Although José Mourinho hasn't been able to conquer the Serie A table during his tenure on Roma's bench, he has excelled in Europe's minor competitions, winning the first-ever Europa Conference League title two years ago before leading Roma to the Europa League finale last season, where they suffered a controversial loss to Sevilla. While the reasons for this European-domestic disparity are beyond the scope of this article, Mourinho has seldom stumbled in Europe during his time with Roma.
With three wins in their first three Europa League Group Stage matches, Mourinho has the Giallorossi primed for another trip to the knockout stages. While Roma can't sew up the group tomorrow, a win against Slavia Prague on the road would give Mourinho's men a stranglehold on Group G, potentially putting six points between themselves and their Czech opponent.
Slavia Prague vs. Roma: November 9th, 18:45 CET/2:45 EST. Fortuna Area, Prague.
Of course, with the Derby della Capitale looming on Sunday, Mourinho will have to manage this match with kid gloves, but given Roma's form (six wins in their last seven), the smart money remains with the Giallorossi.
With that in mind, here are a few key storylines to watch tomorrow.
Keep An Eye On
Per usual, the Leonardo Spinazzola experience has been a frustrating mixture of impact and absence. When Spinazzola plays, the 30-year-old full-back provides glimpses of the dynamic two-way play that made him a star at Euro 2020, where he made the team of the tournament despite going out in the quarterfinals with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
With a goal and two assists in nine league appearances, Spinazzola has been effective in small doses. The problem, as you may have guessed, is one of availability. Spinazzola hasn't played since a 78-minute run against Monza on October 20th, missing five matches with a muscular injury.
However, according to recent reports, Spinazzola should be fit and available for tomorrow's tilt against Prague. With Nicola Zalewski likely to miss the match with an illness, Spinazzola may have to shoulder a bigger burden than initially anticipated, and with Lazio looming on Sunday, Mourinho may have to sprinkle in Zeki Celik at some point tomorrow.
Can Roma Finally Rest Romelu Lukaku?
After easing Lukaku into action earlier this fall, Roma has become increasingly reliant on their 30-year-old striker. Since making his 20-minute debut against Milan on September 1st, Lukaku has made 11 appearances for Roma, averaging 85 minutes per match. Throw in the 205 minutes he's played for Belgium over that same span, and Lukaku has carried an enormous weight for club and country—without the benefit of a proper pre-season training regimen. Add all that up, and Lukaku may soon hit the proverbial wall.
Roma may have a deeper squad than Slavia Prague, but the talent gap isn't so significant that Mourinho can trot out 11 backups and expect an easy three points. With a slate of difficult league fixtures and the return legs against Sheriff and Servette slated for later this month, finding rest for Lukaku becomes even more critical.
However, with Andrea Belotti showing signs of life this season and summer signing Sardar Azmoun rounding into form, Mourinho has options outside the big Belgian. The question is one of trust: Can Mourinho rely on Belotti or Azmoun to deliver in critical moments?
Slavia's Home Form
With 33 points through their first 14 league matches, Slavia Prague is safely nestled in second place in the Czech First League, trailing Sparta Prague by only two points. A nearly impregnable home record is fundamental to Slavia's strong start, with the Red-and-Whites taking 16 of 21 possible points while sporting a +9 goal differential. In the Europa League, their record is practically spotless: Two matches, two wins, eight goals scored, zero conceded.
Of course, with a 2-1 loss to Viktoria Plzen on Sunday, we can throw all that out the window, but that loss could give Slavia the extra motivation they need to wreck Roma's unbeaten run in the Europa League.