Roma’s win against Leicester City was a momentous occasion for nearly everyone associated with the club. The Giallorossi will be fighting for a trophy at the end of May, an occurrence that hasn’t happened in quite some time; assuming the Friedkins don’t pull a Tottenham and fire José Mourinho right before a final, The Special One will get a chance to prove he still has what it takes to succeed at the highest echelons of European football, and the Friedkins themselves will show that their new ownership has a better chance of bringing sustained success to Rome than other recent ownership groups.
We have quite a bit of waiting to do before that ECL final, though, and the next matchup is yet another pivotal one for Roma’s Serie A hopes this season. I Lupi are set to face Fiorentina this Monday in a match that will have major implications for the non-Champions League European spots. If Roma lose, their chances of getting Europa qualification through the league get incredibly slim, while a win for Fiorentina will put them on par with Roma in points. An open question (which I’ll dive into later) is how much Mourinho will rotate for this match, as booking a ticket to Albania apparently took a lot out of the typical starting eleven. It’ll be a statement of intent if the Giallorossi can get three points away from home with a rotated squad; it’ll also be an excellent chance for certain players to show they deserve to stay with the club in the long term.
August 22, 2021: Roma 3 - Fiorentina 1
This was quite a fun match to watch. The first match of the season went swimmingly for the Giallorossi, handing Fiorentina a loss behind a goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a brace from Jordan Veretout, and two assists from Tammy Abraham. If you’re keen to watch the actual highlight reel, be on the lookout for a sublime assist from Eldor Shomurodov; at the beginning of the season, it truly looked like he could be a key cog in Roma’s attack, and I’m still trying to figure out just what exactly happened there.
Here’s what we had to say in the post-match glory:
This match had it all: effective possession, great link-up play through the middle, individual moments of brilliance, steady goalkeeping, suffocating defense, and even a few entertaining histrionics from Mourinho on the touchline. The remaining 37 league matches won’t go quite as smoothly, but you can already see the seeds Mourinho planted over the summer taking root. From the stout defense to the quick transitions to the strikers to the wide forwards stretching and pulling the defense at their pleasure, Roma looked sensational tonight.
There were some ups and downs over the course of the season, but I’d argue this analysis still rings true. The fact that it does gives me a lot of hope for Roma’s long-term, both with Mourinho and as a squad more generally.
What To Watch For
Redemption for Felix?
Just as Eldor Shomurodov’s star has dimmed considerably over the course of the season, Felix Afena-Gyan has gone from one of the most intriguing attacking prospects in European football to a player who looks continually out of his depth at the Serie A level. This happens quite a lot with Primavera players making the jump, so it’s not truly a cause for concern; we know Afena-Gyan has the boots to become a consistent goalscorer, but it appears that Serie A defenses have simply figured him out for now.
Despite that poor form, it certainly looks as if Mourinho’s planned rotations for this match will include handing Afena-Gyan another start. While I think it’s all but guaranteed that the Ghanaian attacker will go out on loan to a smaller Serie A side (say, Sassuolo?) next season, the final few match days could be a critical chance for him to make sure that wherever he’s playing next season, he gets consistent minutes and a more secure shot at returning to Roma’s starting lineup. There’s a lot to like about Afena-Gyan, and he has the one in a billion story that anyone with a heart will love to hear. Let’s just hope that his form can catch up to his story in terms of intrigue and awesomeness in the near future.
Can Bove Get Another Shot?
Another player who could be getting a loan to a small Serie A side this summer is midfielder Edoardo Bove. Bove’s impressed in his limited minutes with the senior squad this season, to the point where Mourinho is rumored to be considering the Italian U-21 international as a key part of the midfield rotation for next season. If that doesn’t pan out, though, it’s easy to see Bove going on loan like his friend Riccardo Calafiori in an attempt to find consistent minutes.
With both Bryan Cristante and Sergio Oliveira reportedly wiped after the hard-fought win over Leicester City on Thursday, I’d expect to see some serious rotation in the midfield for the match against Fiorentina. I’m more confident that Bove has a chance of staying with Roma next season than Afena-Gyan, but still — a quality performance against a big side like Fiorentina could do wonders for Bove’s stock as a prospect. Jordan Veretout certainly doesn’t seem to be long for the Capitoline Hill, and if he plays the right way as the season draws to a close, Edoardo Bove may just become the next Roman to carve his name into A.S. Roma’s history.
Table-Watching is the Name of the Game
As the season draws to a close, table-watching becomes almost as important as watching the actual matches, particularly for clubs like Roma who are desperate for European qualification. The logjam between fifth and eighth includes Lazio, Roma, Atalanta, and Fiorentina, and each could make a run for a Europa League spot (or no European qualification at all) depending on how the final few weeks of the campaign shake out. The Giallorossi are lucky enough to still have a shot at securing a spot in the Europa League by winning the Europa Conference League, but quality performances in the league (and some luck) in the next few weeks could make Europa League qualification through the ECL a mere formality.
Personally, I’m hoping for that to be the case. Not only do I always want to do better than Lazio in the Serie A standings, I think it’s critical for Roma to both get good league placement and a trophy to add to the cabinet this season. We’ve all seen what José Mourinho’s recruitment pitch can do to improve this club’s chances; Tammy Abraham wouldn’t be in Rome without Mourinho, and one has to imagine that Mourinho and Tiago Pinto will be hunting for more quality players this summer to bolster the side’s odds of Champions League qualification. Showing that even with a limited squad, Mourinho can win a trophy and fifth place in the league would do a lot to convince players like Ryan Gravenberch that a move to Roma is the best next step for their careers. That will be what makes Roma a Champions League regular yet again, even more than the ECL prize money or the trophy itself.
Three more league matches, three more wins. Let’s make it happen.