Three matches into the 2023/2024 Serie A season, and it’s safe to say that things have not gone as planned for the Giallorossi. Where the signings of Renato Sanches, Leandro Paredes, Romelu Lukaku, and more came with an unspoken promise of a serious push for Champions League football, instead, I Lupi have only garnered one point out of a possible nine. The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for José Mourinho and his men; a vibe shift after such an atrocious start is just what the doctor ordered.
Tomorrow’s match against Empoli will be the true test of whether the international break gave the Roma squad the mental reset it desperately needed following their loss to AC Milan. Several players, including Romelu Lukaku, had successful stints with their respective national teams; the hope has to be that their form will carry over to the Stadio Olimpico. Otherwise... be prepared for a truly toxic Roma environment.
What To Watch For
Can Lukaku Last The Full Ninety?
Considering there was little to no expectation that Romelu Lukaku would end up in a Roma kit, It’s unsurprising that even as a substitute, he received rapturous applause from the Romanisti faithful at the Stadio Olimpico. In those sub minutes, Lukaku looked, well, like Romelu Lukaku, a player whose innate talent and physical ability can put the likes of Andrea Belotti to shame. He didn’t score a goal in that first appearance, but there was a lot to admire about his first time pulling on a giallorossi kit.
Fast forward to now, following an international break where Lukaku scored two goals for the Belgians, and it’s clear that Big Rom is ready to hit the ground running despite not being attached to any club’s summer training regimen. José Mourinho has made it clear that Lukaku will be getting the start against Empoli tomorrow, and their defense has looked just about as poor as any club in Serie A to start the season.
If Roma wants to win this match easily, that victory will likely come to fruition through the cleats of Lukaku. If he is fit enough to start and play the full ninety, we might just see that kind of match.
How Will the Squad Play Without Lorenzo Pellegrini?
It wouldn’t be Roma if there weren’t at least one player unavailable due to injury, and for tomorrow’s match, that will be Lorenzo Pellegrini. Roma’s captain picked up a muscular injury while playing for Luciano Spalletti’s new-look Italian national team. While the injury is reportedly not too serious, it is practically guaranteed to keep him off the pitch for tomorrow’s match. Pellegrini should return for Roma’s first Europa League group stage match against FC Sheriff, which would be a good match to get the captain back up to speed before Roma’s return to league play on September 24.
The good news is that, as opposed to last season, Roma has significant forward and attacking midfielder depth to play around with, even when Pellegrini can’t don the number seven. Houssem Aouar, Paulo Dybala, Leandro Paredes, and even Nicola Zalewski can all create something from nothing on the offensive side of the ball. If even one of them has a successful game tomorrow, it will be a positive sign for Roma’s ability to succeed in multiple competitions late into the season.
Will Edoardo Bove Get The Start?
Edoardo Bove has proven himself to be one of the most resilient players to come out of the Giallorossi academy in recent years. Where the club has sent others out on loan or even sold players to smaller Serie A clubs for the sake of Financial Fair Play, Bove has persisted, becoming a major part of a crowded midfield rotation that includes several stars on the international level. That ability to integrate into the senior team hasn’t gone unnoticed, as the rumor mill is suggesting that a contract renewal for Bove with a significant salary bump is imminent.
Yet even with a raise on the horizon, that aforementioned midfield rotation might make it difficult for Bove to establish himself as a consistent member of Roma’s starting eleven when the squad is healthy. That’s not his fault at all; it’s just the reality of Roma’s slow start to the season and the imperative nature of the Giallorossi’s quest for Champions League football for the 2024/2025 season.
Yet the injury-prone nature of some of Roma’s star midfielders presents an opportunity for the Roman academy grad: a Renato Sanches injury here, a Lorenzo Pellegrini injury there, they can all add up to increasing sub minutes and starts for Bove. If Bove gets the call up to the starting eleven tomorrow instead of for Thursday’s relatively meaningless match against FC Sheriff, it’ll be a strong indicator that Mourinho is planning on continuing his long-term investment into Bove. It’s one thing to break into the senior squad; it’s another to become a starter. These next few matches may prove to be a strong indicator of whether or not Bove will follow Zalewski’s path towards becoming a key part of Roma’s starting eleven.