Nothing lasts forever, whether it’s my three-week Christmas vacation from graduate school, the heaps of Crostoli di Natale I made with my dad, or Roma’s very own winter break. I’ve got disparate levels of appreciation and disappointment about each of those things coming to an end (going from petting dogs to studying public policy is going to be an abrupt shift back to reality), but on the bright side, Sunday afternoons will once again be filled with trying to get ESPN+ to work on my apartment’s TV.
As the Giallorossi entered the winter break, they were on a tear of good form: four wins in the last five league matches, qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League secured, and one really great New Years’ speech from Paulo Fonseca. That good form has pushed them into contention for third place with suburban rivals Lazio, who face eighteenth-place Brescia in an early match tomorrow. Assuming Simone Inzaghi meets expectations with a win against Le Rondinelle, that means that Roma must find victory against the underachieving I Granata.
Roma v. Torino: January 5th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Well, underachieving may be putting too fine a point on it. For a club that had quite a lot of fighting spirit in the 2010s, Torino has been shockingly poor in the 2019-2020 season, with many tifosi calling for Walter Mazzarri’s head. Andrea Belotti, the oft-linked-to-Roma Italian striker who is now in his fifth season with Torino, has had a fine season so far with seven goals in twelve matches, but goalscoring hasn’t been the problem for Il Toro. Barring a humiliating four-day span that featured a 3-0 loss to Inter and a 4-0 loss to Lazio, Torino has found the net. Yet their incredibly leaky defense has allowed nearly as many goals as seventeenth-placed Sampdoria. Roma’s forward corps has enough grit and talent in it that they should be able to exploit a weak squad on the verge of firing its manager; the main question is how much rust they’ll have to shake off after the winter break.
Perhaps the most exciting news for Romanisti is that the doctor’s office at Trigoria is starting to get a little less crowded. Although Justin Kluivert looks to be out this match due to a muscular problem, the Dutchman’s injury timetable would indicate that he’ll be back in the side by the time Roma play Juventus on the 12th. Meanwhile, it does look as if Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Cengiz Ünder will be back in the side, although the question remains how they can break into the forward rotation with Nicolo Zaniolo, Edin Džeko, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Diego Perotti working so well together before the winter break.
As we enter 2020, I’m most interested to see how Zaniolo and Pellegrini can work to play in tandem on the pitch. Obviously, both Italians have talent to spare, with Paulo Fonseca going as far as to say that Nicolo can “become the best player in Italy” by continuing to develop his decision-making ability. Yet it is apparent that if Roma wishes to build any semblance of a title-winning side, it will have to do so with a backbone featuring Zaniolo and Pellegrini. Sure, you can argue that players like Gianluca Mancini, Amadou Diawara, and Justin Kluivert will also play an important role, but the stars of this club will most definitely be The Kid and Roma’s new Capitano Futuro. If they can develop a stronger chemistry this year, it will make the Giallorossi all the more dangerous in attack.
Roma simply needs to get the job done against Torino tomorrow. If this were Luciano Spalletti’s Roma, or Rudi Garcia’s Roma, or, god forbid, Zdenek Zeman’s Second Roma, I’d be terrified of a match against a mid-table side. Thank Totti for Paulo Fonseca.