For fans of the game, the international break is nothing more than a mild inconvenience; a slightly annoying pause in our favorite pastime. For the players, at least the ones not summoned to international duty, this two-week break provides a chance for rest and recuperation, but for managers, the break is something else entirely. Unshackled from the micro concerns of an individual match, managers are free to evaluate their team at a macro level, truly assessing whether or not their current approach is working.
With rumors of a major philosophical shift on the horizon, José Mourinho appears to have had a tactical epiphany. After starting the season off in fine form using a standard 4-2-3-1 formation, Mourinho's men have struggled mightily over the past several weeks, winning only two of their last eight fixtures since the beginning of October.
To wake his side from this slumber, Mourinho reportedly intends to field some variant of a three-man backline tomorrow against Genoa, one that may even include a two-striker pairing between Tammy Abraham and Eldor Shomurodov.
Given the scope and significance of that change, we had to consider that wrinkle when compiling our latest list of Picks to Click. So, without further delay, here are four names that may hit the ground running against Genoa.
Picks to Click: Genoa vs. Roma
With one goal and five assists in 480 minutes (all competitions), Shomurodov has been relatively productive for Roma, but I can't imagine the club envisioned their €17.5 million summer signing would be used so sparingly. However, with a potential tactical shift in the making, Shomurodov's role (and production) could increase substantially in the coming weeks.
Shomurodov may have mixed emotions as he prepares to face his former club, but playing alongside Abraham, and with Lorenzo Pellegrini feeding him through the middle, he could be in for a field day against Genoa.
After scoring one goal and setting up another against Venezia before the break, this tactical shift could unlock Shomurodov's potential, silencing his doubters in the process.
Stephan El Shaarawy
With Roma searching far and wide for depth at right-back, and no one entirely sure how Mourinho feels about either Matías Viña or Riccardo Calafiori on the left, we've spent nearly the entire break discussing Roma's full-backs. However, rather than investing heavily in the transfer market again, could the solution be right under Mourinho's nose?
While Rick Karsdorp remains entrenched at right-back, if Mourinho really intends on changing the composition of his team, trading the 4-2-3-1 for a 3-4-1-2, then SES could find new life on the opposite flank as an attacking wing-back. El Shaarawy is at his best when he has room to run at people, using his quick first step and agility to dance around defenders, so while it may feel odd to see the Pharaoh in full-backs clothes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
El Shaarawy, a notoriously streaky player, is peaking at the moment, so getting him on the pitch (in any capacity) is the correct call. And if SES takes to this new role with aplomb, Mourinho might be able to prolong that hot streak for a few more weeks.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old defender has played some of his football in a three-man backline, where his mobility, speed, and passing touch are brought to the fore. And Ibañez's sublime touch on the ball could reach new heights working in close concert with El Shaarawy, Ebrima Darboe, and Nicolo Zaniolo down the left flank.
We're not intentionally overlooking Ibañez's defensive duties, but with only 17 goals scored and an average 45% possession rate, Genoa isn't likely to bowl over the Roma defense. In that light, a “clicking” performance from Ibañez could mean greater than 90% passing, a couple of key passes, several interceptions, and maybe even a successful dribble or two.
After rumors of an argument with Mourinho made the rounds earlier this week, it's tempting to say that Zaniolo's relationship with The Special One is fracturing, but with no way to verify what was (or wasn't) said, we're not going to engage in that speculation. It is, however, safe to assume that Zaniolo is frustrated with his performances this season.
After losing two years to knee injuries, it would have been perfectly acceptable for Zaniolo to be cautious, to dial back his usual aggression, to stowaway his usual bravado early in his return. But that's seldom, if ever, been the case; Zaniolo has shown little hesitation this season.
The problem has simply been one of production. Through his first 13 appearances (all competitions), Zaniolo has failed to score a goal and provided only one assist, leading some to call for a change in position, or at the very least a new job description for the 22-year-old.
A shift to a 3-4-1-2 won't have as dramatic an effect on Zaniolo as it would, say, for someone like Karsdorp or El Shaarawy, but Genoa is precisely the type of opponent against whom Zaniolo should run rampant.
So, whether he's crashing into the box to lash onto a layoff from a striker, rifling a 20-yard screamer into the back of the net, or simply bullying Genoa defenders off the ball, Zaniolo could be a game-breaker tomorrow.
Who is your Pick to Click against Genoa?
Stephan El Shaarawy
Other (let us know in the comments)