For us in the United States, the weekend after Thanksgiving is a time for leftovers, steep discounts on appliances, and nursing hangovers of the tryptophan and alcoholic varieties. For the Giallorossi, though, it’s just another day at the office. Although the club’s resounding 4-0 win against Zorya Luhansk was another positive sign following an October and November to forget, their match this weekend against Ivan Juric’s Torino is both a bigger challenge and a more important match.
Roma’s win against Genoa last weekend coincided with a series of mixed results for other top clubs in Serie A, allowing I Lupi to inch back towards a top-four slot in the standings. This weekend might be more of the same; fourth-placed Atalanta disappointed mid-week against BSC Young Boys and face the underperforming but always dangerous Juventus in Turin on Saturday, while Napoli and Lazio square off in an off-brand Derby del Sole. Three points against Torino could leave the Giallorossi tied with Atalanta for fourth heading into the month of December.
What To Watch For
Can The Two Striker System Work In Serie A?
Roma’s recent tactical shifts have been half due to injury troubles and half due to the club’s undeniable need for a tactical jolt. For much of the past month and a half, players like Tammy Abraham, Nicolò Zaniolo, and Lorenzo Pellegrini struggled with putting out the level of performance we all know they’re capable of. With Zaniolo and Abraham in particular, the promise of their early-season performances had withered away, and despite the Giallorossi creating the most goals per game of any Italian club so far this season, their mediocre 23 goals forced in Serie A hasn’t reflected the offensive potential in the squad.
That’s why Roma’s performance against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday was such a breath of fresh air. Sure, a tap-in gets you just as many goals as a bicycle kick goal, but it was so nice to see Tammy Abraham score a wondergoal after so many weeks of hitting the post and general frustration. Similarly, it was great to see Zaniolo find the scoresheet, even against a no-name side like Zorya Luhansk. I’ve long hoped that Romanisti would exercise patience with The Kid as he returns from his ACL tears, but that’s obviously an unreasonable expectation for a notoriously finicky fan base. Zaniolo’s mid-week goal probably won’t result in him going on a scoring tear, but breaking the duck after months of frustration will take a huge weight off of his shoulders. For both Abraham and Zaniolo, though, the question is if their success against Zorya Luhansk is because of the tactical change or simply because the goals had to start going in at some point.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and there was definitely an element of necessity behind José Mourinho’s decision to shift tactical approaches in recent weeks. So far, the 3-5-2-ish formation the Giallorossi have put forward has impressed, but it’s largely been against unimpressive sides (all due respect to Genoa and Andriy Mykolayovych Shevchenko). Torino presents a far more substantial challenge for the Giallorossi than Zorya Luhansk, Genoa, or even Venezia; if Abraham and Zaniolo are able to find the net with this new formation while facing Il Toro, expect to see the 3-5-2 more and more going forward.
Who Breaks Down Bremer?
When it comes to stars who ply their wares for Torino F.C., most people would first jump to the Once and Future King of the Roma transfer rumor mill, Andrea Belotti. Yet so far this season, Belotti has struggled with injuries, resulting in only 400 minutes of playtime through Matchday 14. In his place, I Granata have maintained their typical mid-table positioning by spreading out the goalscoring responsibilities. Everyone from Tonny Sanabria to Josip Brekalo to Marko Pjaca has found the net for Torino so far this season, and although that hasn’t resulted in the most potent offense in Serie A, it’s done a decent enough job. Beyond the side’s adequate response to Belotti’s limited ability to help the club on the pitch, the real story of the season for Torino is the emergence of Gleison Bremer as a defensive and offensive force.
Bremer’s been a relatively well-known name for Serie A fans since he signed for Torino from Atlético Mineiro in 2018, but this season has certainly been the Brazilian center-back’s best since that move. He’s one of the main reasons why Torino have only allowed four goals in Serie A this season, with his four interceptions per game, 2.2 tackles per game, and 3.7 clearances per game putting him in rarified air as a defender. Those stats have put Bremer comfortably in most Serie A Best XIs of the season, and his 7.49 average WhoScored rating is behind only Roma’s own Lorenzo Pellegrini for best in Serie A regardless of position.
Don’t expect Bremer to be a mainstay at Torino for much longer; his excellent performances this season have resulted in clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, and Real Madrid to start contemplating signing him in either the winter or the summer of 2022. Until then, though, he’s going to be a nightmare for offensive players across the Italian peninsula. If the Giallorossi expects to get three points out of this weekend, their main priority has to be frustrating Bremer’s excellent defensive efforts.
Does Felix Find The Pitch Yet Again?
Sure, it was great to see the Giallorossi dismantle Zorya Luhansk mid-week, but there’s no doubt that the biggest Roma-related story of the past week has been the emergence of Felix Afena-Gyan. The teenager’s brace against Genoa made him the first 2003-born Serie A goalscorer, got him a new pair of Balenciaga kicks, and confirmed his permanent graduation from Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera side into the senior squad.
Prior to the Genoa match, I speculated that Romanisti needed to hope that the club’s decision to push Afena-Gyan to turn down a Ghanaian National Team call-up wouldn’t ruffle his feathers. It’s obvious now that it had the opposite effect, and even if we don’t get another brace from Afena-Gyan for a while, it looks pretty clear that the forward will get at least one more chance to join up with the Black Stars (and most likely many, many more).
In the short term, it’s still an open question if Afena-Gyan will continue to get serious playtime under José Mourinho. Particularly if Roma shifts to a 3-5-2 formation more permanently, Mourinho will have to find a way to balance the playing time of Tammy Abraham, Nicolò Zaniolo, Eldor Shomurodov, and Afena-Gyan; all have significant promise, and none will be thrilled to ride the pine.
Personally, I hope that Afena-Gyan continues in the super-sub role that worked so well for him and the club against Genoa. Mourinho himself said after the Genoa match that one of the reasons Afena-Gyan was so successful was because Abraham and Shomurodov had worn down Genoa’s defense to the point where Afena-Gyan’s fresh legs broke them completely. Keeping Afena-Gyan as a super-sub, at least for the rest of this season, will help make sure that the Ghanaian wonderkid keeps accumulating minutes while avoiding the complete trial by fire that has ruined plenty of promising players in the past. Who knows, maybe Abraham pressuring Bremer for the first 80 minutes of Sunday’s match will give Afena-Gyan all he needs to score yet again for the Giallorossi. Just imagine what that would do to the Afena-Gyan Hype Train.