Lost amid the Romelu Lukaku hoopla is a rather dispiriting fact: Roma has dropped points in both its opening matches. First, it was the frustrating 2-2 draw against Salernitana, where last season's 15th-place squad limited the Giallorossi to one point thanks to a pair of sensational Antonio Candreva goals. Mourinho's men (sans Mourinho, actually) followed that up with a frustrating 2-1 defeat to Hellas Verona last weekend, a match in which Roma dominated every conceivable statistical category yet came up empty-handed.
While you never want to assume victory over any opponent, Roma's expected goal difference (+2.5) is the second-highest in the league, suggesting that, perhaps, they've been a bit unlucky through their first 180 minutes of action. But, as we all know, the game is played on grass, not graphs, so those stats, as telling as they might be, don't matter in the real world.
And on the pitch, Roma has scraped a solitary point from two eminently winnable matches, putting the Giallorossi behind the proverbial eight ball already. Stack up the club's usual injury woes, and tomorrow's fixture against AC Milan looks more daunting than it already was.
But with throngs of Romans filling the stands and with the Milan ultras reportedly staging a 15-minute silent protest against rising costs for away fans, the boys in red and yellow could receive an unexpected boost tomorrow, so let's look at a few of the key storylines in this week three fixture.
Keep An Eye On
The poster child for American soccer, Pulisic's Serie A career is off to a dream start. After arriving in Milan on €20 million move from Chelsea, the 24-year-old Pennsylvanian has scored in Milan's first two matches, a two-nil win over Bologna and a four-one romp over Torino. After a down year at Stamford Bridge last season, where he only scored one league goal, Pulisic's once-promising career seems back on the upswing.
While that's great for him and fans of the USMNT, it spells trouble for Roma, who can't defend the wings to save their lives. With Roma's full-backs struggling to start the new season, Pulisic could feast on the open spaces at the Olimpico tomorrow, putting even more pressure on an already overwhelmed Roma defense, to say nothing of Rui Patricio, whose grasp on the starting gig in goal looks more precarious by the minute.
Speaking of which...
Rui Patricio's Suddenly Unsteady Hand
Through two matches, Roma's veteran keeper has looked incredibly shaking. Patricio's -2.0 PSxG +/- (essentially a measure of how many goals a keeper has saved over the expected amount) is dead last in Serie A. Even if you prefer standard stats, Patricio is still struggling, saving only 20% of all shots through two matches. Making matters worse, he's faltering in areas where he's traditionally excelled, like launch accuracy.
Add all that up, and we're seeing a player fall off the proverbial cliff in real-time. With whispers that Roma have been inquiring about Hugo Lloris and David De Gea, we may see a changing of the guard in goal sooner than we think.
Even with Lukaku in tow, Roma's margin for error is razor thin, and as we saw last week, momentary lapses from Patricio can and have already cost Roma dearly. If Patricio falters again and Mourinho stands pat, that should tell us all we know about the club's faith in young Mile Svilar.
An Upset Brewing
This is, of course, the big question: Can Roma pull off an upset? With six goals scored and an unblemished record through two matches, Milan is the hottest side in the league, so the odds are certainly stacked against the Giallorossi. However, as we just discussed, Roma hasn't been as bad as the results suggest. But one thing is certain: a loss could be damning for Roma.
When the schedule for the new season was released, we immediately circled the Milan fixture. After a supposedly "soft" start to the season against Salernitana and Verona, many penciled in tomorrow's clash against Milan as a loss for the Giallorossi. However, with assumed wins against their first two opponents, Roma could stomach a potential home loss to Milan.
But now, after taking only one point from those two seemingly easy fixture, Roma could find themselves at or near the bottom of the table if they slip up against Milan on Friday. Although plenty of the season remains, bouncing back from such a weak start while simultaneously battling the injury bug and trying to integrate several late-summer signings would be an enormous challenge for Mourinho and Roma. Not impossible by any means, but with a pitched battle for Italy's Champions League places, every point is precious.
However, with the crowd behind them (and buoyed from the Lukaku signing) and Mourinho back on the bench, Roma could catch Milan napping, steal three points, and find themselves sailing smoother seas.