The holidays are a time of giving, love, and spending time with family. They’re a time when we can all make the world slow down a tiny bit to appreciate the people and things we love. Regardless of your personal beliefs, there’s something special about how like clockwork, the end of the year means a slowdown at the office and a ramp-up in the amount of gingerbread consumed worldwide.
The holidays are also a time of gift-giving, whether that’s the dreaded White Elephant swap at work or the homey exchanging of presents among family members. Giallorossi fans everywhere already received a wonderful Christmas present in the form of Roma’s emphatic 4-1 win over Atalanta last weekend, but if José Mourinho wants the world of Roma to be merry and bright going into 2022, a win against Sampdoria is just as pivotal.
This shouldn’t be too challenging of a match, at least in comparison to the string of top opponents the Giallorossi must face after the new year. Still, let’s hope that we can get another entertaining win out of I Lupi before we close out 2021.
What To Watch For
Can The Giallorossi Keep Sampdoria’s Elderly Attack Force Quiet?
With 26 goals scored and 34 goals allowed, Sampdoria aren’t exactly the most intimidating squad the Giallorossi could face before the winter break. Yet the confluence of aging yet talented attacking talent that I Blucherati has at its disposal means that you can’t count them out until injury time is expired. Players like Antonio Candreva, Manolo Gabbiadini, Francesco Caputo, and Fabio Quagliarella have given Roma headaches many times before over the years, and although Father Time is undefeated, he does allow for aging forwards to score one more against the big clubs every now and then.
I’m not too worried about Roma’s ability to contain these forwards, particularly if José Mourinho sticks with the three at the back formation that worked so well against Duván Zapata and Atalanta last weekend. Even outside of that formation, Roma’s center-backs have shown an impressive ability to contain currently world-class strikers like Dusan Vlahovic this season; if Mourinho decides to rest Roger Ibañez to avoid losing him to suspension against Milan after the break, I still trust Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling to deal with Candreva, Gabbiadini, Caputo, and Quagliarella.
Still, if there’s one aspect of Sampdoria’s underwhelming squad that should keep you up at night heading into this match, it’s the prospect of grittily experienced Italian forwards scoring quick goals against the Giallorossi’s much younger side.
Will El Shaarawy Make His Return?
So much of Stephan El Shaarawy’s career has been fighting the injury bug, but when he does play, he can still be a fantastic player to watch. There’s no doubt that even from a depth perspective, the Giallorossi need El Shaarawy back as soon as possible; Henrikh Mkhitaryan has only so many full nineties left in him, and with Roma playing in multiple competitions for the long haul this season, rotation is going to become the name of the game sooner than you might think. The rumor mill is now suggesting that El Shaarawy could return tomorrow against Sampdoria, as his disrupted calf muscle is now under control and he’s back to training with the group.
It’ll be great for everyone involved if El Shaarawy is able to translate being back to normal training into a return to the pitch tomorrow against Sampdoria. When combined with Lorenzo Pellegrini’s expected return in early January, the Pharoah’s return could be just what José Mourinho needs to make sure that Roma’s Atalanta beatdown is just the beginning of something special and not the end.
Will The Abraham-Zaniolo Pairing Continue To Pay Off?
While there’s no doubt that the key storyline after Roma’s victory over Atalanta was just how emphatically the Giallorossi handled Gli Orobici, the match was also a key moment for Tammy Abraham and Nicolò Zaniolo. For Abraham, it was the first time that he scored a brace against a big club. Even though the Englishman had already bested Edin Džeko’s first-season tally in Rome, there were whispers that Tammy was just another Borja Mayoral: successful against the minnows, ineffective against real competition. Saturday’s match showed that Abraham wasn’t all sizzle with no steak.
For Zaniolo, Saturday’s match was a different kind of turning point. By scoring his first goal in Serie A since his two ACL tears, The Kid was able to silence the chorus of doubters that had been growing in volume over the past several months. You could see the look of relief on Nicolò’s face the moment he knew he had scored; for a player who some thought would never even return to a top-flight pitch post-injury, scoring again for the Giallorossi has to have felt as significant as his first match back following his second ACL tear.
The A-Z Boys (better nicknames are in development, don’t worry) still have plenty to prove. The Giallorossi still sit in fifth place, Zaniolo still only has one goal in the league, and one brace against Atalanta hasn’t turned Tammy Abraham into the next Romelu Lukaku. Still, if the fluid play and teamwork that was on display between Abraham and Zaniolo against Atalanta can continue against Sampdoria, it would be an excellent sign for both players and the club on the whole. Outside of Lorenzo Pellegrini, there’s no doubt that Abraham and Zaniolo are the future of I Lupi; if they’re able to play well, and play well together, that will go a long way towards making The Friedkin Era a successful one.