I'll be honest, there were many days throughout this pandemic where I thought we wouldn't be discussing actual football until the early fall—and we can certainly debate whether or not Serie A should be coming back now—but now that the league has officially rolled out their re-start schedule, I thought we all could use a refresher on what Roma looked like prior to the shutdown in early March.
Roma were one of the handful of teams that played 26 matches before the Coronavirus pandemic put a halt on normal life in 2020, so before the Giallorossi's season resumes against Sampdoria on June 24th, let's take a look back at all the highs and lows from the winter months.
The race for the Scudetto may be a dead-heat between Juventus and Lazio, but the only race that mattered to Roma fans prior to the break was the contest between the Giallorossi and Atalanta for fourth place. While the two clubs were neck and neck for much of the winter, Atalanta's 2-1 victory over Roma on February 15th put considerable distance between the two clubs, especially when you consider that Gasperini's bunch have a game in hand.
At the moment, Roma are relatively safe in fifth place, but all eyes will be on Atalanta this summer.
The Coronavirus certainly had a way of interrupting normal life, but even before the league (and the world) shutdown in early March, Roma weren't exactly a model of consistency. Rudi Garcia may have ultimately flamed out in the Eternal City, but his 10-0 start was the stuff of dreams. I suspect Paulo Fonseca will have a better Roma career in the long run, but he has to be jealous of Rudi in that regard.
Through the season’s first 26 matches, Fonseca Football® struggled to find a groomed trail, never winning more than three matches in a row at any point in the first five months of the season, but things took a turn for the worse once the calendar flipped to 2020.
While Fonseca did well enough to guide Roma into the knockout stages of the Europa League, the Giallorossi only won three of nine league fixtures between January 5th and March 1st, a stretch that also included four matches in which Fonseca's once vaunted attack failed to score more than one goal.
It may sound glib or reductive (or just really fucking obvious) but a team's form is necessarily the product of it's players. And with the club all over the map in 2020—23 goals scored, 21 conceded— it should surprise no one that the men who make up AS Roma were equally chaotic through the winter, but there were a few bright spots, so let's take a look at who was hot in the weeks prior to the shutdown.
With two goals, one assist and an average match rating of 6.85 (per WhoScored), Kluivert wasn't in his best form of the season, but he scored two decisive goals against Cagliari and Gent and seemed like he was starting to fully internalize Fonseca's tactics. Interestingly enough, his highest rated matches of 2020 were the ones in which he played the full 90 minutes.
Mkhi not only became a father in 2020, he was arguably Roma's best player prior to the shutdown. After putting his injury woes behind him, Mkhitaryan went on a tear in 2020, scoring three goals and contributing three assists in seven matches in all competitions.
While Dzeko feels like a streaky player, he's put together a remarkably consistent 2019-2020 season, scoring 15 goals in 32 overall appearances, and prior to the shutdown he was particularly hot, bagging five goals between January 5th and February 27th.
Center-backs don't put up a ton of easily quantifiable statistics, but with stellar turns against Genoa, Lazio, Atalanta and Lecce, Smalldini’s mastery of Seria A continued in 2020. He was arguably the lone bright spot in Roma's defense this past winter.
The Story Lines
There's seldom a dull moment in the Romaverse, so let's rehash the stories that mattered most in the winter of 2020.
- Gianluca Petrachi's job was rumored to be in jeopardy as recently as February, with Juve's Paratici mentioned as a possible replacement.
- Amadou Diawara re-injured his knee and then opted for rehab rather than surgery, making a 60 minute cameo for the Primavera in early March. His absence was keenly felt throughout the winter, so if he's able to contribute anything in the re-start, Roma will be better off.
- Carles Perez's surprisingly strong start had people wondering if he would push Cengiz Ünder for playing time.
- Paulo Fonseca made it known that he wants to keep Smalling and Mkhitaryan.
- Dan Friedkin signed the preliminary contracts to purchase Roma...words still out on that one.
What Matters Now
Well, really only one thing. With so much financial uncertainty hanging over the club's head, qualifying for the Champions League may be the only way to stave off a completely disastrous summer. However, as we mentioned earlier, Roma face a stiff challenge: overcoming a three-point deficit behind Atalanta, who have a game in hand.
Throughout this week, we'll take a closer looker at what Roma needs to do to capture fourth place. Stay tuned.