Injuries are any football fan’s least favorite part of the game. The injury bug shatters the dreams of many a fan each season; one ACL tear to the wrong player and a club that could be hunting for a Scudetto finds themselves on the outside looking in. Romanisti are no stranger to the what-ifs injuries create; from Alessandro Florenzi to Kevin Strootman to Nicolò Zaniolo, it’s practically become tradition for every exciting talent the Giallorossi sign to suffer an injury that threatens to derail their career.
Despite what a Romanista might tell you, Roma isn’t the only club in Serie A that struggles with injury, at least this season. A.C. Milan came into this season as Scudetto winners, and all signs pointed towards them being head and shoulders above much of their competition for the title in the 2022/2023 season. Then came the injuries. Since July 1st, the Rossoneri have racked up over 700 days of injuries to senior squad members, including key players like Mike Maignan, Alessandro Florenzi (I’m getting deja vu), and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
All those injuries haven’t killed their chance at a Scudetto just yet, as they’re only five points behind Napoli. With Napoli losing a match for the first time this season last week, Stefano Pioli’s men will surely be looking at this match as a must-win if they hope to cut into I Partenopei’s lead at the top of the table, just as Mourinho’s men know that a win is necessary to keep their hopes of Champions League football alive.
Simply put, this could be one of the most exciting matches of the season for both clubs. Make your viewing plans now.
What To Watch For
Can Roma Contain Leão?
If the injury curse hanging over Milan hasn’t nuked their hunt for a Scudetto repeat just yet, a lot of that is thanks to Rafael Leão. The Portuguese striker has been one of the most exciting attackers in Europe this season, scoring seven goals and notching four assists through fifteen league matches. There are rumors swirling suggesting Leão may have caught the eye of Chelsea with his performances this season. However, unfortunately for the Giallorossi, he’ll still be wearing a Milan kit tomorrow.
So who will contain Leão tomorrow?
The usual suspects (Chris Smalling and Roger Ibañez) will definitely need to be at their best to neutralize Milan’s attack. Still, I’m tagging Leão’s Portuguese national team teammate Rui Patricio as the Giallorossi’s key to victory. A great match from Patricio will likely get Roma at least a draw. If he lets in a goal or two, I don’t trust Roma’s anemic offensive line to keep I Lupi in it, even with backup keeper Ciprian Tătărușanu between the sticks instead of Maignan.
Will Tahirović Be Like a New Signing?
Many fans were disappointed by Tiago Pinto’s recent comments on the Giallorossi’s lack of financial power for the foreseeable future. The signings of Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham had excited the fan base, so Pinto saying that the club will have to rely on academy graduates more than new signings in the January mercato left a sour taste. Then Benjamin Tahirović got his first start of his young career against Bologna, and some Romanisti started singing a different tune.
Tahirović is slotting into the role often inhabited by Bryan Cristante and Nemanja Matić. Considering how disappointing that midfield double pivot has been this season, his play on Wednesday felt like a revelation. Despite being only 19, Tahirović displayed a remarkable calmness on the ball, looking more ready for prime time than his fellow academy graduate Edoardo Bove.
With reports suggesting that Mourinho sees Tahirović as a major part of the club’s future, there’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of the midfielder soon. The big question is how soon. Two consecutive starts for the Swede could mean that Tahirović is not only the future of Roma but the present too.
Will We Ever See Andrea Belotti Again?
While Benajmin Tahirović’s stock is certainly rising at Trigoria, Andrea Belotti’s stock feels like it’s been pulled from the market. The Belotti free-agent signing was seen as a major coup this summer; at the time, I thought it had given Roma one of the deepest forward rotations in Europe. Instead of being the Gallo of Torino, though, we’ve rarely seen Belotti on the pitch; when we’ve seen him, he’s been a major disappointment, looking like a shell of his former self. Some reports have suggested that Belotti has been struggling with fitness issues throughout the season, but that doesn’t explain away zero goals and zero assists in over six hours of match time.
I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see Belotti in the starting eleven any time soon; clearly, he has a lot of work to do to convince Mourinho and company that he’s deserving of minutes, let alone starts. Yet tomorrow’s match would be a perfect opportunity for him to enter the game in the 70th or 80th minute with fresh legs and prey on a tired Milan defense.
Does that seem incredibly likely? No, but all dry spells have to end eventually. I hope.