May 31st is inching closer and closer and with it a Europa League final that will undoubtedly and irreversibly color every Romanista’s final impression of the season. Yet before the trip to Budapest can be made, there are two league matches to be played.
While tomorrow’s game against 15th place Salernitana will likely be a simpler task than the following match against ECL finalists Fiorentina, the onus will be on a heavily-rotated Roma side to still get the three points.
August 14, 2022: Salernitana 0, Roma 1
In what would become a trend for the rest of the 2022-2023 season, Bryan Cristante proved to be the pivotal player for Roma in the Giallorossi’s first encounter with Salernitana. Everyone’s favorite Canadian-Italian midfielder gave I Lupi a positive start to the season through a heads-up play responding to a rebound from a Tammy Abraham shot on goal, which was just enough to give Roma the win despite 19 other shots on goal failing to reach the back of the net.
Interestingly, this one was actually quite the match for Nicolò Zaniolo as well, as The Kid (maybe the Ex-Kid now?) turned Salernitana’s midfield to rubble and played a key role in setting the Giallorossi up for success. Unfortunately, we know now that Zaniolo’s good form didn’t last; it’s certainly odd to realize that this first match of the season was the beginning of the end for him in a Roma kit.
Here’s what we said after Roma’s away victory against Salernitana in August:
No, it wasn’t the 5-0 laugher we first envisioned, but Roma held serve for most of the match, doing just enough to claim three points. Admittedly, had Zaniolo been sharper in front of goal, this match would have been over before it began—and even Dybala saw a couple of efforts go wide of the mark—but Roma were the better side tonight. And you suspect that the goals will come relatively easily once they can iron out these wrinkles.
Despite the missed chances, there were plenty of causes for optimism. Even though they ultimately ceded possession to Salernitana, Roma still fired 20 shots on goal, and Zaniolo ran roughshod through the midfield. At the same time, the combination of Pellegrini and Dybala allowed Roma to dictate the pace of play and take the sting out of the match when necessary.
While a complete vivisection of the Seahorses would have produced more flowery praise, Roma proved they could win dirty if nothing else. And for the first match of the season, and with the club facing the weight of expectations, three points were all that mattered.
What To Watch For
A Baby-Faced Midfield
Just as José Mourinho used Roma’s match against Bologna as a chance to bring in rotation and youth players, tomorrow’s match against Salernitana promises to be yet another chance for Roma’s youth to impress enough that they’re allowed to stick around and become part of the full-time rotation next season.
Rumors suggest that Benjamin Tahirović and Filippo Missori will be starting next to fully-confirmed Primavera grad Edoardo Bove in midfield tomorrow. While there’s no doubt that Mourinho feels comfortable with that midfield in part because his eyes are on the Europa League final, it’s yet another exciting chance for Tahirović and Missori to prove themselves.
These matches against small sides towards the end of the season are primarily important due to how they affect Roma’s place in the table, but still — based on what I’ve seen from both Tahirović and Missori to date, continued good performances by them could prove a boon for Tiago Pinto as he looks to upgrade this Giallorossi side in the summer mercato.
Injured Players Prepping For Budapest
Similarly, tomorrow’s match is a chance for Roma to slowly but surely reintroduce injured players to the pitch, namely one Paulo Dybala. La Joya didn’t play even a minute of stoppage time in the away leg of the Europa League semi-final, which if you ask me is a fantastic development — not because Dybala isn’t a fantasista, but because it’s a massive priority for the Giallorossi to preserve the Argentinian whenever possible.
The flip side of that need to preserve Dybala is that you don’t want him coming into matches that truly matter 100% cold. Form matters for footballers, and while the best ability is certainly availability, that doesn’t mean that Dybala’s playing time in the league should be completely thrown aside in an attempt to keep him healthy. I’m hoping that in either tomorrow’s match or next weekend’s match against Fiorentina, Dybala is given a solid 30 minutes of playtime. That playtime shouldn’t have to come with the expectation of being a world-beater or dragging the Giallorossi to three points, but it should come nevertheless so Roma and Dybala are appropriately prepared for the trip to Budapest.