You’d be more than excused if you’re feeling burnt out on Roma drama at the moment. The lack of depth the Giallorossi had going into their 3-0 loss to Inter Milan last weekend did nothing to soften the blow of that loss, and everyone from noted Roma journalists to random Twitter accounts made it practically impossible to think anything positive about the club. Never mind that this iteration of Roma has been repeatedly referred to as a long-term project, never mind that José Mourinho and all the rest knew what they were signing up for at the start of the season; if there’s been a moment where it felt like the sky was falling this season more than the 24 hours following Inter-Roma, I certainly can’t remember it.
In a sense, there’s hope that Roma’s final group stage match of the Europa Conference League can act as a palliative for a side in desperate need of a win. Roma and Bodø/Glimt are guaranteed to be the two clubs proceeding into the knockout stages of this competition, and CSKA Sofia has only managed one point in five group stage matches. Unless Bodø collapse against Zorya Luhansk tomorrow, it’s also likely that Roma will find itself in second place in the group behind the Norwegian side, as both clubs are expected to win their matches and leave the one-point gap in the table intact. Even with that relative meaninglessness baked into the match, a big win allowing rotation players to shine could be key for a club that has been hounded by media and social media in recent weeks.
September 16th: Roma 5, CSKA 1
The first matchday of the Europa Conference League Group Stage was a good one for the Giallorossi, as I Lupi carried their perfect form to start the season into a real European competition (albeit one that was brand new). Tammy Abraham, Gianluca Mancini, and Stephan El Shaarawy all scored, but there’s no doubt that the star of this match was capitano Lorenzo Pellegrini. Pellegrini’s brace was only one aspect of his dominating performance against CSKA Sofia. Out of all the goals, my favorite was Pellegrini’s second one, as it showcased the long-term potential of Riccardo Calafiori (what a run!) while also showing once again that on his best day, Pellegrini can single-handedly alter the course of a match.
Roma’s form has gotten much worse since this September match, and Pellegrini has certainly cooled down since his nuclear-hot start to the season, but considering just how dour the mood is around the Giallorossi these days, it’s nice to look back and remember that hey, there are some talented guys in this squad.
What To Watch For
Daniel Fuzato has been one of the weirder signings of the past couple of seasons. The 24-year-old was brought in with a decent amount of hype, with some Romanisti hoping he could become the next Alisson Becker, yet since his signing in summer 2018, we just haven’t seen much of the Brazilian international. Fuzato has made six appearances at the senior level for the Giallorossi and made an appearance-less loan out to Primeira League side Gil Vicente last season, but Roma’s coaches have always had at least one nice thing to say about the keeper whenever he’s brought up by a reporter.
In all honesty, I have zero expectations or understanding of just where exactly Fuzato is in terms of goalkeeping ability. The fact he didn’t get even one appearance with Gil Vicente doesn’t inspire confidence, but he’s also never looked completely out of his element when he’s been called up to the senior Roma side, which is more than I can say for most young goalkeepers who find themselves wearing a Roma kit.
Whatever the case may be about his actual ability, though, it certainly appears as if Fuzato will be getting a start against CSKA Sofia. In his pre-match press conference, Mourinho all but confirmed this by saying that along with Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Rui Patricio will be sitting out tomorrow’s match. I wouldn’t expect this to be the start of an Alisson-like journey for Fuzato, but it will certainly be interesting to see the Brazilian play for Roma. At the very least it will add ninety minutes of game footage to his tape; maybe I’ll be able to get a clearer understanding of what he brings to the table from that, even if it’s against CSKA Sofia.
Watch Out: This Field is Gonna Be Terrible
If there’s one thing this Roma side has learned about playing in the Europa Conference League, it’s that pitch quality is a privilege, not a right. Basically any time the Giallorossi have played somewhere other than the Stadio Olimpico in this competition, the pitch quality has been horrendous. The pitch is sometimes artificial; sometimes it’s practically drowning in water; sometimes it looks worse than the pitch I used to play U-11 soccer on back in the day. Unfortunately, though, it looks as if CSKA Sofia’s stadium might be in even worse condition than usual when the two sides take the field tomorrow.
In CSKA Sofia manager Stojcho Mladenov’s pre-match interview, he confirmed that the pitch will be in terrible shape tomorrow, saying:
“The conditions of the field are desperate; neither (CSKA Sofia) nor Roma wanted to train there. We hope that the (stadium) employees will fix (the pitch) well in the next 24 hours. It will be an international match and at the moment, the conditions on the pitch are not suitable for this type of match.”
If the pitch is that bad, I’m not entirely surprised that some of the more injury-prone players in the squad like Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are set to sit the match out. Why risk losing them for weeks or even months for a slightly meaningless match on a pitch that even Roma’s Primavera side would avoid playing on?
Even for the slightly more durable players, though, I’ll certainly be holding my breath regarding potential injuries. I hope that at the first sign of trouble for any of these guys (but particularly Nicolò Zaniolo), Mourinho doesn’t hesitate to sub them off.