The first two months of 2022 have been a trying time for Roma fans, to put it mildly. Sure, it’s not like 2021 was a banner year for the Giallorossi, but the combination of losses to big teams to start the year and underwhelming draws to clubs Roma should be beating means that Romanisti are even more despondent than usual. Although the club’s next step in the Europa Conference League, a tie against Dutch club Vitesse, suggests that Roma may continue its run in European competition, March looks to be a challenging month for the Giallorossi too, with matches against Atalanta and Lazio on the horizon.
The best news I can offer Romanisti in these trying times is simple: pretty much every other big club on the peninsula seems to be struggling right now too. Atalanta have completely fallen apart since the start of the new year, dropping down to fifth place and winless since January 9th. In fact, the only club above Roma that won a match last week was seventh-placed Fiorentina; the entire top five hasn’t won a Serie A match in the last two matchdays.
If Roma were firing on all cylinders, this would be the moment where Mourinho’s men could storm up the table, leaving Fiorentina, Atalanta, and Lazio in the dust and beginning a real fight for a Champions League spot. Considering that Roma’s form these past few weeks hasn’t been stellar, either, I’m not hoping for that level of improvement (just yet). However, I am expecting a win tomorrow against Spezia. The Giallorossi should be able to handle a club with a -20 goal differential, a club that has lost their last two matches, a club that has more losses than wins and draws combined so far this season. If the Giallorossi can’t handle a club like that... well, I won’t necessarily be shocked, but this season will become even more of a disappointment.
December 13, 2021: Roma 2, Spezia 0
Last time out against Spezia, the Giallorossi did get the job done, albeit in a slightly unusual way. Instead of Tammy Two Goals saving the day, or Lorenzo Pellegrini showcasing his world-class ability, it was Roma’s defenders who scored against the Ligurian side. Goals from Roger Ibañez and Chris Smalling were complemented by an excellent performance from Marash Kumbulla, and although the match was marred by a last-second red card on Felix Afena-Gyan, this was a solid win for the Giallorossi when they needed one.
What To Watch For
Does Mourinho Reward Volpato, Bove, or Zalewski?
The story of last week’s match against Hellas Verona was undoubtedly the fact that Roma saved a point from the encounter due to goals from two Primavera stars. Cristian Volpato and Edoardo Bove announced their true arrival in the senior squad with gusto, and compared to just how poorly the first team has played in recent weeks, they showed a drive and determination to win that certain week-in-week-out starters would be wise to emulate.
Of course, the big question whenever any youngster has an exciting match at the senior level is what happens next. Will the manager grant them more time in top-flight football, maybe even starts? Or will the wunderkind in the making move back down to the academy, toiling away until he’s loaned out to some Serie B side? With Mourinho, it certainly seems that the situation and his overall temperament are both pushing him towards including more and more youth players in the senior squad. Felix Afena-Gyan certainly wasn’t on my radar at the start of the season; he’s now a rotation-level forward definitively ahead of Eldor Shomurodov on Mourinho’s depth chart.
While it’s unlikely that Bove, Volpato, or Nicola Zalewski (who also put in excellent minutes against Verona) will become semi-regular starters like Afena-Gyan, the poor form of their senior squad compatriots has given them a key opening into the squad. If Jordan Veretout or Bryan Cristante were playing their best, it’s unlikely that Edoardo Bove would be sniffing the first team. Instead, he’s notched his first goal in top-flight football, and he might be able to parlay that opportunity into becoming the mystery regista that Mourinho has craved since joining the Giallorossi.
Similarly, the need for forward rotation as Roma continues to juggle two competitions likely bodes well for Volpato’s and Zalewski’s chances in the senior squad. Outside of Tammy Abraham, no senior squad forward has been a world-beater this season. There’s room for the both of them in the rotation if they force Mourinho’s hand, making an impact each time they touch the field for the senior team. In a season where Roma’s results on the table have been underwhelming, it might all become worth it for me if this trio are able to join Felix Afena-Gyan as true first-team players. That’s how a club like Roma will be able to compete with the big boys of Italy and Europe in the long term.
Will Jordan Veretout Ever Rediscover His Peak Roma Form?
On the flip side of the rise of Roma’s Primavera talents, the fall of Jordan Veretout this season has been one of the biggest reasons behind the Giallorossi’s underwhelming results. Where Veretout was once arguably Roma’s most important midfielder, he now continually disappears in matches, providing none of the box-to-box work that made him such an intriguing player at Fiorentina and in his first two seasons in Rome. He’s been such a non-factor in crucial matches (matches that Roma has usually lost this season) that it often took me thirty or forty minutes to notice that, hey, Jordan Veretout is playing this match. With clubs like AC Milan, Newcastle United, and Tottenham Hotspur reportedly circling, it certainly seems like both club and manager have noticed his drop in form and believe it time to cut bait.
Now, if you’re particularly interested in being harsh on Jordan, you might note that even at his peak, he wasn’t able to push his club into Champions League contention; in fact, Veretout’s seasons in Serie A have resulted in eighth place, sixteenth place, fifth place, and seventh place results, respectively. Even though Roma has always had the goal of getting Champions League football, maybe Veretout simply has never been good enough to be a key piece in a club looking for that goal, the downers might sneer.
I don’t necessarily agree with that; last season, Veretout was truly quite good, breaking double-digits in Serie A goals and notching himself an international call-up to a French team with a ludicrously stacked midfield. Nevertheless, if there’s one thing that’s defined José Mourinho’s Roma to date, it’s the idea that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Max Kumbulla turned around his form after the Giallorossi’s disastrous loss to Bodo by acknowledging his weaknesses and growing in training and on the pitch; that’s why he’s still here while Gonzalo Villar is off playing for Getafe. Veretout has obviously been a far more critical piece of Roma’s starting eleven than either Kumbulla or Villar, but if we don’t see a Kumbulla-esque return to form by the Frenchman soon, it’s likely that we’ll be witnessing his last few months in a Giallorossi kit.