We all know that Roma’s second tie against Bodø/Glimt is all that anyone is talking about right now, and that will probably hold true during tomorrow’s match against Salernitana. It’s easy to see why; for some reason, Roma looks to be developing a weird kind of rivalry with the Norwegian side, the specter of assault charges is hanging over the second leg of Roma’s quarterfinals tie, and Salernitana have no chance of avoiding the drop this season.
Still, winning this match will help Roma solidify its hold on fifth place, and to be blunt, if Roma can’t get three points from a Salernitana squad completely mired in twentieth, then maybe the Giallorossi don’t deserve European football next season.
August 29, 2021: Salernitana 0, Roma 4
Roma’s first match against Salernitana this season was textbook, a 4-0 beatdown that showcased just what Mourinho’s Roma could become. Salernitana parking several buses made the first half one of the more boring halves of football I’ve ever had to endure, but once Lorenzo Pellegrini scored three minutes into the second half, the floodgates opened. Goals from Jordan Veretout (remember him?) and Tammy Abraham put this match to bed by the seventieth minute, but a second goal from Pellegrini confirmed him as Man of the Match while showing Romanisti that their captain is one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe.
Here’s what we said in the afterglow:
Credit to Mourinho and the players for coming out in the second half determined to score and getting two in relatively quick succession to take a stranglehold of the game...
While Roma’s performance offensively in the first half may be cause concern for some Roma fans, and while there may be some validity to that in terms of the consequences of that happening against the stronger sides, ultimately Roma did what they had to do, which was put a bunch of goals in against a likely bottom of the table side, and secure the three points.
What To Watch For
The Return of Spinazzola (To The Bench, At Least)
Other than table implications, the largest Roma story surrounding this match has to be that Leonardo Spinazzola is reportedly set to be called up again, his first call-up since his Achilles tear at the Euros last summer. Now, Leo isn’t close to actually playing a match; he hasn’t even resumed full training just yet. Still, it’s a statement of intent from Mourinho to give Spinazzola a spot on the bench, one that indicates the Italian full-back is a big part of Mourinho’s vision of Roma.
If I had to place a bet, I wouldn’t expect to see Spinazzola actually play minutes this season. Despite his aggressive personally-set timeline for return (remember when he said he wanted to be playing again by November?) Roma has every reason to slow-roll Spinazzola back into the lineup. The good form of Nicola Zalewski in the left wingback role means there isn’t a gaping hole in the Giallorossi lineup, and Spinny has shown himself to be a pretty fragile player. He’s world-class when he’s uninjured, so Roma will do everything they can to avoid a Zaniolo-like back-to-back injury layoff for Leo. Still, seeing Spinazzola at a Roma match period does qualify as something to watch for; I’m excited to see his enthusiastic face on the sidelines again.
Can Zaniolo Score at the Olimpico Again?
Ignore all the garbage about Nicolò Zaniolo in the rumor mill; I know it’s hard, but just do it. By now I’ve said this countless times in match previews, but Salernitana truly look like a side that Zaniolo can use to help springboard himself back into form. With Lorenzo Pellegrini out for tomorrow’s match and Nicolò reportedly taking his role in the starting eleven, there’ll be no better chance for The Kid to take his next step towards returning to the form we know he can display. Salernitana will certainly park the bus against the Giallorossi, but even when they did that in their last outing against Roma, I Lupi won 4-0. Their parked bus isn’t that intimidating.
By that logic, there’s no reason Zaniolo can’t find the net tomorrow, and if he does, it’ll break his cold streak of not scoring at the Stadio Olimpico since his ACL injuries. That kind of home-field cold streak would gnaw at any attacking player, let alone a player that many have labeled the future of Roma and Italy. Both José Mourinho and the Giallorossi management have been careful to provide Zaniolo a huge amount of support this season, but all the support in the world won’t mean a thing to Zaniolo if his on-field product leaves him dissatisfied, which it obviously has so far.
If Roma is going to become a Champions League-level side, they need Zaniolo to be firing on all cylinders, and for Zaniolo to be firing on all cylinders, he has to start scoring at the Olimpico again. It doesn’t matter if that first goal is a howitzer from 20 yards out against first-place Milan or a tap-in against last-place Salernitana; the mental relief that first goal will provide will be everything for Zaniolo, and by extension the Giallorossi on the whole.