Even after Roma’s 1-0 win over Cagliari, there was a sense of doom and gloom hanging over the Giallorossi. The losses to Milan and Juventus to start 2022 certainly sting and suggest that the Friedkin Group’s version of Roma 1.0 is still a ways away from contending for Champions League spots, let alone a Scudetto. Thankfully, Roma was able to claw back from a 1-0 deficit in the midweek Coppa match against Lecce, guaranteeing a trip to the quarter-finals for the Giallorossi and avoiding total embarrassment (which, let’s be honest, isn’t always what happens with this squad). You would think that a relatively easy win in the first match of the Coppa Italia would be the bare minimum expected out of Mourinho’s men, yet last season’s Coppa loss to Spezia is proof that Romanisti can’t take anything for granted regardless of the competition (or the quality of the side they’re facing).
Roma’s schedule until their February showdown with Inter Milan in the Coppa quarterfinals is relatively light, with the matches sandwiching the international break featuring mid-table to relegation-zone teams that one would expect the Giallorossi to handle with relative ease. The first of those matches is tomorrow against Empoli FC, a side that has certainly defied expectations in their first season back in Serie A but should nonetheless be an easier opponent for the Giallorossi than the Milans and Juventuses of the world. For a more in-depth analysis of what the young and exciting Azzurri side brings to the table, be sure to check out Steve’s interview with Jake Mills of Gentleman Ultra!
October 3, 2021: Roma 2, Empoli 0
Roma’s first match of the season against Empoli went quite smoothly, with the Giallorossi keeping a clean sheet and finding goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini. This was in the middle of Pellegrini’s nuclear-hot start to the season, when it seemed like capitano had found another gear that would catapult him into the continent’s elite corps of midfielders. He’s since cooled off a tiny bit (mainly due to injuries), but if you look at the highlights of this match, you can see both how much Pellegrini has grown since his return from Sassuolo in 2017 and how much any manager would have to adjust a side when Pellegrini is unavailable.
Here were our thoughts post-match, which I would argue still hold true:
Fueled by the combined attacking talents of Pellegrini, Zaniolo, Abraham, and Mkhitaryan, Mourinho’s Roma looks poised to become a direct and aggressive attacking machine, bowling over their opponents’ thanks to the combined brains and brawn of that quartet.
Building around this quartet (or at least the trio, assuming Henrikh Mkhitaryan might be moving on from Rome in the next few years) is still the game-plan for José Mourinho and Tiago Pinto. Let’s hope that even with Pellegrini out, the other three key attacking players in this Roma side are able to grab the three points from their trip to Tuscany.
What To Watch For
Will Tammy’s Scoring Form Continue?
Despite what some naysayers might suggest, Tammy Abraham’s been having quite a first season with the Giallorossi. His goal in Roma’s victory over Lecce was his fifteenth in all competitions this season; he reached that number faster than most of Roma’s elite strikers of the past, including Edin Džeko:
Matches to score 15 goals with #ASRoma #Batistuta 20 #Abraham 28#Montella 28#Pruzzo 46#Dzeko 49#Delvecchio 55#Voller 58 pic.twitter.com/Etu16XLuFQ— AS Roma Data (@ASRomaData) January 20, 2022
The anti-Tammyites do have a point that many of these goals have been against smaller sides; there’s no hat-trick against Inter Milan contributing to his goal tally, though part of me doubts such a performance would convince his staunchest critics of his value. Sure, tomorrow’s match against Empoli won’t be a chance for Abraham to prove his ability against a big club, but with Lorenzo Pellegrini still out and Nicolò Zaniolo still trying to find his scoring boots, it will be a chance for the Englishman to cement himself as the focal point of this Giallorossi side. If the goals keep flowing, Romanisti might even have to start worrying about Chelsea exercising their €80 million buyback clause in 2023. That wouldn’t be a terrible problem to have, but still.
Can Marash Kumbulla Continue His Roman Renaissance?
Don’t look now, but Max Kumbulla is slowly but surely showing all the promise that earned him his transfer to Rome in the first place. The 21-year-old center-back has been Roma’s best defender since the start of 2022, providing a sense of calmness and consistency that is often lacking in the Mancini-Ibañez pairing. There’s still no doubt that Kumbulla is third or fourth in the pecking order for the center-back slots in Mourinho’s starting eleven, but at least the Albanian international has found his way out of the doghouse through excellent play. That’s no small feat, considering that players like Gonzalo Villar, Borja Mayoral, and Amadou Diawara seemingly gave up instead of working to re-enter Mourinho’s good graces.
Of course, once you show ability in anything, the next step is to show that ability with consistency. We’ve seen Kumbulla perform admirably in the past two matches against Cagliari and Lecce, and by all indicators, Mourinho has been quite pleased with the center-back’s performances. However, for Kumbulla to become a more comfortable member of Mourinho’s defensive rotations, he’s going to have to show an ability to perform week in and week out. Another solid to great performance from Mad Max against Empoli (particularly against exciting attacking prospects like Andrea Pinamonti) will do more than just permanently silence the whispers suggesting that Kumbulla might be better off transferring to a smaller side like Torino. It might also give the Giallorossi the defensive depth necessary to compete across multiple competitions deep into the spring.