I love derbies. Although Roma are blessed to have a passionate fanbase who will fill the Stadio Olimpico against minnows like Salernitana, those tifosi somehow manage to get even louder when the stakes are raised. Even in an away match, the noise created by Roma’s diehard away fans is practically unrivaled. In addition to all that, or perhaps because of it, Roma’s also lucky enough to be a part of one of the world’s best derbies, the Derby Della Capitale; the iconic moments from the past decade of those derbies could fill a really nice coffee table book that I would buy instantly.
Yet the Derby Della Capitale isn’t Roma’s only big derby; there’s also the Derby Del Sole, which has given Romanisti almost as much joy and pain as the Derby Della Capitale through the years. Especially when Lazio has had relatively disappointing seasons, or simply not been on the level of Roma, the consistently-good Napoli have provided the Giallorossi with a multifaceted challenge. While Juventus ran away with the league like clockwork in the 2010s, the Derby Del Sole was often a huge match between the sides duking it out for second and third place. Roma’s star has waned a bit since those years of consistent second-place finishes, but with the arrival of José Mourinho and a promising start to 2022, it’s safe to say that the Derby Del Sole is yet again a critical match in more ways than one.
The Giallorossi don’t stand too much of a chance of getting a spot in the Champions League for next season; at the moment, they’re six points behind Juventus for fourth place and staring down a murderer’s row of opponents to close out the month of April. The slim chance that does remain for Roma to get a Champions League spot undoubtedly runs through this match, though, and after a dominant midweek win against Bodø/Glimt, you’re excused if you think a big derby win could happen on Easter Monday.
October 24, 2021: Roma 0 - 0 Napoli
Although this match ended in a scoreless draw, it was an early indicator that Mourinho’s Giallorossi could find some form of success against the larger sides in Serie A. As the season wore on, more highlight-reel worthy matches against Atalanta and Lazio confirmed Roma’s ability to hold their own against bigger clubs, but after two seasons of Paulo Fonseca’s Roma squad struggling to hold its own against anyone but the minnows, it was certainly refreshing to see I Lupi contain a red-hot Napoli. Here’s what we said in the post-match:
This was your classic justified draw, as neither side really managed to put their stamp on the Stadio Olimpico this evening. With both clubs hitting the woodwork, wasting counter attacks and even seeing their managers sent off, a draw was probably the just result. While three points would have been great, Roma is the first and only team to take anything from Napoli this season, and while we’re not huge proponents of moral victories, you have to feel good about Roma’s response after such a humiliating defeat in Norway on Thursday.
Interestingly, instead of facing Napoli after an embarrassing loss to Bodø/Glimt, they now face I Partenopei after an emphatic win against the Norwegian side. The Giallorossi didn’t need momentum last time to split points against Napoli; time will tell if the momentum from a huge win in the ECL will enable Roma to take three points instead of one.
What To Watch For
Will Kumbulla’s Rise Continue?
Due to Roma’s congested calendar, José Mourinho is having to do a bit of rotation to keep the squad healthy and fit for critical matches. The Giallorossi will only have five days off between the Derby Del Sole and their trip to red-hot Inter Milan, so the media is reporting that Roger Ibañez will be given a rest against Napoli, allowing for Marash Kumbulla to rejoin the starting eleven.
Long-time CdT readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Kumbulla’s, and his performances since the 6-1 Bodø/Glimt embarrassment have revealed a player willing to put in the hard work to grow and willing to respond to criticism from his manager. Kumbulla’s been quite impressive in recent months, and his form overall has given José Mourinho more options in the defense, while also likely making Tiago Pinto feel more comfortable reinforcing the Giallorossi elsewhere this summer.
A man-of-the-match performance in the Derby Del Sole by Kumbulla would go a long way toward confirming the club’s faith in the Albanian international is justified. It will also make sure that as the season wears on and the Giallorossi move deeper into the ECL playoffs, Mourinho can truly have rotational options for every match. When Roma has faltered late in the season, it’s often been because the side has been juggling too many competitions at once; for the Giallorossi to find success in Italy and in Europe, more players need to rise to the moment. Hopefully, Kumbulla will continue to show himself to be one of those players.
Will Zaniolo Keep On Rolling?
Just as Roma’s ability to succeed in the league and in the Europa Conference League hinge on players like Marash Kumbulla giving quality and in-form depth, the Giallorossi clearly need as much as they can get from star players like Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Nicolò Zaniolo. Zaniolo is probably still riding high after becoming Roma’s youngest hat-trick scorer in European competition history on Thursday, as he should be: after a season of disappointments and slow recovery from injury, such a star performance to send Roma to the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League was just what the doctor ordered.
That match against Bodø/Glimt confirmed that Zaniolo’s talent and potential are still there; what the next few weeks will determine is how consistently he can bring that talent and potential right now. With Lorenzo Pellegrini questionable against Napoli after picking up a knock late in the Bodø/Glimt match, most outlets are suggesting that Zaniolo will be handed another start. If Zaniolo can link up beautifully with Nicola Zalewski and Tammy Abraham yet again, and this time against a serious Serie A side like Napoli, there will be no doubt in my mind that The Kid has returned. Even a performance with a key assist or just one goal, though clearly not as impressive as his hat-trick would be enough to show me that Zaniolo is truly back. If we get a performance like that, it will raise Roma’s ceiling for this season drastically; you might even start getting me to believe in Mourinho’s ability to get Roma back into the Champions League for next season.