Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen Roma managers alter their best laid formational and tactical plans due to injury and ineffectiveness. From EDF moving away from the 4-3-3 to Paulo Fonseca shifting from his favored 4-2-3-1 to a three-man backline, things haven’t always gone as swimmingly as envisioned by the men on the Roma bench. And now José Mourinho finds himself in a similar position due to injuries and illness.
In recent weeks, Mourinho has shifted from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2 mainly due to all of his left-back options succumbing to injury. Rather than playing Roger Ibañez as a makeshift fullback, Mou opted for a three-man backline to cover for an impromptu shifting of Stephan El Shaarawy into a wing-back role.
Il Faraone has performed well in the role and even made a goal-saving block on Stefano Sturaro during last week’s match against Genoa. And El Shaarawy isn’t the first Roma player to take on a new role for the good of the side. In fact, before he was ruled out with COVID-19 last weekend, it looked like midfielder Bryan Cristante was prepared to shift into the libero center back role, much like we saw last season under Fonseca.
However, the diagnosis meant that Mourinho had to make some last-minute adjustments with Max Kumbulla getting the nod in defense and Jordan Veretout playing a defensive midfield role. That worked out fine, except now Veretout is out suspended and Cristante and fellow midfielder Gonzalo Villar remain out with COVID-19.
That leaves Mourinho with the little-used Amadou Diawara and youngsters Ebrima Darboe and Edoardo Bove as the only available natural midfielders besides captain Lorenzo Pellegrini. With so many midfielders already ruled out, it’s likely that Pellegrini will already be shifting to a deeper role. But, who plays alongside him?
Well, Diawara seems to be out of favor. And both Darboe and Bove were passed over on Thursday in favor of Carles Pérez playing a mezz’ala role with Veretout again being the deepest midfielder. That makes it seem like either of them would be unlikely to start.
The solution may be one that we’ve seen utilized under Fonseca: Gianluca Mancini in the midfield. When he was called upon early in Fonseca’s tenure to play in an injury-depleted midfield Mancini performed admirably and Mourinho alluded to the fact that we may see him reprise that role against Il Toro.
“He definitely could be. Especially because now we have four centre-backs available to us again. Mancini, Kumbulla, Ibanez and Smalling – all of them are available. If I ask one of them to make that sacrifice then they will have to do it. Ibanez has already played at left-back this season. Perhaps at some point he will also have to play right-back in that same system.
“If Mancini has to play a spot in midfield, defensive midfield, then he can do it. You can’t put someone like Nicolo Zaniolo at left-back or Matias Vina up front. But there are players with that ability, like Cristante, Mancini, Ibanez and Mkhitaryan. They are versatile. It’s not just about the sacrifice of playing a different role, but also having the ability and the quality to do it. And Mancini has already played in midfield before in his career.”
And with Matías Viña back from injury, Mourinho is also keeping his options open in terms of whether to play a three or four-man backline.
“It’s a good question, a football question. But from my perspective I obviously don’t want to answer whether we will play with four at the back or five [three centre-backs and wing-backs].
“The injury situation has improved, in terms of the options we have, apart from Jordan Veretout’s suspension and the Covid positives for Cristante and Villar. So now our problems are in the midfield area.
“In central midfield we are without two clear starters in Cristante and Veretout. Villar is a quality option as well. But with Vina, Karsdorp, Smalling, Kumbulla and Mancini all now available we have the option to play in both formations. Before now, with no left-backs, then there was only one way we could play.”
Considering the back four is again an option, I think Mourinho will go that route with Mancini sitting in front of the defense. Playing three center-backs plus Mancini in midfield would leave no cover on the bench in the event of an injury. So, I’ll go with a return to the 4-2-3-1 with Roma lining up as follows.