After a long and grueling summer transfer market that seemed to drag on forever, it’s easy to understand why Romanisti were ready for the new season to begin. However, with Paulo Dybala, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Jose Mourinho suspended, plus Tammy Abraham injured and no replacement signed, it’s understandable that some tifosi were apprehensive in their outlook on the 2023-24 campaign.
After all, after back-to-back sixth-place finishes in the league and a heartbreaking penalty kick defeat in the Europa League final, it’s easy to understand why some would be worried about the club’s chances of finally returning to the Champions League—the club’s stated objective. Of course, doom and gloom tend to follow Roma around, so we’ve been conditioned to expect the worst but hope for the best.
However, despite an underwhelming result on the scoreboard, there were a few things we noticed yesterday that should give us added hope for the upcoming season. Plus, the season could’ve always started worse—just asked Maurizio Sarri and Lazio.
So, let’s check out three things we noticed in yesterday’s 2-2 draw with Salernitana.
#1: The Rooster Revenge Tour is On
There’s no question that one of the biggest disappointments last season was the production, or lack therefore, of Andrea Belotti. Il Gallo arrived on a free transfer late last summer and just couldn’t seem to get himself into his usual groove after missing out on preseason.
However, after yesterday's performance, last season’s zero league goals feel like a distant memory. Belotti looked like his prime Torino years on his way to scoring a brace. And if his shoes had been about a half size smaller, we’d be talking about a hat trick, as his first goal was called back for an incredibly tight offside by VAR.
Outside of the goals, though, Belotti was lively throughout—fighting to hold up possession and press the Salernitana defense. This is the player Roma thought they’d be getting last season. With Marcos Leonardo’s arrival pushed back to January and Duvan Zapata finally expected to arrive this week, it feels like the starting striker position is Belotti’s to lose. And if he keeps performing like this, then Zapata will have a hard time getting regular starts.
#2: The Midfield Looks Improved
Losing Nemanja Matic unexpectedly a week before the start of the season was certainly a blow to Roma’s midfield. Last season, the veteran played a key role with his physicality and defensive acumen. So, subtracting him from a midfield that was already short on quality depth looked like a big loss.
However, Tiago Pinto worked quickly to replace him (the oft-injured Gini Wijnaldum) with Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches. Throw in the free agent signing of Houssem Aouar early in the summer, and the midfield suddenly boasts six starting caliber players for three spots. And yesterday, we saw why.
With captain Lorenzo Pellegrini suspended, Aouar, Edoardo Bove, and Bryan Cristante started. The two Italians weren’t at their best, but Aouar showed why Roma wanted him so badly. The Frenchman helped move the ball around the midfield quickly while also winning 60% of his duels, bringing to mind shades of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who Roma sorely missed last season.
Paredes and Sanches debuted off the bench in the 65th minute, displaying what they have to offer Roma's new-look midfield. Paredes showed off his passing range, assisting Belotti’s second goal. Meanwhile, Sanches flashed his physicality and dribbling ability on a great solo run that nearly set up another goal. It’s that box-to-box ball driving ability that Roma lacked last season.
We’ll see how much the loss of Matic’s defensive ability hurts against more attacking sides, but Mourinho certainly has a lot of tools in his midfield toolbox with the new additions.
#3: Candreva Spoils Belotti’s Brace
If you looked at the stat line from this match without seeing the final score, you’d think Roma had easily won this match. With an xG of 1.90 to Salernitana’s 0.14, you’d have little doubt that the Giallorossi won and likely shut out the Granata. However, 36-year-old Antonio Candreva had other ideas yesterday.
Candreva, who is probably one of the most underrated Serie A players of the last decade, turned back the clock and put in a vintage performance with a brace of his own. On the first goal, Candreva sprung on a loose ball, drove at Chris Smalling, turned him, and blasted a shot over Rui Patricio. And as nice of a finish as that was, Candreva one-upped himself on his second.
Early in the second half, Candreva received a pass from Domagoj Bradarić just outside the outer limits of Roma’s penalty area and curled a stunner into the far post with his weaker left foot. It was an absolute stunner that put Roma at risk of dropping all three points.
This came after another beauty that he scored last season to steal two points from Roma. That’s why I was shocked when I looked up Candreva’s career stats and saw that those were only his third and fourth goals against Roma in 26 career matches. His favorite victims are actually one of his former sides, Inter, who he’s scored against seven times in 21 matches.