It’s incredible how much one loss can disrupt the mood in the Romaverse. By all accounts, the Giallorossi are riding high, putting up a strong fight for Champions League football in the league and only down one goal after the away game against Feyenoord in the Europa League. Yet injuries and overall malaise have led to many Romanisti decrying the state of the club, imagining just how much better we could be doing if only, if only, if only.
I’m not going to play that game in today’s preview. I’m certainly disappointed by Roma being down after the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, but I’m not performing this side’s last rites. Instead, I’m going to suggest that we all turn our attention to tomorrow’s match against tenth-place Udinese. It’s a chance for the Giallorossi to cement a hold on a spot in the top four, and given the ability of this incarnation of Roma to actually close the deal against smaller sides, I’m far more interested in seeing how individuals perform tomorrow than I am fretting over Roma’s ability to get the three points.
September 4, 2022: Udinese 4, Roma 0
Of course, when I say that Roma normally are able to get points from matches against smaller sides, the glaring exception to that rule was the Giallorossi’s last match against Udinese. This was a howler of a match for Mourinho and his men, there’s no question, with goals coming from Destiny Udogie, Lazar Samardžić, Roberto Pereyra, and Sandi Lovric despite Roma maintaining possession 57% of the time and having more shots than Udinese. I’d rather not relive the ignominy of this match for too much longer by writing about it, so I’ll just let José Mourinho take it for me:
“It was a tough match, just as we knew the opposition were going to make it tough for us. In games like this, generally speaking you can’t let yourself go behind early. They know how to defend tight and compactly and do a good job of running down the clock. They have smart, physical players. If you go behind against them you are already in a lot of trouble.
“We started well, we had that early chance for Dybala – who, for me, was the best player on the pitch, despite the final scoreline. After [they scored] we were in their hands a bit; every time they got on the ball it was either a counter-attack or a goal.
“We did not take advantage of the opportunities we had. When we hit the post that could have changed the game, just like it could have done if we had got a penalty – although maybe there was an offside beforehand. When you lose 4-0, though, you can’t talk about the officials. That’s a rule of mine.
“I would rather lose one game 4-0 than four games 1-0. That’s for sure. We have lost three points whereas if you lose another three games you drop 12. It’s a tough one to take for both us and the fans, but that is life. Tomorrow is another training session and on Thursday we have another game. We move on.”
What To Watch For
Il Gallo’s Last Dance
Not to beat a dead horse, but Roma has not gotten the Andrea Belotti they were expecting when they signed him last summer. The man who notched 100 goals for Torino has been a shell of himself since he pulled on a Roma kit, scoring four in thirty-four total appearances this season and looking more like a black hole than a goal machine when he gets a chance on the pitch.
We’ve already discussed at length just why that might be happening to Belotti, so instead of relitigating that mess, I’ll instead note that Belotti has been handed yet another golden opportunity to shine in this match against Udinese.
With both Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala out for at least a week, Belotti is one of José Mourinho’s only options at the forward position. You can expect that he’ll get the start tomorrow, and who knows, maybe things will turn around for him if he can nab a goal or two against Udinese. We all know how streaky strikers can be, right?
Volpato’s Time to Shine?
If Andrea Belottti looks like he may be nearing the tail end of his career, all signs point towards Cristian Volpato being at the beginning of his. Sure, he hasn’t exploded onto the scene in the way that Nicolò Zaniolo did during his first season with the Giallorossi, but Volpato has looked impressive during most of his appearances this season, and what’s more, he’s actually scored more league goals than Andrea Belotti.
Once again, Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala being on the injury list for tomorrow may present a golden opportunity for another forward who hasn’t gotten as much time to shine this season. Unlike Belotti, Volapto is under contract at Trigoria until 2026, but like Belotti, if he wants to stick around in Rome instead of heading out on loan this summer, he’ll need to show a bit more of his promise away from the training pitch. I’ve got faith in him to do it, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him score against Udinese tomorrow if he nabs a start.
Gini Under the Gun
By all accounts, Gini Wijnaldum is seen as a part of Roma’s medium-to-long-term future. The Giallorossi are reportedly already discussing extending his loan from Paris Saint-Germain for an additional season with an eye towards making the deal permanent after the 2023-2024 season, and even though his playtime has been limited due to injury this season, everyone from Edoardo Bove to José Mourinho has been quick to compliment Gini for the determination, leadership, and ability he brings to the squad even when he’s not playing.
Since his recovery from his fractured tibia, Wijnaldum has been slowly but surely integrated into the side, and while he’s not the world-beater he was at Liverpool just yet, he’s certainly helped the Giallorossi perform better on several occasions. It seems likely that tomorrow will be a more complicated test for Wijnaldum; however, with Abraham and Dybala out, we can expect to see a more playmaking-oriented Gini take control over the midfield. I’ve always been most impressed with Gini when he acts as more of a playmaker, and hopefully giving him the chance to explore that role under Mourinho will allow for a more multifaceted Roma.
To succeed in multiple competitions simultaneously, Roma needs to avoid relying too much on players like Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham, despite how excellent they are; if all goes according to plan, tomorrow’s match can be a chance for the Giallorossi to discover that the depth it so desperately needs may already be in house.