Roma are in a very interesting situation coming out of the international break. While the rumor mill went into overdrive during the past two weeks of international play, the actual footballing stakes for tomorrow’s match against Sampdoria are high, albeit not because of Sampdoria directly. With the Giallorossi even on points with fifth-place Atalanta, every match moving forward will be critical for their hopes at Europa League (or maybe, just maybe, Champions League) qualification.
Outside of Roma’s draw to I Blucherati earlier this season, Sampdoria haven’t been particularly impressive; they’re seven points out of the relegation zone, so even though they’re lost three out of their last five, avoiding relegation is pretty much guaranteed. Beyond achieving that goal, though, I can’t say that Samp has been an entertaining side to watch this season, and that means that we’re likely looking forward to yet another match where the Giallorossi have to grind out a small win against a side that is fully prepared to park the bus. Champagne football will surely not be on the menu, but hey, nobody said winning would always be pretty.
December 21, 2021: Roma 1, Sampdoria 1
Winning may not always be pretty, but drawing a match to a side like Sampdoria is never pretty. A goal from Eldor Shomurodov (remember him?) put Roma ahead after 72 frustrating minutes, and players like Felix Afena-Gyan continued to look promising throughout the match, but an 80th minute tap-in from Manolo Gabbiadini meant that these two sides shared the points. Here’s what we had to say in the post match, and really, doesn’t it sum up some of the more frustrating elements of Roma’s season to date?
Despite five minutes of stoppage time, neither club really threatened to take all three points tonight. Roma had a few half-chances down the stretch, with Mkhitaryan coming close on a left-footed curler off a late corner, but the whistle blew and Mourinho and his men left the pitch bitterly disappointed.
While a draw is obviously better than a loss, it’s hard not to be deflated after this performance. The very same club that put four past Atalanta, and limited their high flying offense to zero goals in the run of play (their lone tally was a Cristante deflected own goal), struggled to create and convert chances, putting only four of fourteen attempts on target.
Roma will need to do far better than this if they hope to win tomorrow and make sure their hopes of Europa League qualification through the league survive another match day.
What To Watch For
Will Nicola Zalewski Continue To Start?
Despite Felix Afena-Gyan’s longer tenure with the senior team this season, it’s become increasingly clear in recent weeks that Nicola Zalewski is Roma’s most intriguing recent Primavera graduate. The Polish left winger has taken to a more defensive role in Mourinho’s lineups with gusto, pushing Matias Viña down the depth chart and raising questions about just what the Giallorossi are going to do with their glut of left-wingbacks in the summer.
My assumption until proven otherwise is that Mourinho will eventually switch Zalewski back to a solely attacking role, which will allow for Leonardo Spinazzola, Viña, and Riccardo Calafiori to duke it out for minutes. Still, everyone from Roma great Zbigniew Boniek to Lorenzo Pellegrini to José Mourinho to Zalewski himself has noted that it can only be good for both the player and the club that he’s getting consistent play-time at a Serie A level right now. If Zalewski gets yet another start against Sampdoria, in a match that’s critical to Roma’s Europa League hopes, put it down as yet another instance of Mourinho betting on young talent to have the drive that certain senior team players just don’t have. That’s a bet that’s been resulting in big improvements for the Giallorossi recently; long may it continue.
Who Gets the Start in Midfield?
Despite the nine-match unbeaten run, It’s been a tumultuous couple weeks for the Giallorossi midfield. Rumors are swirling that both Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout could be gone from the club in the near future, and the stocks of Sergio Oliveira and Edoardo Bove only seem to rise as we get closer to spring. With José Mourinho stating in his pre-match presser that Veretout isn’t even training with the team right now, it sure seems like there are more questions than answers in the midfield for this weekend.
I think the ship has officially sailed on Veretout being a Roma player in the future, but I’m still hopeful that a core of Cristante, Oliveira, and Bove can be supplemented by one or two other midfielders in the summer to create a Champions League-level midfield. For this weekend, though, it’ll be interesting to see if Cristante gets another shot in the starting eleven, if Mkhitaryan might be used yet again in the double pivot, or if Bove might even get the start alongside Oliveira. How Mourinho lines up his midfield could tell us a lot about who he wants to keep around for the 2022/2023 season.