Last weekend against Salernitana, Roma walked away from its opening match at the Olimpico with just one point. So, on the surface, the result was a bit disappointing. However, when considering the way the match played out, things weren’t as bad as they seemed on the scoreboard.
After all, had it not been for two wonder goals from Antonio Candreva, Roma would’ve captured all three points fairly easily on the opening weekend. And there were plenty of positives to take away from the match as well, including Roma’s own brace-scoring striker, Andrea Belotti, looking reborn. Furthermore, all the newly signed midfielders contributed to the team's come-from-behind draw. And the team showed the fight and grinta that has become a staple of the Jose Mourinho era.
Oh, and all of this was done without captain Lorenzo Pellegrini and talisman Paulo Dybala, as well as Mourinho himself on the sidelines. So, when taking all of this into consideration, plus the fact that more help will be arriving in the attack before the mercato closes Romanisti should be viewing the season as a glass half-full.
That could all change, though if things don’t go according to plan against pesky Hellas Verona, who have been a thorn in Roma's side in recent years. So, let’s take a look at the keys to Roma leaving the Veneto region with all three points this weekend.
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Will the Rooster Keep Crowing?
There’s no doubt that the biggest positive from last week’s match was Andrea Belotti’s brace. After a dismal maiden campaign in the Italian capital, Belotti looked like the Belotti of old; one of Italy's most capable strikers. Not only did Belotti score two goals, but he was active in pressing and fighting for every ball—two trademarks of his game when he’s feeling good.
That’s something Belotti pointed out in his post-match comments.
“I really missed being myself. Last year, I unfortunately had a very difficult season. I didn’t have pre-season, I had some injuries. For sure, I was never at one hundred percent. This year I started from the beginning and did all of pre-season without any problems. When I feel one hundred percent, I know I can be of great help. Today, I tried to contribute, but the squad was unable to win. We are deeply disappointed, because we have to win.”
In order for Roma to take three points most weekends, they will need Belotti to play up to this high standard, to provide last weekend's performance on a more regular basis, especially with Sadar Azmoun and potentially Romelu Lukaku joining Roma’s attacking stable.
Belotti has scored just once in 13 matches against Verona in his career, so this will be an opportunity to exorcise some of the demons and to remind Mourinho and the Roma coaching staff that he won’t be brushed aside by any new signings.
Mourinho’s Mastiff Issue
Speaking of Veronese demons, Mourinho’s record against Hellas may not be poor enough to be classified as demonic, but things haven’t always been easy against Hellas in the past two seasons, where Mourinho sports a 2-1-1 record, a point he addressed in his pre-match presser.
“I played in Verona two years in a row with a defeat and a last minute victory with a goal from Volpato. It has always been very difficult and they have a very good new coach. They play in a different way from how Verona has played in recent years. We don’t know if they will play like in the past or like the coach wants. We have prepared both solutions.”
In his first season, Verona stunned Roma 3-2 on Matchday four at the Bentigodi and then followed that up with a 2-2 draw at the Olimpico in February. In that second match, Roma had to come back from a 2-0 halftime deficit behind second-half goals from Edoardo Bove and Cristian Volpato to salvage a point. Then last season, Roma managed two wins, but neither came easy. In the first match at the Bentigodi, Roma needed another late Volpato goal to take the lead against a 10-man Verona side. Then at the Olimpico, it was 1-0 behind a lone Ola Solbakken goal.
This time around, Volpato won’t be around to save Roma from the Mastiffs. The Giallorossi will have to be sharp to avoid any more dropped points against a Verona side coming off a 1-0 win against Empoli in its first outing of the season.
For this one, Roma gets both Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala back from their yellow card accumulation suspensions. Considering Roma scored twice last weekend, they weren’t missed as much as expected, at least on the scoreboard, but they'll be welcomed back with open arms. The two will slot right back into the starting eleven, likely meaning Edoardo Bove and Stephan El Shaarawy will move to the bench.
There have also been questions as to whether Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches could be candidates to start after impact performances off the bench. However, Sanches has been ruled out due to a minor muscle issue. Paredes could start, but it’s more likely Mourinho will stick with Bryan Cristante and Houssem Aouar with Pellegrini in the midfield.
The other two positions that could be up for grabs are the two wingback spots where Nicola Zalewski could replace an underwhelming Leo Spinazzola. Meanwhile, Rasmus Kristensen is expected to keep his place ahead of Rick Karsdorp.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Rui Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Llorente; Kristensen, Cristante, Aouar, Zalewski; Pellegrini, Dybala, Belotti. All. Mourinho