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Roma Face CSKA Sofia in Europa Conference League Group Stage Opener

Expect to see some heavy rotation as Roma begins their Conference League group stage against CSKA Sofia.

Football friendly match AS Roma - Raja club athletic Casablanca Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

After maintaining their perfect record to start the season by defeating Sassuolo with a 91st-minute goal from Stephan El Shaarawy, the Giallorossi are now turning to the group stage of the new competition nobody seems to care much about: The Europa Conference League. Why do I say nobody seems to care about the competition? Well, for starters, it was practically impossible for an American to find a legitimate stream for the two play-in matches against Trabzonspor, and from what I gathered, a whole lot of people ended up using a Turkish soap opera network’s YouTube page to watch the matches in 360p low-definition. That’s not exactly an endorsement of the importance of this competition.

Even if this competition is thoroughly unimportant in the eyes of Paramount+, though, it is important in one respect: if the Giallorossi can find a way to win it, it will be their first trophy since the 2007-2008 Coppa Italia. Scoff at the UECL and its brand-new trophy all you want, but silverware is silverware for a club like the Giallorossi. I’ll take it where I can find it, and I imagine The Friedkin Group will as well, so I hope you keep joining us in finding a way to watch the Giallorossi navigate their way through the third tier of European competition.

Roma vs. CSKA Sofia: September 16th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

We’ve already done a deep dive into the different clubs Roma will be facing in the group stage; suffice to say they’re not necessarily on the level of even the weaker competition the Giallorossi face in Serie A. Given that, the name of the game for José Mourinho will undoubtedly be rotation, rotation, rotation, at least for the early stages of the Europa Conference League.

What To Watch For

How Much Will Mourinho Rotate?

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Of course, rotation is something that can come in all shapes and sizes, and how Mourinho chooses to rotate the squad against Sofia will indicate whether this match is a close one or a blowout. A lot of sources have already suggested that pretty heavy rotation will be in effect, with Matías Viña, Jordan Veretout, Tammy Abraham, Nicolò Zaniolo, and Gianluca Mancini among those who might get a breather. If that’s the case, be on the lookout for how their replacements respond to their first real chance to start under José Mourinho.

We’ll get into two players who specifically may profit from this match against Sofia next, but one other player I’m looking to see break out in this match is Riccardo Calafiori. He was supposedly in line for a start against Sassuolo this past weekend, but that didn’t happen and Viña played the full ninety. Will Mourinho give him a real chance now, albeit against far weaker competition? If he doesn’t, that might be an indicator of how far Richy has to go until he can be more than a nominal backup at left-back.

Return of the Max (Kumbulla)

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Max Kumbulla has had an odd career in Rome since his transfer from Hellas Verona last summer. While at Hellas, he established himself as a centerpiece in Ivan Jurić’s defense, but when he moved to Roma he became a high-priced super-sub, logging 21 appearances in his first season with i Lupi but staying far behind Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez in the pecking order. So far this season there’s been no indication that Kumbulla has done anything to change that hierarchy under Mourinho; he’s barely seen the field since the Special One took over, logging only one appearance in the qualifiers for the UECL.

Kumbulla is still incredibly young for a defender, but the longer he rides the pine behind Mancini and Ibañez, the more it looks like the Giallorossi could grow to regret their €28 million move for the Albanian. If Kumbulla gets a chance to shine in the Europa Conference League and seizes on it, though, he could quickly become a key rotational option for Roma, especially considering that Chris Smalling seems to perpetually struggle with keeping fit.

Borja Getting Minutes?

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

It really hasn’t been Borja Mayoral’s past couple of months. Despite being the club’s top scorer last season, The Friedkin Group saw fit to bring in Eldor Shomurodov and Tammy Abraham on permanent deals this summer, and even with the departure of Edin Džeko, that puts Mayoral firmly in the “third option” slot in Mourinho’s depth chart. That’s the opposite of ideal for a striker who was just starting to prove himself at the top-flight, and that lack of room in the forward rotation is the reason that rumors linking Mayoral to a move to clubs like Fiorentina and Atalanta picked up towards the end of the transfer window.

Even though he’s still with the Giallorossi, don’t expect a start for Mayoral in the heavily-rotated side facing Sofia; that starting striker spot is likely to go to Eldor. However, there are at least ninety minutes in every match, and considering the fitness issues several of Roma’s forwards are dealing with at the moment, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mayoral as one of the first subs off the bench on Thursday. Just like Kumbulla, if Mayoral seizes upon any chance Mourinho gives him on the pitch while showing that he’s more than just a poacher, maybe the Spaniard can put himself more solidly into the mix as a forward option during Serie A matches.

There’s little to no chance he’ll be able to become Roma’s starting forward anymore, and if you ask me, there’s an equally small chance that the Giallorossi end up exercising their €20 million option on Mayoral next summer. Despite that, every chance he seizes this season increases the odds that Mayoral will find a home at a more reputable club, or perhaps even back at Real Madrid. How’s that for incentive to perform?