We’re getting to the point in the season where it’s hard for me to get excited about Roma matches. It doesn’t happen every season, but when it becomes clear that Roma won’t be fighting with the biggest and baddest clubs of Serie A for Champions League qualification, it’s only natural for Romanisti to start feeling humdrum about matches. This season started with a huge amount of promise; a world-beater coach, players with bucket-loads of promise, and an ownership group finally getting to put its mark on the club. We all knew that Roma’s new energy would take a while to truly settle in, but I don’t think anyone expected seventh place in February.
Despite my personal lack of joy surrounding Roma matches, the Giallorossi are in a critical moment for their European hopes. They’re only four points behind Atalanta for fifth place, and two points behind Lazio for sixth. A win against ninth-place Hellas Verona could prove crucial in determining European competitions for the 2022-2023 season; a loss would certainly doom the Giallorossi to hope that a trophy in the European Conference League would save the season. There will certainly be a lot of reasons why Roma could lose this one; the injury report is starting to look quite long. Nevertheless, the expectation for tomorrow is clear: get the three points, keep Roma’s European hopes alive, salvage just a little bit of the Giallorossi’s dignity.
September 19, 2021: Verona 3, Roma 2
This was Roma’s first loss of the season, and in some ways, it’s a template for how the Giallorossi have frustrated Romanisti so much during José Mourinho’s first season in charge. Entering this match, Roma was actually in first place in Serie A, spurred on by a scalding-hot Lorenzo Pellegrini, yet the lack of a true defensive midfielder doomed Roma’s attempts to contain Verona’s attack.
Unlike many of the other disappointing results this season, however, there was no totally egregious refereeing mistake during this match. Still, the signs of weakness in Roma’s squad first show up here, like the Giallorossi not having the proper mentality to keep the score level after Ivan Ilic’s own goal.
What To Watch For
Running On Empty Up Top
Don’t look now, but Roma has become remarkably thin up front. There are reports that everyone from Eldor Shomurodov to Stephan El Shaarawy to Nicolò Zaniolo to Henrikh Mkhitaryan are unlikely to play tomorrow, either because of minor or long-term injury issues. That leaves Felix Afena-Gyan and Tammy Abraham the only confirmed forward options for José Mourinho, though of course there’s a good chance that Mourinho will call up some Primavera players to allow for substitutions.
It’s not as if Roma’s attack has been the most potent one in Italy this season, but having actual starting-level players available up front is critical for the Giallorossi to pick up three points from just about anyone. When players seemingly in the doghouse like Shomurodov also aren’t available, that makes the chances of coming away with a win against Hellas seem even smaller. On the plus side, this lack of depth could prove an opportunity for Tammy Abraham to truly make the offense revolve around him, at least for this match. If Abraham can score a hat-trick (or even just one goal), all my concerns about Roma’s temporary lack of forward depth will prove unnecessary.
Can Max Kumbulla Continue Proving His Worth?
Outside of the aforementioned Tammy Abraham, Max Kumbulla’s recent resurgence as a real option in defense has proved to be quite the bright spot in a disappointing season for the Giallorossi. The 21-year-old center-back has slowly but surely made himself a key rotational player for José Mourinho, making his high transfer fee look more and more reasonable by the week. Where center-backs like Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez use their fiery dispositions to make individual attackers pay, Kumbulla has offered the icy alternative, providing glue to a defense desperately needing it and making Chris Smalling break a sweat about his future in Rome.
It’s always a special occasion when a player returns to where it all started for them, and Kumbulla returning to Hellas Verona is no exception. With Ibañez out and Chris Smalling seriously out of form, I’d expect to see Mad Max get significant minutes against I Mastini. The Albanian international might not be a household name across Europe just yet, and he might not even be worth the €25 million that Giallorossi paid for him back in 2020. Yet you can’t help but be excited about his potential when you focus on him during a match, particularly since the start of 2022. If Kumbulla can add one more excellent match to his resumé tomorrow, at the very least it will make Tiago Pinto far more comfortable making the right choice when a big transfer offer comes in for Roger Ibañez this summer.