While we’ve seen Roma play a back four a few times this season during the course of a match, we’ve yet to see Mourinho employ it from the opening whistle. However, that may change in today’s game against HJK. Mourinho made it known in his pre-match presser that Roma’s defensive “Plan B” is ready, equating to just two of the three healthy center-backs featuring.
“Tomorrow it’ll be Plan B. Two of our three centre-backs will play. And now I will leave it open as to what the Plan B might be…”
This is likely because Mourinho wants to rest one of his defenders amid a busy stretch. If that is the case, I would expect Chris Smalling to sit, given his age and history of minor muscle injuries.
In his pre-match press conference, Mourinho also confirmed two more starters: Nico Zaniolo and Mady Camara, who will make his first start in a Roma shirt. Mourinho spoke about his condition yesterday.
“He’s not quite in a place to play 90 minutes just yet. When he got here he had not played for a month, the last game he had been involved in was against Slavia Prague in the Champions League qualifiers. And then when he got here he had a few fitness issues.
“Now he’s getting better from a fitness perspective and, from a tactical side of things, he’s learning our way of playing and what the central midfielders should be doing. He’ll play tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, after making the bench against Empoli, Zaniolo is poised to be rewarded for his speedy recovery from a dislocated shoulder. Mourinho lauded the hard work Zaniolo put in to make it back sooner than expected.
“He will play tomorrow. He will play. But I will say it again, it wasn’t an easy injury for him. He wanted to be back as soon as possible. He worked really hard with the medical team and the other staff. He really wanted to be available again quickly. He was ready to put himself at risk when it probably wasn’t the best idea.
“In Empoli he was ready to play, then during the game I decided to change plans when it became 2-1. He’ll play tomorrow, though; I don’t know if he will have 90 minutes in his legs but I am sure he will do well. The mental side is the most important. He is really fired up, really confident, and was playing really well before the injury. And tomorrow he is back.”
The return of Zaniolo likely means Lorenzo Pellegrini dropping deeper into the midfield. Mourinho also spoke on Pellegrini’s versatility with the return of Zaniolo.
“Last year I talked about three Pellegrinis and how all three would be starters in my team. Why? Because he can play in three different positions. And he can do all of them well. Given his age, he can still get even better. He’s a great player and an influential one wherever he plays.
“Obviously if he was playing right-back, he might have a few issues. But it’s a shame we only have one of him, I would like to have three. We try to give him the role – or the roles – where he can feel most comfortable. He can’t do them all, but that’s normal.
“But I don’t want to focus on that too much. The team is the most important thing. He is the captain and he knows that the team is the most important thing. A player needs to do what needs to be done for the team. And him, in this side, has a crucial importance, regardless of the position he plays. He’s a really important player for us.”
Though indications from around the peninsula suggest that it won’t be a Pellegrini-Camara double pivot, with the shift to the back four, Mourinho will play a 4-3-1-2 with Cristante joining that duo.
Also, keep an eye on Paulo Dybala potentially being rested. After the last match, Mourinho spoke about Tammy Abraham being able to play with Andrea Belotti, and this could be the match it happens.
(4-3-1-2): Patricio; Spinazzola, Ibanez, Mancini, Celik; Camara, Cristante, Pellegrini; Zaniolo; Abraham, Belotti