“We have everyone available for this game. Nicola Zalewski has had a few issues but he trained yesterday and is all good. Stephan El Shaarawy also had something, but now he’s in perfect shape. We are all there. The only one out is Ebrima Darboe, which is a sad story and he will need time for his recovery. But otherwise we are all available and we want to win. We want the fans to go home happy.”
Those were Mourinho’s words during his pre-match presser on Sunday. Mourinho was content with the squad's clean bill of health, especially considering the team has been working on getting to peak fitness ahead of a busy run of fixtures. He even complimented Gini Wijnaldum’s training after his late arrival from PSG. It all sounded so good until Sunday’s training, where Wijnaldum broke his tibia, likely ruling him out until 2023.
That throws a big monkey wrench into the midfield equation, where Wijnaldum was expected to be a regular starter in the double pivot. However, with the Dutchman now out for months, we will likely see a lot more of Lorenzo Pellegrini in a deep midfield role like last week rather than trequartista, where he excelled last season. Mourinho, ironically enough, spoke on Pellegrini’s versatility just hours before Wijnaldum’s unfortunate injury.
“Last season I said on a couple of occasions that I would love to have three Lorenzos in my team. And I said that during a period where he was growing as a player. He’s at an age where he can still improve but, right now, compared to that promising player of six or seven months ago, he has now become a truly great player. A truly great player. So good that it’s not just three positions he could play in, as I said before, but more as well.
“He’s really matured. He can play anywhere; in central midfield or even further forward where Dybala and Nicolo are. He’s someone who brings quality and composure. He’s really important to us. If you look at our squad, in the positions where Dybala and Nicolo play we do not have many options. We have them, we have El Shaarawy, we have Lorenzo. It’s those four who can play in those positions.
“So that’s why I can’t tell you that Lorenzo will only play in central midfield. There are going to be lots of games, it’s going to be a long season, and Lorenzo can play anywhere. And it’s not that I am forcing him to play somewhere that he doesn’t want to. He can play everywhere and that is, for us, something really important.”
All preseason long, debates have raged among Romanisti as to where Pellegrini should line up and if Nicolo Zaniolo should move to the bench to allow him to play higher up the pitch. Well, at least for the time being, that debate has been settled with Wijnaldum’s injury. With Pellegrini likely playing almost exclusively in the central midfield—except to allow for rotation for Dybala or Zaniolo—it becomes more a matter of who starts next to him: Bryan Cristante or Nemanja Matic.
And that is likely the only position that remains a question mark heading into tomorrow’s match. Other than a possible Matic start, the formation will remain unchanged from last weekend at Salernitana. I’ll tip Cristante, though, after his big performance in Salerno.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Cristante, Pellegrini, Karsdorp; Zaniolo, Dybala; Abraham