As a man who's won every major European club trophy imaginable, including a treble with Inter Milan in 2010, José Mourinho's reputation as a manager is beyond reproach. However, despite a trophy room that would make most managers blush, Mourinho tends to hit a wall in this third season. From feuding with Ilker Casillas at Real Madrid to being sacked at Manchester United or Chelsea (second stint), Mourinho's third year seldom goes according to plan.
When Mourinho was hired by Roma in the summer of 2021, armed with roughly €100 million in new signings, The Special One was supposed to usher in a new era of success for the Giallorossi. And while the club finished a disappointing sixth place during his first season, Mourinho softened that blow by winning the Europa Conference League title—Roma's first European title in over 30 years.
Roma upped the ante in Mourinho's second season, signing star free agent Paulo Dybala, who joined the likes of Tammy Abraham, Andrea Belotti, and Lorenzo Pellegrini in a revamped attack. And just like he did the first season, Mourinho piloted Roma to a sixth-place finish and a spot in a European final, where the Giallorossi suffered a controversial defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League finale.
With Mourinho entering the final year of his contract, Roma once again rearmed the squad, gifting the Portuguese manager with star striker Romelu Lukaku and completely remaking the midfield by signing Renato Sanches, Houssem Aouar and Leandro Paredes.
Despite all those moves, Roma has struggled mightily this season, taking only five points from their first six matches. Punctuated by Thursday's 4-1 defeat in Genoa, the Giallorossi are mired in 16th place, enduring one of the worst starts in club history.
And it's against that depressing backdrop, that Roma welcomes their neighbors from Frosinone to the Stadio Olimpico. Ordinarily, we'd be free to overlook this match, but with Mourinho's men staring up the table at Frosinone, there are no mincing words: they must win this match.
With that in mind, here are a few things to watch in tomorrow's fixture, starting with the club's mental state
Keep An Eye On
Where's Your Head At?
Given everything we just discussed, it's fair to question the extent to which calls for Mourinho's job affect the club. In his pre-match press conference, Mourinho did his best to deflect these stories:
"We had three games before finishing the transfer window where that single point left us with a situation that placed a burden on many players. After the incredible result against Empoli I thought that weight could come off the shoulders of the people on and off the pitch. That didn't happen...."
"Now it seems like I'm a problem, and I haven't accepted that. I'm not a problem. There's no telling who's responsible, we all are. These are things that happen within a company and a club. I respect my word until June 30, 2024, I will be here until then, fighting for this team.
The only person who can tell me I need to leave this place is Friedkin, it can be Dan or Ryan. They are the only ones who can send me away, I'm not afraid that tomorrow the whole stadium will boo me. Tomorrow I will be there as always with my players to take responsibility for what can happen."
At this point, dissecting Mourinho's press conferences has become a fool's errand. The man can deflect, reflect, and attack in one breath, so it's pointless to pick sides. What matters most is what's said behind closed doors. Has the club's self-belief cratered, or can Mourinho mastermind a way out of this funk?
Will Bryan Cristante Move to The Back?
With 11 goals conceded through their first six matches, Mourinho's reputation as a defensive wizard has taken a hit. Already down veteran center-back Chris Smalling, Roma's defensive issues have been exacerbated by new signing Evan Ndicka's early season struggles. And now, with Diego Llorente dealing with a hip flexor injury, Mourinho may be forced to insert midfielder Bryan Cristante into defense.
It wouldn't be the first time the versatile midfielder has been pressed into defense, but it's far from ideal, especially since Cristante has shown a renewed attacking flair this season. But with no Smalling and no Llorente, Mourinho may have no choice.
But Roma's real issues may be a step further back in defense...
Is the Time Ripe for a Rui Replacement?
With a -4.0 PSxG +/- (post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed), Rui Patricio has been the worst shot-stopper in Serie A thus far, prompting calls for young Mile Svilar to take over the reins. The 24-year-old Belgian keeper has made only five appearances during his two years with Roma, so chances are he'll remain planted on the bench.
Still, with little room for error, Mourinho has to gamble on something. But what's riskier: Svilar's lack of experience or Patricio's declining play?
It's a question that could determine whether Roma can climb out of the basement.