Every new Roma season, especially one with a new manager on the touchline, starts with renewed optimism. Older players look rejuvenated, young guys are ready to take the leap, the kits look fresh, and the possibilities are endless. Even if Roma failed to meet expectations the prior year, this is still Roma we're talking about; a club that just feels like it belongs in the Champions League every season.
Take all those expectations, that optimism, and that wave of positivity, and multiply it by a factor of ten, and you'll start to get an idea of what life is like as a Roma fan right now. Thanks to José Mourinho's perfect start to the season, one fueled by the contributions of all four of the club's new summer signings, Roma fans are dreaming big at the dawn of the new season.
However, it seldom takes long before injuries turn dream starts into nightmares. Whether the club starts off 4-0, 10-0, or somewhere in between, sooner or later the Trigoria meat grinder must be fed; it can only lay dormant for so long; it must reap Roman souls, or the Earth may spin off its axis and start a death spiral towards the sun.
And whether these injuries occur at Roma's training ground or while the players are away on international duty is irrelevant; the club's troubling trend of muscle injuries seems to begin earlier each season, and 2021 is no exception. The only difference this time around is that Roma's injury bug seems to be exclusively feasting on the defense.
From Chris Smalling's dodgy hamstring to Gianluca Mancini's troubled foot to Roger Ibañez's fractured face (!!!) to Matías Viña's on-again-off-again-thigh issues to Marash Kumbulla's simple lack of form at the moment, Roma's defense is already in shambles.
While Smalling should at least make the bench this weekend against Sassuolo, and Ibañez has been outfitted with a mask that will enable him to play through the microfracture in his face, Mancini and Viña each remain doubtful for this weekend's future, with the latter likely to return from South America the day before the Sassuolo match.
While this early wave of injuries is troubling, it should provide young Riccardo Calafiori a chance to shine. With Viña likely to miss this weekend's match, and with Roma entering the real meat of the schedule where they'll play 12 matches in roughly six weeks, Calafiori's meager role should increase significantly over the next month and a half.
Playing only eight minutes so far, Calafiori has been a bit player in Roma's Mourinho makeover, but this confluence of schedule congestion and injuries could provide the 19-year-old Roman a platform to truly earn Mourinho's confidence, winning some early season starts at left-back while Roma's defense is on the mend.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the business, but if Calafiori can take this chance and run with it, he may accelerate his own developmental timeline and force his way into Mourinho's plans earlier than anyone expected.