If you listened to this week’s podcast, you know that I had one of my least enjoyable match-watching experiences ever during Roma’s midweek match against Bologna. Watching that match felt like watching an encapsulation of every issue that Roma has faced since the start of American ownership for the club; injuries, shoddy refereeing, and some incredibly lucky play by opposing players who somehow find a completely new ability level the moment they step foot on the pitch against the Giallorossi. Yet once more unto the breach we must go, dear friends, for Roma must now face current Scudetto holders Inter Milan this Saturday.
To be frank, it's pretty obvious that the Giallorossi come into this match as strong underdogs. Even if you take away each club's respective form to start the season, the sheer number of injuries, suspensions, and COVID issues that realm are dealing with at the moment mean that getting even one point out of this match should be considered a success on the part of José Mourinho and his squad.
Let's try to look at this match with a glass-half-full mentality for two seconds, though, and note that these are the opportunities that can overhaul a player’s future at the club. A star turn while the club is thin at many positions could be all that's needed for a peripheral player to gain Mourinho’s favor.
What To Watch For
Will Bryan Reynolds Get Thrown Into The
Lion’s Serpent’s Den?
Speaking of peripheral players who may just now get a chance to become a key part of Mourinho’s plans, with Rick Karsdorp suspended for this match, there's a very good chance that this is Bryan Reynolds’ golden opportunity. Reynolds has been the unfortunate target of a lot of heat from both José Mourinho and Romanisti, which is somewhat understandable when you acknowledge that his play hasn’t matched his transfer fee just yet. However, it’s important to remember that Reynolds is still incredibly young and clearly has bonded with several of the players throughout the squad. If the goal of keeping Reynolds at the club instead of loaning him away this summer was to make sure that he could acclimate to the Italian league, we can call this first half of the season a success for the American international.
Even so, the rumors that Reynolds may move on loan in January have only gotten louder the closer that we have gotten to the winter market. In all likelihood, Reynolds will move to a smaller Serie A side, giving him the chance to rack up significant minutes in top-tier football without the pressure that's associated with playing for the Giallorossi.
That's probably for the best for the young right-back, but still, if Mourinho decides to play him against Inter and he's able to impress, some might wonder if he has the ability to play for Roma now. A player who was far more of an unknown, Felix Afena-Gyan, has now been penciled in by some Romanisti as one to watch after only a couple of good matches at the senior level. If Reynolds is able to take Karsdorp’s suspension and run with it, Roma’s depth will be just a little bit deeper, and that’s a good thing.
Will a Zaniolo-Shomurodov Attack Work?
We already know that there’s going to be a gaping hole for the Giallorossi in midfield and at right-back with both Lorenzo Pellegrini and Rick Karsdorp missing due to injury and suspension. There’s arguably an even bigger hole for José Mourinho to fill up front, though, with Tammy Abraham also missing the match against Inter due to a ridiculous yellow card against Bologna. It's highly likely that Nicolò Zaniolo and Eldor Shomurodov will get paired up front from the first minute, creating an intriguing new attacking duo featuring two players who are both looking for an uptick in their form.
For Zaniolo, there’s no need for extra incentive when Inter comes to town; we all know the story of how he transformed from makeweight in the Radja Nainggolan deal into Serie A Young Player of the Year. For Shomurodov, though, you have to imagine that all the incentive he needs to perform on Saturday is the pressure he must be feeling to improve his performances. Shomurodov hasn’t been terrible in recent weeks, but he certainly hasn’t been lighting up the pitch in the way he did when he first signed for the Giallorossi.
A lot of the heat of expectations has eased off of the Uzbek Messi since the signing of Tammy Abraham, but Roma did pay a pretty penny for Eldor’s services. You have to imagine Mourinho and Tiago Pinto will want more from him sooner rather than later. Otherwise, he might be resigned to the fate that has recently befallen Borja Mayoral: rotting on the pine until some other club decides to take a flyer on a player with talent but no form.
How Will The Olimpico Respond to Džeko’s Return?
Of course, the elephant in the room leading up to Saturday's match is the return of Edin Džeko, Roma’s third-highest scorer ever and long-time talisman. Džeko’s divorce from Roma and move to Inter is still relatively fresh in the hearts and minds of all involved, and the Bosnian Diamond’s form to start the season certainly hasn’t made it easier for Romanisti to forget the forward and move on. Džeko’s twelve goals across all competitions for Inter has propelled the Milan side high up the Serie A table, and unlike his time in Rome, Džeko looks incredibly engaged.
Roma certainly have the defensive capability to control Džeko; Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, and Roger Ibañez practically live for the opportunity to force star strikers into having forgettable performances. Yet you have to wonder how Romanisti on the whole will respond to Džeko’s first return to the Stadio Olimpico, as he holds a unique place in Roman lore.
Džeko was arguably the Giallorossi’s best striker since Gabriel Batistuta, the connective tissue between the Totti Era and the Pellegrini/Zaniolo Era, and the most recent capocannoniere to wear a Roma kit. Džeko also had multiple disappointing seasons with the Giallorossi (insert Maicon shocked gif here), constantly appeared to be looking for a way out of the club, and never seemed to be the most team-oriented player, to put it mildly.
We’ve already spilled plenty of digital ink on Džeko over the years; who can forget bren’s #DareToDžeko campaign? Since I don’t want to spill too much more ink on the Bosnian, though, suffice to say that I’ll be very interested in seeing how Džeko performs on Saturday, and how he’s received by the stadium that chanted his name for six years.