Going into Roma’s match against Verona, things were looking superb for the José Mourinho Era of I Lupi. The Giallorossi had won every match in all competitions to start the season, and going up against a winless Verona could’ve been an easy way to continue that 100% start to the season. Unfortunately, the firing of Eusebio Di Francesco combined with poor weather, poor refereeing, and a mid-table side reverting to the mean (that’s referring to Hellas, not Roma, for you more snarky folks out there) all meant that the Giallorossi lost their first real match of the season. It was a largely disappointing affair outside of the continued star play of Lorenzo Pellegrini, and it made it shockingly easy to forget Roma’s dominant 5-1 win over CSKA Sofia a few days prior.
Roma vs. Udinese: September 23rd. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
That loss to Hellas Verona will certainly sting for a bit; it showcased some flaws in Roma’s squad, particularly at fullback and midfield. Despite the recriminations that followed that match, the Giallorossi are still in fourth place, and they’ve given us quite a lot of good football so far this season. As they host Udinese tomorrow, we’ll see if the squad’s ability to come back in a match will translate to an ability to turn the corner quickly after a loss. We’ll also see how this squad responds to next to no break in action between matches; even without a Europa Conference League match this week, the Giallorossi need to find victory against Udinese and then defeat Lazio 72 hours later.
What To Watch For
How Will Mourinho Respond to Roma’s First Loss?
As mentioned earlier, Roma’s loss to Hellas Verona certainly wasn’t expected, and you could see throughout the match how disappointed Mourinho was with certain players constantly losing individual battles. Yet if you take Mourinho’s pressers at face value, he wasn’t even pleased with the side after their 5-1 drubbing of CSKA Sofia, suggesting that they played poorly and didn’t necessarily deserve as big of a victory as they got in the ECL.
Only a fool would say that one loss to a consistently mid-table side like Hellas Verona spells doom for Roma’s season. Now that the shine of Roma’s perfect start to the season has worn off, though, we’ll get a chance to see what Mourinho does after a loss. Will players who underperformed (like Rick Karsdorp, for example) see their leash shortened if their poor form continues? Who might come in from the bench or the Primavera to cover for poorly performing players? Will Mourinho shift his tactics to make sure one defeat doesn’t become two, or will he stick to his plan, confident that individual mistakes were what killed Roma versus Hellas Verona?
No plan survives contact with the enemy; how a coach responds to things not going exactly his way is the difference between a good coach and a great one. Udinese might not be the most exciting opponent Roma faces in the next week, but it will be exciting to see how Mourinho’s Roma responds to a loss.
Will The Pellegrini Show Continue?
Even though Roma certainly didn’t get the result they expected against Hellas Verona, Lorenzo Pellegrini still found a way to have quite the match. Roma’s capitano scored his fifth goal of this young season, confirming his spot as Europe’s most lethal midfielder so far. Beyond the goal-scoring, though, Pellegrini has also shown himself to be perfectly suited for Mourinho’s tactics this season, and he’s looked particularly at ease working with the fluid forward set-up that the Giallorossi have been employing.
It’d be ridiculous to expect Pellegrini to continue scoring a goal a match; he can’t do all of Roma’s dirty work to will them to victory week in and week out. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to see Lorenzo show shades of the goalscoring prowess he displayed while (essentially) on loan with Sassuolo. If he can continue this torrid run of form, while maybe adding in some more assists here and there, there’s no question that Lorenzo will be able to reach the 10 goals, 10 assists marker this season. Let’s just hope that this explosion by Pellegrini translates to a consistent place in the top four for his club.
Rotation Ahead of the Derby?
Any major dude will tell you that the Derby Della Capitale will be the main focus of the next week. Every point will be important for the Giallorossi if they expect to stay in the top four for the long haul, but the Derby is a uniquely important match, the closest thing to a cup final Roma know they’ll take part in each season. Given that, it’d be odd to not see players like Matias Viña and Henrikh Mkhitaryan either play limited minutes or not at all against Udinese, just so they’ll be able to have enough fitness to be difference-makers against Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio.
The necessary rest for those players will likely result in another opportunity for Riccardo Calafiori and Eldor Shomurodov. Neither impressed against Hellas Verona, sure, but to be fair, nobody except Lorenzo Pellegrini and Rui Patricio really impressed against Hellas Verona. Both Calafiori and Shomurodov are super-subs who are looking to break their way into the consistent starting eleven, with Eldor far more likely to find his way there this season than Richy. Showing their sub-par performances against Hellas were flukes would go a long way towards convincing Mourinho that they are valuable members of his squad; putting in poor performances against Udinese will likely only make Mourinho more insistent that further investment in the squad will be needed this January.