As the Serie A season gets closer and closer to its World Cup pause, it certainly looks like the Giallorossi could use that pause. Even beyond their defeat to Lazio in the Derby Della Capitale, this squad is beaten up, and while the past few weeks have been positive, including the rise of Cristian Volpato as a key rotation piece, they have also seen Roma effectively tread water in the standings while clubs like Juventus and Inter look to make up for lost time. The World Cup break isn’t here just yet, though, as I Lupi must play two more matches before some of their players head to Qatar.
Sassuolo has been playing below the typical recent standard so far this season, as they currently sit in thirteenth and (in this writer’s humble opinion) waste the talents of one Davide Frattesi. They’re also on a bit of a losing streak right now, having lost to Empoli this past Saturday and having endured a drubbing against league-leaders Napoli the week prior. Sassuolo manager Alessio Dionisi acknowledged the challenge Sassuolo will face in his pre-match presser, saying that:
“We are talking about Roma, a strong team with physical players. They have played more games than us this season, sure, but they are equipped for this, I don’t think there are many advantages for us from this point of view. Roma are probably wounded by the derby loss and will not slack in their performance, which is very much welcome because we want to face a team that wants to win at all costs because we do too.”
Compliments aside, the Giallorossi need a win following their disappointing loss to their cross-town rivals, and they particularly need a win against a team in the bottom half of the table when they’ve struggled to beat the other big clubs of Serie A so far this season.
Will Tahirovic Impress Like Volpato?
José Mourinho has been quite eager to bring several youth prospects into the first team recently, partially due to injuries and poor form. Cristian Volpato is the biggest name of the recent call-ups, but Nicola Zalewski and Edoardo Bove are also on their way toward becoming key parts of the senior squad for the Giallorossi. Add another name to that list because it appears that Swedish teenager Benjamin Tahirović will be getting a big chance against Sassuolo.
I prefer to say: Okay, all these issues have opened doors for others. To Volpato last year, to Zalewski as well, and over time to Edoardo Bove too. And I will tell you now, so it’s not a surprise, that Benjamin Tahirovic will get his chance soon enough and it might even be by starting a game – because I’ve seen him improve a lot since he started training with us. We are looking at things in a positive light.
But let’s see, we still have two games until the break. Let’s see how many points we can get and see what the table looks like at the break, even if it is not quite the halfway point of the season. It would have been more logical to have a break at the halfway point in the season.
Going back to your question, so I don’t avoid it – are there players that I’ve expected more from? Yes. I can’t hide that, I can’t say that I am satisfied with the evolution, or indeed regression, of some players.
But what I can hide is which players those are – because as a coach I need to speak to my players individually when I have things to tell them…”
To keep it level with you, I know very little about Tahirović compared to the recent academy grads like Volpato, Zalewski, and Bove, but Mourinho has repeatedly mentioned the Swedish midfielder as the next in line to begin making appearances with the senior squad. That consistent mentioning and praise through several press conferences suggest that The Special One is quite excited to see Tahirović move to prime time. If he’s able to make an impact against Sassuolo, it will make the world of Roma run a little smoother while Gini Wijnaldum recovers from his injury, and considering the injury crises the Giallorossi has had to deal with so far this season, such a boost could make a world of difference.
Will Ibañez Recover from His Egregious Derby Mistake?
I wouldn’t want to be Roger Ibañez this week. While he’s had an excellent start to the season overall, there’s no doubt that his poor showing in the Derby della Capitale was the primary reason that the Giallorossi lost to Lazio on Sunday. Just as having a great performance in the derby can set a player on a new, upwards trajectory, we’ve seen countless examples of the inverse before; a poor performance can cause a player to spiral into consistently poor form and maybe even a benching.
Fortunately, José Mourinho seems set to avoid punishing Ibañez with a trip to the bench, as he had this to say in the pre-match presser:
“There’s nothing to return to. I have already spoken about him. Tomorrow it’s Ibanez and 10 others. Beyond what your question might be, that’s the answer. I have a lot of respect for someone that, from the first day I got here, has given everything he has. And, on more than one occasion, even when he has had a few issues.”
“Last year we went through a spell where he was the only central defender, with Chris Smalling injured and Gianluca Mancini and Marash Kumbulla suspended. He was there every single game. When we went to Seville to face Real Betis earlier this season, the morning of the game I saw him and thought it was going to be impossible for him to play. And yet he played. He’s one who always fronts up.”
“When we win, we all win together. When we lose, we all lose together. For me he is untouchable. There is nothing more to be said. I think it helps that I hardly read the newspapers and never check social media. Because other than my Instagram, where I publish nonsense just for fun and a few laughs, I don’t read anything. That helps me - but he is untouchable, in my opinion. Tomorrow it will be him and 10 others.”
This is, without a doubt, the right approach for Mourinho to take with Ibañez’s error, and it’s commendable for him to support the Brazilian in a fragile moment (particularly after he just missed the Seleçao squad for the World Cup). Let’s hope that Ibañez repays this faith by playing more like his usual self when the Giallorossi travels to Sassuolo.