There’s an old saying, “There’s no rest for the wicked,” and whether you believe in that or not, it sure seems like right now there’s no rest for A.S. Roma either. The Giallorossi are smack dab in the middle of one of the most hectic parts of their calendar for the season. Since the end of the international break, the longest stretch of time off between matches has been three days, and there’s little reprieve for Roma until after November 7th’s match against Venezia. Add in I Lupi’s tenuous hold on fourth place and the caliber of opponent they’re often facing and it’s clear that not only is the schedule congested, it’s congested with some pretty crucial matches.
Roma’s upcoming trip to Sardinia might not seem like the most crucial of these matches; in a normal season, a match against a 19th-placed side sandwiched in between the Derby del Sole and a visit from A.C. Milan might seem like the perfect chance for heavy rotation. However, José Mourinho has given no indication that he’ll give any of the players who embarrassed the club against Bodø/Glimt a chance to redeem themselves against Gli Isolani.
Recent reports suggest that only Marash Kumbulla will return to the squad from Mourinho’s Napoli exiles, with Bryan Reynolds, Gonzalo Villar, Amadou Diawara, and Borja Mayoral all once again in the stands. I’m happy to see Kumbulla back in the side, and think he’s both a valuable asset for the side long-term and a necessary part of the squad now due to Chris Smalling’s injury issues. The others, though? Let’s hope that they can get back into Mourinho’s good graces via the training pitch because it seems like won’t during actual matches.
Cagliari vs. Roma: October 27th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Unipol Domus, Cagliari.
Even with Kumbulla back, though, expect to see largely the same squad that eked out the draw against Napoli this past weekend. That raises the stakes against Cagliari; if the thirteen players in the squad whom Mourinho actually trusts can’t get a win against a relegation-battling side, there could be even more problems with this squad than we’ve recognized to date. On the flip side, coming into their match against second-place A.C. Milan with a head full of steam from a midweek win could be crucial for the Giallorossi if they want to get the three points on Halloween.
This match might not seem like must-watch TV at first glance, but trust me: it might be the match that gives Romanisti the best sense of whether or not achieving Champions League football this season is an achievable goal.
What To Watch For
They Handled Osimhen; Can They Handle João Pedro?
There’s no question that João Pedro’s consistent play has been one of the few bright spots for Cagliari to start the season. He’s notched up six goals and two assists in nine appearances so far, and although that hasn’t been enough to get Cagliari even two wins out of nine, you have to imagine that without their number ten, the Rossoblu might even be winless. Coming into this match, he’s been averaging 2.3 shots per game, nearly one more shot per game than any other Cagliari player, which only further emphasizes that Cagliari is the João Pedro Show at the moment. If Roma are able to contain the Brazilian, there’s a good chance the Giallorossi can get three points with ease.
No offense to the Brazilian, but considering how well Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez have handled star strikers like Dusan Vlahović and Victor Osimhen to start the season, I don’t doubt that they can handle João Pedro with ease if they maintain the same mental fortitude and defensive integrity they displayed against Napoli. The real worry is that either Ibañez or Mancini has an off match in the middle of this slog of a month; if they do, expect Rui Patricio to have to worry about several shots on target from João Pedro.
Can Roma’s Attackers Pressure Alessio Cragno?
It’d be easy to assume that given Cagliari’s current spot in the relegation zone, their squad Is full of unimpressive players besides I Sardi’s aforementioned ironman João Pedro. Yet a lot of the players Walter Mazzarri has at his disposal have given Roma fits in the past, and some have even been thought of as potential long-term solutions who could slot in to Roma’s starting eleven. Alessio Cragno is the first name that comes to mind in that second group; prior to Roma’s signing of Rui Patricio this past summer, there had been persistent rumors over the years linking the Italian keeper with a move to I Lupi.
There’s no doubt that Patricio was a better purchase for the short-term for Roma than Cragno could have been, but will Cragno put in a performance against the Giallorossi that makes Tiago Pinto regret not heeding the advice of Roma legend Franco Tancredi? That doesn’t seem incredibly likely; Cagliari aren’t like Hellas Verona, where fluky results were hiding a team with the potential to jump quickly up the table. Relative performance statistics suggest that Cagliari is right where they belong, and Cragno’s 6.38 average WhoScored rating to start the season is a full 0.6 lower than his average in his best season, suggesting that he’s going through just as much of a rut as the rest of this Cagliari side.
Despite his poor season to date, every Romanista knows that seemingly average goalkeepers have a tendency to become Gianluigi Buffon for ninety minutes when they take the field against the Giallorossi. Don’t be shocked if Cragno puts in a decent performance against the club that’s supposedly tried to sign him away from Sardinia every mercato since January 2017.
Does Anybody Get Rotated In Before Milan?
As a big believer in rotation and giving youth a chance, it was really disappointing to see just how much the bench players underperformed against Bodø/Glimt. That match result is everything a manager fears when they put in a young player, let alone several, and I completely understand why José Mourinho wants to stick with established players for a long time after his first-ever 6-1 loss. I still hope that players like Bryan Reynolds and Max Kumbulla can come good for the club, but that match will make it a million times harder for them to see the pitch at any point in the future.
That poor match has essentially confirmed to Mourinho that he can only count on his best starting eleven if he wants to play at a level deserving of a spot in the Champions League. If there was one player who isn’t normally in that starting eleven who I think could get a start ahead of the Milan match, though, it’d be the Uzbek Messi, Eldor Shomurodov. Tammy Abraham is crucial to Roma’s short-, medium-, and long-term goals, but I can’t have been the only one to wince a bit when he went down hard during the Derby del Sole. The sheer number of ACL tears this side has endured over the years made me assume the worst, and although Abraham was fine, him seemingly going down to injury only emphasized just how thin Roma’s squad would be if the injury curse strikes yet again.
José Mourinho might be strongly against rotating because of how poorly certain players performed when given a chance against Bodø/Glimt, but Eldor shouldn’t be lumped in with that group of misfits. Despite limited minutes, his two assists from only one start and several sub appearances show that he’s been performing admirably so far this season. Matches like these should be his bread and butter if he’s looking to set himself up for a long-term stay for himself at the Olimpico, and although I won’t be surprised if Tammy Abraham starts yet again for the Giallorossi, it would be wise for Mourinho to do everything possible to keep his preferred starting eleven as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Rotation, even limited rotation, has to be a part of that plan in some way.