If you had asked me where I thought Roma would be heading into match day five, I certainly wouldn't have predicted first place. I also wouldn't have thought Juventus would look flat against every opponent except Roma, and I wouldn't have thought that nearly every big club would have shown some signs of weakness before mid-September. However, that's been the story of Serie A so far: no side is looking invincible, and for the first time in a while, the top four does feel quite up in the air. One side effect of that? Roma is top of the table (or at least joint-top heading into match day five).
The fact that the Giallorossi have had a pretty successful start to the season despite losing Georginio Wijnaldum and Nicolò Zaniolo to injuries is a testament to the depth that Tiago Pinto has provided José Mourinho in his second season at the Stadio Olimpico. The signings of Andrea Belotti and Mady Camara haven't resulted in anything significant on the pitch just yet, but because Roma signed those two players, Romanisti everywhere are likely a bit less anxious about injury scares right now. What's more, the Giallorossi can actually rotate. What a concept!
Apologies to Udinese, but the most exciting element of this match is undoubtedly the fact that the other Serie A giants have been losing points this matchday. With Juventus splitting the points with Fiorentina and Inter losing the Derby Della Madonnina, a win for Roma here would solidify the Giallorossi at the top of the table. Nobody wins the Scudetto in September, but that doesn't mean that Mourinho's men should waste the opportunity to pull ahead of Inter, Milan, and Juventus.
What To Watch For
Destiny Waits For No Man
With apologies to journeyman striker Gerard Deulofeu, there's no doubt that the most interesting player at Udinese these days is teenage fullback Destiny Udogie. Last season, the nineteen-year-old left-back was a revelation for I Friulani, pitching in five goals in 37 appearances as a left-wing-back while on his way to becoming one of the hottest young Italian prospects.
Of course, Udogie's performances at the tender age of eighteen caught the eye of many a big club, so it was no surprise when Tottenham Hotspur announced they had signed the youngster for a cool £21 million. Slightly more surprising was the fact that they decided to loan Udogie back to Udinese for the season; not the typical move if you're dropping that much on a player, but perhaps for the best to make sure Udogie sees regular playing time.
I would have loved to see Udogie in Rome if Nicola Zalewski hadn't had a similarly excellent 2021/2022 season as a left-wing-back. Udogie is an excellent tackler, and his four assists last season were ninth-best for a Serie A defender last season. Even with some rotation, you have to hope that the Giallorossi can defeat Udinese in short order; if Le Zebrette are going to make this match interesting, it will likely come off of strong attacking play from the man who might be Italy's next star fullback.
Will We See Mady Camara?
The club's lack of depth is one of the biggest problems holding Roma back from glory in recent years. When injuries inevitably happen, or the fixture schedule gets congested, even the best players start to show signs of tiredness, leading to shameful losses like Inter's drubbing of Roma last season. During the summer mercato, Tiago Pinto did a whole lot to provide José Mourinho with a deeper squad than he had last season, and even with Wijnaldum and Zaniolo currently out of commission, this is still the deepest Roma squad that I've seen during my time writing for Chiesa di Totti.
A lot of that depth hasn't been truly tested yet, though, in part because two of the most important depth signings of the summer are quite new to the squad. If they play up to their promise and ability, Andrea Belotti and Mady Camara can become key parts of José Mourinho's rotations, providing rest to the likes of Tammy Abraham and Bryan Cristante. We've already seen spot minutes from Belotti against Monza, but although Camara was registered the day of the Monza match, he didn't really join the squad until the next day, so we haven't seen the Guinean midfielder on the field for the Giallorossi just yet.
Mourinho was quick to assert in his pre-match presser that Camara is not ready to start just yet, or even play significant minutes, but The Special One did suggest that the relatively unknown Camara was turning heads in training already:
“Camara doesn’t have 90 minutes in his legs, he can’t start the game yet.”
“He doesn’t have the physical condition and tactical knowledge to play a full game yet. He’s shown his qualities in training, which was a surprise to some who weren’t aware of him.”
“For the moment he will go to the bench, if necessary he will enter the pitch but not for a long time.”
Given those disclaimers, I'm not expecting to see Camara play the full ninety for a while, but if he can come in and play spot minutes against Udinese and look somewhat in his element, it will bode very well for Roma's long-term prospects this season. Nemanja Matić is no spring chicken; Edoardo Bove is promising yet unproven; and although Bryan Cristante is clearly a key cog in Roma's midfield, he's only one man.
The sooner Camara can make himself useful for José Mourinho, the more likely the congested fixture schedule won't derail Roma's chances of securing Champions League football. That is critical for the Giallorossi, and arguably even more critical than the simple goal of securing three points against Udinese tomorrow.