Roma’s adventure in UEFA’s new tournament has gone off without a hitch to date. The Giallorossi made it through the play-in against Trabzonspor with relative ease, and their 5-1 trouncing of CSKA Sofia certainly started the ECL group stage off on the right foot. Given some of the bumps in the road that José Mourinho’s men have encountered in league play, though, it’s understandable if Roma’s relatively easy path in European competition feels like a silver lining on a slowly-greying cloud.
That cloud got a whole lot darker this past weekend when the Giallorossi notched their second loss of the season against Lazio. I’ll keep it level with you: I’m still nursing the metaphorical hangover from the Derby, and I imagine that a lot of the players in the squad are too. The best remedy for that hangover (other than sending Lazio back to the Stone Age next time around) would be a dominant win against FC Zorya Luhansk, Roma’s next opponent in the ECL Group Stage. Knock on wood, but such a win should be easily achievable even with heavy rotation.
Zorya vs. Roma: September 30th. 18:45 CET/12:45 EDT. Slavutych Arena, Zaporizhzhia
For those who don’t follow Ukrainian football (like me), here’s a little bit of a rundown on Roma’s midweek opponents. FC Zorya Luhansk, also known by the very original nickname Muzhyky (The Men), are a club based out of Luhansk, Ukraine. There’s apparently a breakaway country that was set up by Russian separatists inside the city called “The Luhansk People’s Republic” if you’re in the mood for trivia.
As for the club itself, it’s one of the Big Three clubs of Ukrainian football alongside Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv, but considering they lost 3-1 to Norwegian club FK Bodø/Glimt in their first match of the group stage, let’s hope the Giallorossi can pull out a convincing win at Slavutych-Arena. Even a draw would be pretty damn embarrassing.
What To Watch For
When In Doubt, Bove It Out
I’ve said this before and been wrong, but I certainly hope that rotation is the name of the game for José Mourinho this match. One player who I’ve personally tabbed as a potential rotational piece is academy graduate Edoardo Bove. Given the struggles that Bryan Cristante has had when asked to play in a more defensive role alongside Jordan Veretout, it makes sense for Mourinho to use a match Roma should win handily as a chance to see if the DM the club so desperately wants to sign this January might already be in-house.
Bove has received a lot of praise throughout his time in Roma’s academy, and along with Nicola Zalewski is seen as one of the most exciting prospects in Roma’s stable at the moment. It’s clear that neither Gonzalo Villar nor Amadou Diawara has shown José Mourinho that they can play in his midfield; if they had, they would at least be seeing minutes in matches where both Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante underwhelm, like last weekend’s derby.
Since we’re still three whole months away from the beginning of the winter mercato, Mourinho has to do something to solve some of Roma’s midfield problems, and Bove’s ball-winning style of play at the Primavera level hints that he could be the defensive metronome that The Special One sought this summer. He’s certainly not a player of either Granit Xhaka’s or Denis Zakaria’s caliber yet, but the whole point of promoting academy graduates is the idea that they can become a player of that caliber if they’re given the chance. Let’s hope Bove gets that chance, even if it’s by starting matches against the third-best team from a two-team Ukrainian league.
Eldor Up Front?
Tammy Abraham has shown himself to be a €45 million man so far in Rome; even beyond his two goals and two assists through the first month as a member of the Giallorossi, the way in which the English international immediately acclimated to playing in Rome and Serie A is nothing short of incredible. While nobody’s happier than me that Abraham has so quickly become a pivotal part of the Giallorossi offense, it has meant that Eldor Shomurodov has gotten fewer starts at striker than he would have if Abraham had had a slower start to his time with i Lupi.
These ECL group stage matches are therefore the perfect time for José Mourinho to start Shomurodov in his natural position, ensuring that the Uzbek Messi can come good on the promise he’s shown to date in a Roma kit. Above all else, Shomurodov looks determined to help the club win, whether that’s through threading a key pass or scoring himself. Rewarding players who have that mindset can only be good for Mourinho in the short and long term. Handing Shomurodov a start here will not only give Tammy Abraham a chance to breathe during a hectic part of Roma’s schedule; it will also show the players who don’t typically start matches that their time can and will come to show their worth on the pitch.
Bryan Reynolds’ Golden Opportunity
Speaking of players whose time might be coming sooner than you think, the recent poor form of Rick Karsdorp has many (well, mainly me) hoping that Bryan Reynolds will get a chance at right-back in the near future. Reynolds is still quite young, so expecting him to push Karsdorp out of the starting eleven any time soon is ridiculous. Still, as I said in Edoardo Bove’s case, if the choice is between waiting until January and hoping to sign an adequate backup, or giving a young player with plenty of talent a trial by fire in less consequential matches, I’ll go with Option B every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Not to jinx anything, but it’s important to remember that much of Rick Karsdorp’s early stretch with the Giallorossi was plagued with injuries. Part of the reason I feel comfortable criticizing Rick’s poor(er) form to start the season is that those injury issues have largely dissipated, but what happens if Karsdorp is out for an extended period of time this fall? If you ask me, giving Reynolds minutes now (even if he doesn’t impress straight away) makes sure that if Karsdorp does go down for the eight count, Reynolds isn’t thrown into the first team completely out of the blue against really challenging competition. Matches like this one can be the training wheels for Roma’s American, helping him grow to the point where he’s not only an American international but also a key part of this Giallorossi side.
Which player should get a chance against Zorya Luhansk?
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