Roma returns from the international break this weekend after a lackluster 0-0 draw against rivals Lazio in the Derby della Capitale two weekends ago. Both capital clubs are enduring a worrisome start to the season, which made their approach to the derby more peculiar, with both sides seeming more worried about losing another match than excited by the prospect of winning.
With four losses in its first 12 matches, the first third of the season hasn't exactly gone swimmingly for Roma. And with that, José Mourinho finds his club sitting just seventh in the table on only 18 points. However, as disappointing as all that is, the Giallorossi are far from being out of the race for Champions League qualification—the stated seasonal goal for the club.
With everyone except Inter and Juve playing just as inconsistently as Roma to start the 2023-2024 campaign, Mourinho’s men sit three points off fourth place Napoli and five off third place Milan. And with Roma hosting Udinese while Napoli (4th place) squares off with Atalanta (5th) and Milan (3rd) hosts Fiorentina (6th), a win at the Olimpico on Sunday means that the Giallorossi can make up ground on at least two and possibly all four of those sides—making this weekend a must-win scenario.
However, Roma’s season will be defined by the next month and a half, regardless of whether that storyline plays out and helps them secure a spot in the top four. The holiday season presents the Giallorossi with a gauntlet of critical fixtures. This schedule could see Roma emerge as a legit top-four side or see the domestic campaign go entirely by the wayside. It could also be why contract negotiations with Mourinho likely won’t commence before the calendar flips to 2024.
How brutal is the run of matches? Well, have a look for yourself.
November ends, and December begins with a winnable run of league and European matches against Udinese, Servette, and Sassuolo before the fun begins. Starting with Fiorentina on December 10th and ending with Milan on January 14th, the Giallorossi face six of the league's current top-eight clubs. Throw in a Europa League match against Sheriff and a Coppa Italia, and there will be little rest for the weary.
Head-to-head records are crucial in the fight for European places, especially the Champions League, where Italy only has four spots (maybe five, if proposed UEFA changes are implemented). Unfortunately, Roma’s results in those matches have left plenty to be desired during Mourinho's tenure.
With Roma’s draw against Lazio, Mourinho is now 1W-1D-3L against their city rivals, while their league results against Italy's other major clubs, the so-called Seven Sisters (plus Atalanta) haven’t been much better:
- vs. Fiorentina (2W-2L)
- vs. Napoli (2D-2L)
- vs. Juve (1W-1D-2L)
- vs. Atalanta (2W-2L)
- vs. Milan (2D-3L)
- vs. Inter (1W-4L)
Once you do the math, it becomes clear that head-to-head results have killed Roma’s Champions League hopes in Mourinho’s first two seasons. The Giallorossi have seven wins, four draws, and eighteen losses in 29 matches against Inter, Juve, Milan, Napoli, Lazio, Fiorentina, and Atalanta. That’s just 25 out of 87 points or 0.86 points per match—awful numbers.
So, it's no exaggeration when I say that this upcoming stretch, where Roma will face five of those sides plus a surprise Bologna outfit, will define Roma’s season. If the results continue to follow this trend, Roma will be out of the league race by mid-January, and Mourinho will once again have to focus all his efforts on winning the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League next season.
On top of that, a large part of Mourinho’s Roma legacy could be determined by this stretch. If Roma doesn’t qualify via the league route and can’t capture the UEL trophy, how good will that Conference League trophy still look if Mourinho’s Roma run ends after this season? Can that trophy erase three seasons of lackluster results and zero appearances in the Champions League?
Only time will tell, but if Roma can find a way to survive and perhaps even thrive during this onslaught of a fixture list, we may never have to answer those questions. In a league full of flawed sides, the Giallorossi must only emerge with fewer blemishes than one of Milan, Napoli, Atalanta, Fiorentina, Lazio, and perhaps Bologna.
So, buckle up, sit back, and enjoy what should be a wild ride this holiday season. Let’s hope that Mourinho and company deliver plenty of joy.