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Mourinho's Tactics in Focus as Roma Faces Torino on the Road

A forced change last week against Sampdoria saw Roma revert to a four-man backline to great effect. Will José Mourinho repeat the feat this weekend?

Football Serie A Roma-Sampdoria Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

In last weekend's Round 28 fixture against Sampdoria, Roma's back was against the proverbial wall. Fresh off a frustrating one-nil defeat against Lazio in the Derby della Capitale, one that came with the usual assortment of red cards, José Mourinho not only had to stem the tide on Roma's three-match winless streak but was forced to make a last-minute tactical shift with Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibanez and Marash Kumbulla each suspended.

With two-thirds of his normal backline suspended for the match, Mourinho trotted out the seldom-seen 4-2-3-1, with Chris Smalling anchoring the backline next to winter signing Diego Llorente (who is now angling to stay with the club), while Leonardo Spinazzola and Nicola Zalewski handled the full-back spots.

Torino vs. Roma: April 8th. 18:30 CET/12:30 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Torino.

The change may have been forced, but it produced some of the most fluid and entertaining football we've seen from the Giallorossi in 2023. With Stephan El Shaarawy and Paulo Dybala running wild in the final third, the capital club pumped 28 shots at Nicola Ravaglia and the Sampdoria defense en route to a 3-0 win.

Mourinho has favored a three-man defense for most of his tenure with the club, and with Rick Karsdorp likely the only significant absence from the squad this weekend, chances are he'll revert to some variant of the 3-4-2-1.

But that doesn't mean tomorrow's tilt lacks intrigue, so let's look at some potential storylines as Roma faces Torino at that other Stadio Olimpico.

Keep An Eye On

Tonny Sanabria

Antonio Sanabria, affectionately known as Tonny, had a cup of coffee with the Giallorossi back in 2014-2015, logging 35 minutes as an 18-year-old striker. While he wasn't exactly a blue-chip prospect, Rudi Garcia saw enough in Sanabria to give him those token appearances.

But, much like Garcia himself, Sanabria wasn't long for Roma and was summarily loaned to Sporting Gijon ahead of the '15-'16 season, where he scored a career-high 11 league goals. From there, Sanabria was sold to Real Betis for €7.5 million. While he banked 10 league goals in roughly 1,600 minutes for Betis between 2017 and 2019, the Spanish club loaned him to Genoa during the '19-'20 season.

US Sassuolo vs Torino FC - Serie A
Tonny Sanabria heads home a goal vs. Sassuolo
Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Sanabria scored nine goals in parts of two seasons with Genoa and seemed destined for the journeyman life before settling down in Torino. After a slow start in the north of Italy, Sanabria has found new life this season, bagging eight Serie A goals in 1,623 minutes, including four strikes in his last six matches.

No one will confuse the 27-year-old for Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), but he's on an undeniable heater and could make Roma pay, so if you're looking for one man to mark, look no further.

Speaking of strikers...

Can Roma Get Anything Up Top?

Between the league, the Coppa Italia, and the Europa League, Roma has scored 55 goals in 40 matches. While that's a respectable haul, Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti, the club's two chief strikers, have accounted for a paltry 20% of those goals. This lack of production up top has been quite a headache for the club—a far cry from August when many fans asked how Roma could possibly accommodate two prolific strikers.

To combat this lack of punch, some sources in Italy speculate that Mourinho could bypass both his strikers altogether, using Paulo Dybala in a false nine role with El Shaarawy or Ola Solbakken serving as the wide forwards and/or number one scoring options.

No matter what path he chooses, Roma won't go very far without Abraham and Belotti pulling their weight.

Table Watching

Football Serie A Roma-Verona Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Admittedly, we've been throwing the phrase "top four" around nearly all season, but with only 10 matches left on the calendar, there's no escaping it: the time for table watching is upon us. Roma enters tomorrow's fixture nestled in 5th place on 50 points. Directly above the Giallorossi are Inter Milan (50 pts), AC Milan (51 pts), and Lazio (55 points).

Roma isn't likely to catch their city rivals (at least not this weekend), and with both Milan clubs facing relative gimmes (Inter vs. 15th place Salernitana, Milan vs. 14th place Empoli), Mourinho has no room for error—Roma must win this match.

Check back later today for our probable formations piece, and be sure to return for tomorrow's match and dive right into our game thread!

Forza Roma!