“The work we’ve done during the week, which you guys with your sources have followed, ends up going in the bin. There’s no doubt about that. Everything we worked on in training we lost in the moment where we lost an important player like Cristante. And we already had a lot of issues before that.
“For example, with three left-backs sidelined. It’s clear that we need to find different solutions and that there are people who will have to make a sacrifice and perhaps play in positions that they are not familiar with. We need to piece the puzzle together in a way that allows us to play well, put in a good performance and try and come away with the points. But, it’s true, it’s a tough period for us.”
Those were the words of manager Jose Mourinho during his pre-match presser. That quote came just hours after Mourinho was dealt a big blow to his preferred starting XI with Bryan Cristante testing positive for COVID-19.
It must be a frustrating situation for the Roma manager, as he prepped his side all week for a certain set-up only to see his midfield anchor (or possibly libero center back) robbed at the last moment. Rumors swirled this week that Cristante could reprise last season’s role as a central defender given Roma’s current injury situation and Max Kumbulla’s ineffective play. Whether that was to be the case, we may never know.
As Mourinho confirmed, besides the COVID absences of Cristante and Gonzalo Villar—both of whom are vaccinated and asymptomatic—the side will also be without all three of its left-backs. Matías Viña and Riccardo Calafiori weren’t ready for the trip to Liguria nor was Leo Spinazzola who continues to work back to full fitness.
In a bit of good news on the injury front, Chris Smalling returns for the first time in over a month. This gives Mourinho one more option in defense if he does opt for three central defenders. However, the Englishman is unlikely to be fit enough to start after a prolonged absence and limited training with this squad this week.
Mourinho did state that some players would be deployed in unfamiliar positions, but wouldn’t say who. When asked if Pellegrini could slot into more of a central midfield role, he more or less challenged the journalists to see which of them is best at guessing his formation.
“This is an interesting opportunity to see which of you [journalists] is the best – because there is only one person who knows how we will play tomorrow, and that’s me. My coaches don’t know, the players don’t yet know. Nobody inside Trigoria knows. The agents don’t know. So your sources have all run dry.
“It’s a strange situation, but it all happened so quickly. Obviously today in training we didn’t work on things in a formation, and so I will have to take a few decisions later. It will be a fun exercise for you guys to try and work out what the starting XI will be tomorrow.”
So, with that, I’ll do my best to take a gander at the formation we could see tomorrow at the Marassi against Genoa.
I expect Roma to play with three center backs due to the current full-back situation. With Smalling just back from injury and Cristante out, it’ll probably have to be Kumbulla taking the third spot in the backline. While Darboe is a possibility next to Veretout, I suspect Mourinho was referencing Pellegrini as a player taking up a different role. That could mean Zaniolo or Mkhitaryan playing behind the strikers. I’ll tip Nico because it’s an intriguing idea if nothing else.