We’ve finally arrived at the point of the season where we all must now officially choose: prioritize winning the Europa Conference League or full-steam ahead on attempting a top-four finish? Now, at the beginning of the season, this was almost a laughable question. Of course, you pick the top-four finish, who cares about some meaningless European trophy? And yet, here we are, all likely to be happy with winning the Conference League at the end of the season, given how unlikely Roma is to now finish in the top-four in the wake of their poor performance against Udinese on Sunday, despite having now gone nine games straight unbeaten in the league.
Roma did nowhere near enough to deserve a win, but a late Pellegrini penalty-kick ended up being the difference between stealing a point and going home empty-handed, keeping Roma level with Atalanta on points, who have a game in hand. Having said that, we now return to CdT’s most beloved series following an entirely too long hiatus, where I examine three things I either liked, or didn’t like, from Roma’s recent run in Serie A.
It’s Been Fool’s Gold
As cynical and as negative as I can be when it comes to predicting how Roma will fare against top-tier opposition, I’d like to think that it allows me to be more lenient when it comes to expectations over the course of the season. If you had told me at the start of the season that Roma would go nine games unbeaten in the league from mid-January through mid-March, I would've found myself dreaming of a Scudetto run for the Giallorossi, considering the fact that this period of the season is notorious for being the time of year that Roma struggle most.
Unfortunately, this recent run has been more or less fool’s gold, at least in my eyes. Sure, in seasons past we might very well have lost yesterday's match and there’s something to be said for being able to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, but there were two things for me that point towards this being fool’s gold.
First, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way, the realization that Roma was in the midst of an unbeaten run sort of just snuck up on us! Sure, that was partly due to losing to Inter in the Coppa, but this was also a product of several of these draws feeling like points dropped—particularly the Genoa and Sassuolo matches.
Second, and this goes hand-in-hand with my first point, is that Roma’s performances during this run have often left much to be desired. I’m a staunch proponent of the adage, “A win is a win is a win”, so nothing to take away from the three consecutive 1-0 wins, but it pains me to think about where Roma would be in the table had they taken care of business in some of these games.
The Tammy Abraham-Nicolo Zaniolo Partnership is Worth Sticking With
Don’t get me wrong, despite my perception of Roma’s recent run, it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Giallorossi. The budding partnership between Abraham and Zaniolo has been a noticeable bright spot during this run and ultimately ended up being the difference in Roma’s crucial victory over Atalanta, with Zaniolo finding Abraham for the goal in a beautiful display of chemistry between the two youngsters. And while it hasn’t clicked every game—the Udinese match being the most recent example—I think we’ve seen enough to be comfortable with this tandem leading Roma up front for the foreseeable future.
As two of Serie A’s young stars, and as two of the crown jewels of Roma’s Mourinho Project, the prospect of the two players terrorizing Serie A defenses for years to come is an extremely enticing proposition. For now, we’re still very much in the early stages of this promising partnership, with questions surrounding both players and their respective futures at the club, but the early returns look promising, and as we approach the conclusion of the campaign, Roma could finish the season on a very high note as the chemistry between the two continues to grow.
It Might Be Worth Extending Mkhitaryan’s Time at Roma
As our podcast listeners know, every time the topic of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and a potential extension comes up, I quickly dismiss the idea in the interest of not wanting to hand out renewals to 33-year olds with a lot of minutes on their legs. And yet, here we are, right on the heels of a Mkhitaryan-less performance many Romanisti would be quick to label as woeful, and it’s clear now more than ever just how valuable the Armenian is and can still be, particularly in this new midfield role he now finds himself in.
With reports of a potential contract extension now starting to surface, Mkhitaryan seems to have slowly rediscovered his best form and continues to age like fine wine. And although I am still ultimately opposed to anything beyond a one-year extension, his recent performances and decision to retire from the Armenian national team—thus saving some precious minutes in his legs—goes a long way in convincing me that there’s value in extending his stay in Rome. With a final decision on an extension likely to be made after the season, it’s in the interest of both parties for Mkhitaryan to continue his rich vein of form, and what a time for it, as we rapidly approach the tail-end of the season.
Well, that’s all from me. With the second-leg against Vitesse in midweek, and the Derby on Sunday, Roma can ill afford to have their unbeaten run end just yet. On the heels of a disappointing performance against Udinese, I expect nothing less than a determined and motivated Roma to come out looking to punch their ticket to the Conference League quarterfinals on Thursday. And of course, no extra motivation will be needed when it comes to going toe-to-toe with Lazio, who will assuredly be just as up for it as the Giallorossi.