Jose Mourinho’s Roma has been the busiest side in Serie A having already played three matches in eight days thanks to the Conference League qualifiers. However, despite there being no rest for weary early in the campaign, Roma has been no worse for wear. The Giallorossi have won each match behind multiple goal performances from its attack.
In some ways, this busy early calendar could be a blessing in disguise for Mourinho’s side as the Giallorossi have been able to build a continuity that other top sides have yet to reach. Things stay busy this weekend as Roma travels to Salerno to square off against Serie A new boys Salernitana before next week’s international break.
Salernitana vs Roma: August 29th. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Estadio Arechi, Salerno.
For its part, the start of the season has had mixed results for I Granata. They defeated Serie B side Reggina in the Coppa Italia first round before falling to Bologna 3-2 in their first Serie match in two decades.
Newly promoted sides have been ripe for the picking for Roma for quite some time now, as the Giallorossi are unbeaten in their last 36 such matches (W31, D5). And they have also scored in 55 of their last 56 matches against such sides. So, let’s look at the keys for Roma to continue its success against newly promoted sides and to end a seven match winless streak on the road in league matches from the end of last season.
What to Watch For
The Midfield Could Be Key
In the first three matches of the season, we’ve seen Roma look to hit opponents on the counterattack—using the pace of players like Tammy Abraham, Eldor Shomurodov, Jordan Veretout, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Nicolo Zaniolo to punish opponents on the break. However, in those matches Trabzonspor and Fiorentina were sides that looked to get out on the front foot and attack through possession. Salernitana will be a different nut to crack.
As is typical of newly promoted provincial sides, it’s expected that Salernitana will defend in numbers. That’s something that Mourinho discussed in his pre-match presser today.
“Perhaps they will surprise you and they will come out with a different setup – you never know. Their coach has a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge about the game and can absolutely prepare them in a different way if he wants to. But, if it does end up being like you suggest, then obviously it will be a different sort of game for us.
“If they go with five at the back again, then it will be the first time for us this season – as both Fiorentina and Trabzonspor defended with a back four. It’s a different way of playing.
“But for us, we don’t care if we are playing a newly-promoted side like Salernitana or the champions like Inter – we will always play to win. So, given that, we will always need to find attacking solutions in games.
“Salernitana are good, they defend well. With so many players back, they know how hard their midfielders will have to work too. It will be tough, but we will have to work out a way.”
That industrious approach from some of the less talented sides of Serie A was something that gave Roma fits last season under Paulo Fonseca. This will be the first time we see this Mounrinho led incarnation of Roma come up against a parked bus and if anything has changed.
The personnel will mostly be the same as last season’s side that struggled in these scenarios outside of striker where Tammy Abraham or Eldor Shomrudov will lead the line. Those two provide a stark contrast in terms of pace, compared to Edin Dzeko, but what could be key to breaking down a compact Salernitana defense is the midfield.
We have heard plenty about Roma’s lack of true DM so far this season. However, in a match where Roma likely won’t have to defend much, the offensive qualities of Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante could be more valuable. When combined with the attacking midfield trio of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and likely Carles Perez, there’s a great variety of attacking attributes to support either Abraham or Eldor.
From the long distance shooting and passing ability of Cristante to the incisive runs of Veretout to the pinpoint passing of Pellegrini to the dribbling of Mkhi and Perez, Roma can come at Salernitana from a variety of angles. If Cristante and Veretout can draw out the defense with some shots from distance, it could open up space for the rest of the attacking midfield to play quick one-twos with each other and the striker.
That quickness in attack is what Roma lacked last season and could be key in unlocking a stubborn defense. If Roma can score early then the floodgates could open with the way the Giallorossi attack has clicked thus far.
Mkhitaryan’s Scoring Streak
We talked about the need to break down a stubborn defense already and one of the players most adept at doing that is Mkhitaryan. The Armenian has picked up right where left off to end last season by starting this one in fine form.
Questions surrounded Mkhi’s future when Mourinho was hired due to their checked history together at Manchester United. However, bygones were left to be bygones and Roma is all the better for it. With his goal in the Serie A opener against Fiorentina, Mkhitaryan has now scored in five straight matches dating back to last season. Can he make it six straight en route to a Giallorossi victory?
Roma will be heavily favored to win this one against the newly promoted side from Camapania. However, with the Giallorossi expected to control the lion’s share of possession for the first time this season, they will have to avoid getting complacent.
In the past we’ve seen the Giallorossi make mental mistakes leading to golden opportunities and often goals for their opponents. Whether it was Veretout making a careless pass building out of the back or Roger Ibanez having a brain fart in defense, Roma often paid the price.
One thing that Mourinho was brought into to do was to fix these mental issues that have plagued so many Roma sides of the past. This will be the first opportunity for the Giallorossi players to show that they’re able to maintain their focus and concentration, especially in defense, when they may not be heavily involved in the match.
If Roma can avoid needlessly gifting I Granata possession and the defense can stay on it’s toes even when it has long spells without players running at it then Roma could be on its way to a second straight clean sheet.