Roma's roller coaster start to the season has continued to produce highs and lows over the last fortnight. A disappointing late draw against Torino was followed up by an embarrassing 4-1 loss at the Marassi to Genoa. It looked like the Mourinho year three curse was in full force. However, the Giallorossi rebounded with back-to back comfortable clean sheet victories over Frosinone and Servette.
With just eight points in seven matches, the start to the season has been far from satisfactory. However, a win heading into the international break would leave a good taste in everyone’s mouth. In order for that to happen, the Giallorossi will have to travel to Sardegna and see off cellar dwelling Cagliari.
Considering the Rossoblu have pocketed just two points and scored only twice on the season, anything less than a win will be unacceptable for Romanisti. So, let’s check out the match keys as Roma takes on Cagliari, which is led by Roma fan favorite Claudio Ranieri.
What To Watch For
How Will Mourinho Line-Up in Attack?
There’s one position where Roma has improved markedly from last season: striker. With Tammy Abraham ruled out until at least March, the search for his replacement was quite a saga, before they managed to land Romelu Lukaku.
And Lukaku has done nothing but live up to his lofty expectations so far. After opening the scoring against Servette on Thursday, Big Rom already has five goals in six starts in all competitions. He’s been nothing short of clinical, taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
But, he’s not the only player producing in front of goal this season. After an abysmally unproductive first season in the Italian capital, Andrea Belotti has been all he was expected to be last season and then some. Belotti has 4 goals and 2 assists in 8 appearances (4 starts) in all competitions. Throw in Paulo Dybala’s 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 Serie A starts, and Roma has gotten 11 goals and 4 assists from its big three in attack.
With Lukaku and Belotti both scoring on Thursday while Dybala was rested, Mourinho will have a decision to make. Does he bench one of his in form forwards with Dybala stepping into the starting XI, or can he fit all three onto the pitch from the opening whistle?
Early projections have Roma staying with the 3-5-2 with Lukaku and Dybala starting. However, with the injury issues in other areas of the pitch—namely midfield—it could be possible that Mourinho goes slightly more offensive in a 3-4-1-2 with Dybala behind the two number nines. We’ll see come tomorrow if he does indeed give it a shot.
Can the Improvised Defense Stay Strong?
Despite the work of Lukaku, Dybala and Belotti, you could argue that Bryan Cristante has been Roma's MVP. Cristante was having his best offensive season as a Roma player through the first six Serie A matches with two goals and two assists while playing in a bit more of an advanced midfield role. However, almost immediately after scoring against Genoa, Cristante had to slide back into defense to cover for the injured Diego Llorente.
As we’ve seen in other points in his Roma career, Cristante has selflessly moved to an unnatural position in defense. And that defense with Cristante in the middle has looked solid in back-to-back clean sheets following the Genoa debacle.
With Chris Smalling and Llorente still out, Cristante will again anchor the back three between Gianluca Mancini and Evan Ndicka. Last season, Roma’s position of strength was generally in the back, where Roma allowed an average of one goal per match. This season, Roma is allowing over 1.5 goals per match.
So, in spite of an increase in production up front, the extra conceded goals have cost Roma. The defense will have to stay strong against a struggling Cagliari side to get everyone feeling good again about the rearguard heading into the break.
ROMA (3-5-2): Patricio; Ndicka, Cristante, Mancini; Spinazzola, Aouar, Paredes, Bove Kristensen; Dybala, Lukaku.