When we last saw AS Roma in an official match, way back on November 13th, the Giallorossi needed a 94th-minute equalizer from Nemanja Matic to save face in a 1-1 draw with Torino. That draw, their second straight after another 1-1 tie against Sassuolo several days prior, marked a down point for Roma, who dropped points in three of their final six matches before the World Cup break.
With more than 30 days in between matches, it's safe to say that no one knows what to expect when José Mourinho and Roma host 11th-place Bologna at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday afternoon local time. Before the break, we asked whether or not this unprecedented break would be the kick in the ass Roma needed to relaunch their fight for the top four or if nearly two months without action would doom the Giallorossi to another mediocre finish.
Well, with Qatar in the rearview mirror and our attention fixed squarely on Serie A, we can begin to answer that question. We won't have a definitive answer for several weeks, but with the Giallorossi in the thick of a six-team race for Italy's final Champions League place, tomorrow's match is a must-win for Roma.
With that in mind, let's look at a few key storylines in Roma's Round 16 fixture against Bologna.
What to Watch For
So, Uh, Who is Actually Going to Play?
With nearly two months in between league matches, we might as well start with the most obvious question: Who is going to play?
In the final match before the break, Mourinho stuck with the 3-4-2-1, with Tammy Abraham alone up top, supported by Nicolo Zaniolo and Cristian Volpato in the attack, while the back three remained unchanged. Mourinho rounded out this lineup with Mady Camara and Bryan Cristante in midfield, with Nicola Zalewski and Zeki Celik on the flanks.
While there have been some whispers of a switch to a four-man backline, chances are Mourinho will trot out a similar formation, though the return of Paulo Dybala means Volpato will likely be relegated to the bench.
Regardless of the formation, the salient point is the return of Dybala. Despite missing a month, Dybala remains Roma's leading scorer, if not their raison d’etre. Without Dybala, Mourinho's attack was rudderless, aimlessly drifting about hoping goals would come rather than seizing the initiative.
With La Joya back in the fold, Roma's once-moribund offense should find new life.
Will We See Solbakken?
After some rather tense negotiations, Roma was finally able to pry Norwegian forward Ola Solbakken from Bodø/Glimt, signing the 24-year-old through 2027. However, even with the contract details ironed out, there was a slight delay in getting Solbakken to the City of Seven Hills. But with his first training session officially under his belt, could we see Solbakken make his debut against Bologna?
With the club struggling to score lately, Bologna's complete lack of familiarity with Solbakken could give Roma a slight advantage coming out of the break. Of course, the flip side could also be true; Solbakken's unfamiliarity with the league and his teammates could make him hesitant if he sees the pitch tomorrow.
Either way, Roma fans will be anxious to see what Solbakken brings to the table. And while he learns the intricacies of Italian football, his size, athleticism, and aggression could provide early dividends for Mourinho's men.
Who Will Mark Marko?
With 20 goals forced through 15 matches, Bologna is a surprisingly potent attacking side, but they've been incredibly reliant on Mark Arnautovic. The 33-year-old Austrian attacker has bagged eight league goals this season, good for 40% of Bologna's total output. What's more, he ended 2022 in fine form, scoring two goals in his final four matches before the World Cup break.