Last weekend against Salernitana, despite Roma dropping two points at the Olimpico, it seemed like most Romanisti left that match feeling pretty good about the new season. After all, Andrea Belotti had broken his year-long Serie A scoring drought, the new signings had mostly positive impacts, and the Giallorossi had controlled the majority of the match. Had it not been for two wonder strikes from Antonio Candreva, we’d have been celebrating a win.
This weekend in Verona, the same can’t be said. The Giallorossi may have controlled the lion’s share of possession (71%) and created the better chances (1.8 to 0.8 xG), but this match was more reminiscent of last season's
one felt much more reminiscent of last year’s squad that struggled to capitalize on its chances. And unlike last season, the defense didn’t feel as lock-tight as it had been. So, forgive me if I’m a bit down after Saturday’s defeat as I point out three things I noticed in the match.
#1: Patricio and Smalling Show Their Age
There’s no doubt that Chris Smalling has been a rock at the back for Roma over the past four seasons. Meanwhile, Rui Patricio showed some signs of slowing down last season after a solid maiden season. But, as they say, time stops for nobody, and the 33-year-old Smalling and 35-year-old Patrico have shown their age over the first two matches of the season.
Last weekend, Smalling was turned like a top by Candreva on his first goal as he ran with pace at the Englishman. Then in this one, he was again beaten one-on-one; this time by Cyril Ngonge, right before halftime on the break. Meanwhile, on the opening goal of the match, Patricio spilled what should’ve been a routine save. That error put Roma behind the eight ball just four minutes in.
This is a big concern for Roma. Without Nemanja Matic sitting in front of the back three, there will likely be more occurrences of players running at Smalling one-on-one, and if he can’t find his usual form, it could leave Roma vulnerable. Meanwhile, many have clamored for a new keeper over the last year, but with so many other positions of need, there likely won’t be any movement on that front for another season. If Patricio continues like this, Roma may have to think about turning to Mile Svilar at some point.
#2: The Injury Concerns Have Already Begun
“Is it a surprise that Renato can’t play tomorrow? No, it’s no surprise given how things have been for him over the last two seasons. If Renato had been playing to a high standard and had been injury-free then he would be a nailed-on starter at PSG and he would never have ended up on loan at Roma. It’s the same as the Dybala situation last season – so many clubs had their doubts over his fitness and that’s how we managed to sign him. This is our reality.”
That was Mourinho’s response in his pre-match presser when he was asked about Sanches’ fitness, who missed out on this one after having a muscular issue in training this week. Mourinho acknowledged the fact that Roma has been able to bring in players like Sanches and Dybala because of their injury histories. And it seems like those histories are already rearing their ugly heads.
Sanches missed yesterday’s match and will probably miss the Milan match out of an abundance of caution. Then yesterday, Dybala asked to be subbed off in the 68th minute with an apparent muscular issue. Now, Roma will be sweating out his fitness with red-hot Milan looming on Friday. In order to achieve their top-four goal, Roma will need players like Sanches and Dybala on the pitch as much as possible. This isn’t ideal.
#3: The Post Still Hates Roma
Last season, Roma hit the woodwork over 30 times. The previous season saw a similar trend. Last week they hit the post once, and this weekend, they hit two posts.
In the first half, it was a powerful Bryan Cristante header from a Pellegrini corner that could’ve leveled the match at one. Then late in the match, with Roma still trailing by a goal, Pellegrini struck a beautiful free kick that smashed the post. He was inches away from replicating his Cagliari heroics from two seasons ago. Yet, the post was there again to bite Roma. A little more luck on those plays and perhaps Roma would’ve escaped Verona with a result. But, fate would have it, lady luck wasn’t on Roma’s side again.