Finland side, it's time we turn our attention to what really matters in 2019—Roma: Year Zero. If you missed the first two rounds of the season, let me offer a quick recap. In their opener against Genoa, Roma looked as dangerous in attack and as susceptible at the back as we presumed all summer, while the second time out—the derby against Lazio—bore horrifying similarities to the darkest and most uninspiring days of EDF—lot's of aimless passing and a lack of creativity.
Since we last saw Roma in that one-one draw against Lazio, the Giallorossi were dealt some sour news—injuries to Davide Zappacosta and Cengiz Ünder, the latter of whom may miss up to five weeks. Roma weren't the only team to be bitten by the international break injury bug, but Roma's perpetual nemesis—persistent muscular injuries—sadly was not on holiday over the past two weeks.
Roma v. Sassuolo: September 15th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
It seems a bit silly now, but when discussing Roma's early fixtures on the RomaPress podcast, John Solano and I deemed them “easy” and, well, suffice it to say, things have not gone so swiftly. Sassuolo may not be the shock European team they were under Eusebio Di Francesco several years ago, but they do feature the in-form Domenico Berardi, who had a hat trick in the Neroverdi's 4-1 win over Sampdoria before break, and they've also added Gregoire Defrel (on loan from Roma), who will presumably be eager to prove he still belongs in a top league.
Point being, what seemed easy may no longer be, if it ever was. With that in mind, let's take a gander at how the Giallorossi will stem the tide of neutral results.
On a Wing and a Prayer
Earlier in the week, we discussed the mounting injury crises on Roma's flanks, one that became decidedly grimmer when the severity of Ünder's injury became public—he may miss up to five weeks with a femoral bicep injury—we ran through the host of options available to Paulo Fonseca, the best of which might feature Roma's newest signee, Henrikh Mkhyitaryan.
Under Fonseca, this could prove to be deadly - any changes? pic.twitter.com/jt4B9XhkLU— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) September 12, 2019
Kudos to the IFTV crew for another great graphic, but without Ünder and Diego Perotti, and with Justin Kluivert struggling to find form, Fonseca's best bet might be to role with the Armenian at left flank, push Lorenzo Pellegrini into the spot lately occupied by Nicolo Zaniolo, and to slot The Kid on the right, which, while not his best position, still gets him on the pitch.
In this setup, the double pivot would presumably be occupied by Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout, who should be in line for his club debut. Throwing Mkhitaryan and Veretout to the wolves as it were may not seem like the best idea, but it would immediately put Gianluca Petrachi's philosophies to the test: Could these two veterans hit the ground running without proper time to acclimate to their new surroundings or will that lack of preparation cause them to stumble?
It's a critical question under normal circumstances, but with Roma potentially facing three matches without a victory to start the season, these circumstances are anything but normal.
At the back end of the pitch, Fonseca may hand out another Roma first, potentially giving Chris Smalling his Serie A debut on Sunday. Given how poor Roma's defense has looked through two matches, tossing Smalling into the deep end not knowing the language or the league could actually be an improvement over the chaos and disarray we've seen at the back thus far.
It's been a long two weeks waiting for the return of Serie A, and with Roma facing (and I hate to use this term already) a must-win and possibly using three new faces in the XI, it's shaping up to be an exciting weekend, one that will hopefully include an easy three points.