Despite the gloom and doom that can sometimes envelop the club, at the official halfway point of the 2023-2024 Serie A season, the Giallorossi remain only four points from their stated goal: fourth place and a spot in the Champions League. If Italy's coefficient ranking remains intact, the league will earn an additional spot in the big dance next year, meaning Roma is only three points behind the pace.
Be that as it may, Roma has a nasty habit of getting in her own way (rhyme not intended). Just think where they'd be were it not for the usual litany of injuries and suspensions that seemingly always plagues this club, or how much higher on the table they'd be if they took more than one point from the first three matches.
As always, it's been an up-and-down 19 weeks in the Romaverse. To get a grasp on all the highs, lows, and in-betweens, we assembled the CdT crew to make sense of it all. Enjoy, and as always, give us your two cents in the comments section!
Depending on the coefficient rankings, Roma is either three or four points out of a Champions League place. Based on that, has the first half of the season gone better or worse than you expected?
Bren: Honestly, this is pretty much what I expected. While having Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku gives them a chance in any match, the squad is simply lacking difference makers beyond them. And when you consider Dybala’s injury issues this season, they haven’t been able to enjoy that duo as much as we’d hope.
I thought they’d be in a dogfight for the final Champions League places, and it looks like that’s exactly how it’s going to play out. Of course, had they not stumbled to begin the season, they might be a few places higher in the table, but I think they’re exactly where they should be, given the squad makeup and the injury issues across the board.
Jimmy Miotto: I think it’s gone reasonably well; maybe not as well as I would’ve expected after signing Romelu Lukaku, but given the injury issues the Giallorossi have endured, I guess it evens out. It is kind of unfair to say that without Roma’s two best difference-makers, Roma doesn’t have any difference-makers, but it does feel like we’ve swapped out Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi for Lukaku and Dybala when it comes to the performances that will make the club live or die.
I think it’s also important to remember that Evan Ndicka and Romelu Lukaku took a while to get integrated into the side; if they had been ready a couple weeks earlier, would Roma have lost 4-1 to Genoa? Would they perhaps be comfortably in fourth instead, or even higher? Perhaps. But if wishes were horses, beggars (and Roma) would ride.
JonAS: Jimmy’s last sentence made my head hurt. Anyway, I agree with both of you. Injuries to Dybala and Smalling, that horrendous start, Lukaku’s late transfer, and the slow start of Ndicka. Not everything went as planned, but that can’t be an excuse; other teams had their fair share of bad luck, too.
Especially after Lukaku’s arrival, I thought we would be in the top 4 by now, albeit still in a dogfight with the likes of Lazio, Atalanta, and Napoli. Now also, Fiorentina and Bologna have entered the frame, and we’re trailing all of them, bar Napoli. So yeah, I expected more of Roma after 19 games.
ssciavillo: I have to agree with Bren. It’s gone pretty much how I expected. That’s not to say that I thought they’d be in eighth, but I thought it’d be a close race for the top four, and that’s just what we’re in, albeit with an extra team or two thrown into the mix.
Regardless of how you just answered, what has impressed you most about Roma in the first half of the season?
Bren: Hmm, probably just the general vibe, as much as I hate that term. There’s definitely an esprit de corps with this team. They never seem to get too high or too low, and you get the feeling they genuinely like playing with one another, which certainly makes the difficult stretches easier.
Apart from that, man, when Dybala and Lukaku do play together, it’s beautiful. Look no further than last weekend against Atalanta. Some of the combination play they managed was among the best we’ve seen from Roma in years. It’s a shame they don’t have a third wheel to go along with them, but if nothing else, they’re two of the most talented players we’ve ever seen in a Roma shirt.
Jimmy: It’s okay, Bren: as CdT’s resident Zoomer writer, I give you permission to say the vibes are good. I agree that this side has far less of a glass jaw than I’ve seen from other Roma sides over the year; I’d also say that it’s easy to see that all of these guys truly enjoy playing with each other, from Dybala, Lukaku, and Pellegrini on down. Add in the fact that the fans are truly supporting the club through the peaks and valleys of the season (which, again, is somewhat atypical compared to prior years), and it really does feel like the mentality of the club is improving.
JonAS: Esprit de corps. Pardon me; I always find it amusing when I see Americans use French words. But I agree that has been a big positive so far this season. I’m really impressed by all the last-minute goals Roma has scored this season. It looks like they’re simply another team after minute 75.
Lecce, Cremonese, Napoli, Sassuolo, Torino, Monza. That says something about the attitude and belief in the team. Never give up. Do or die—partly thanks to Mourinho and his ‘us vs the world’ approach. I never saw that mentality in, let’s say, EDF, Fonseca, or Luis Enrique’s Roma.
ssciavillo: I have to agree that the fight that this team shows as a team from minute one to minute 90+ makes you always have hope of getting something out of a match. The way that they’ve been able to score so many late goals and salvage what could have been some disastrous dropped points has allowed Roma to remain so close to being in a Champions League place. So, from a team perspective, I think that has to be what’s been most impressive so far.
Flip it around: What concerns you the most after 19 matches?
Bren: The lack of depth. Simple as. Especially in attack, where they don’t seem to have a secondary option beyond Dybala and Lukaku, though I hope Sardar Azmoun gets a bigger role when he returns from the Asian Cup. He’s obviously nowhere near as talented as those two, but he brings a certain energy to the pitch when he comes on as a second-half sub.
Between Azmoun and El Shaarawy, they at least have bodies that can play in the wider spaces, but they’re still lacking an effective attacking midfielder off the bench, which, again, given Dybala’s always dicey status, could become a big headache down the stretch.
Jimmy: Yup, there’s no question that the lack of depth is a concern, and unfortunately, it’s not one that can be resolved any time soon due to Roma’s financial restraints. I agree that Azmoun and El Shaaraawy have been at least decent replacement-level subs for the attack, but Chris Smalling’s absence from the pitch has really highlighted just how thin Roma’s defense is. I was impressed by Dean Huijsen’s first performance, but it’s clearly not ideal when a teenager is being loaned with no option to buy from Juventus because one of our key players has to go to AFCON.
I’m also concerned by how in the balance everything feels right now for the club. Sure, it means that Champions League football is still attainable through multiple pathways, but it makes me nervous. I’m happy to support a club that gives its all in all competitions, unlike some other Italian sides; still, it sets up a situation where injuries tend to pile up in the early spring. I don’t want Roma to be in sixth and lose in the Europa League final. That’d be a new level of pain to come from following this club.
JonAS: I saw all of Kristensen, Bove, Karsdorp, Celik, Cristante, and a fresh-faced 18-year-old Juve product play (R)CB at one point for Roma. Nuff said.
ssciavillo: Going back to my previous answer, I think the fact that Roma has had to fight tooth and nail so late into matches against so many mid to lower-table sides is a concern. For all the talent that is available to score goals when Roma has both Lukaku and Dybala on the pitch together, this side just doesn’t score enough goals for me.
Of course, they ran up the score in one of the few matches I was unable to watch against Empoli. However, that seven-goal explosion makes this team’s goalscoring record look a lot better than it’s been on a week-to-week basis. The fact that it’s so hard for this team to score goals so often is a big concern for me.
Other than Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku, who are some of the club’s standouts thus far?
Bren: I’ll say Evan Ndicka. Admittedly, I wasn’t terribly familiar with him before he came to Roma. He’s just a smooth, ball-playing defender and a joy to watch on some afternoons. Of course, now that CIES has ranked him as the third-most valuable U-25 defender in the league, we may soon have to worry about his future.
Outside of Ndicka, I’d give a shout to Edoardo Bove and Bryan Cristante, who still manages to confound us because we have no idea what his proper role is, but he’s been a constant for Roma.
Jimmy: I’ll go with Edoardo Bove. Ndicka has been excellent, I agree with Bren, but in a season where Roma has had far less of Lorenzo Pellegrini on the pitch than anyone would want (well, maybe some people in the comments section are happy without Pellegrini playing), the Giallorossi have been able to trust Bove as a consistent starter. Dare I say it? He’s playing like a young Daniele De Rossi, and his grit is really driving the team forward. Long may it continue.
JonAS: Good choices. I’ll go for Rui Patricio, who looks like he has exorcised his demons from the past. I thought Svilar would take over the No. 1 in the course of the season after some of Rui’s wobbly displays, but all in all, Rui has redeemed himself in my opinion. Just look at his important 1vs1 save against Atalanta when the score was still 0-1.
I hope he continues like this until June so he can leave Roma with his head held high. He deserves a happy ending.
ssciavillo: I have to agree with Ndicka and Bove. While Cristante has played well, he’s been a known commodity for some time now. Ndicka has proven to be a great signing and perhaps even more important than expected, with Smalling missing so much time. And Bove has developed into a guarantee for Mourinho. There’s no worry about plugging him in as a starter in big matches at a young age. He’s starting to have that Capitano Futuro feel as Jimmy said. He may not be on the talent level of De Rossi—not many are—but he’s gotten to the point where you can argue that he should start every match.
I also want to give a shoutout to my boy Gianluca Mancini. He’s cleaned up the booking aspect of his game while solidifying his defense while still being a prick a la his idol, Marco Materazzi. He fits the Mourinho ethos to a tee.
Which new signing has impressed you most so far?
Bren: Since I just said Ndicka, I’ll go a different and more obvious route: Romelu Lukaku. We tend to forget that he essentially had no pre-season training regime, but he’s barely missed a beat. Remember that first match when he was already barking orders and demanding the ball? We knew straight away the kind of impact he would make passively, but he’s delivered the goods in front of goal, too. I have no idea how he’ll age as a player, but I hope Roma can hang onto him for 2-3 more seasons.
Jimmy: Yeah, for me, it’s Lukaku. Football is just so much more entertaining when you get to watch Romelu Lukaku and Paulo Dybala play together. Now, if only they played together more often…
JonAS: Indeed, Lukaku’s numbers speak for themselves. But since he is ‘only’ on loan, I also want to give Ndicka an honorable mention. Roma desperately needed a top CB after Ibanez left and Smalling went down, and after a slow start, Ndicka looks like the real deal. He hasn’t reached his ceiling, that’s for sure.
Plus, he was a free agent, which means a great deal of business. Who says Ndicka won’t be worth €40 million (or even more) in one or two years time? 100% profit for the club. He signed a long contract until 2028, I believe, so Roma is in a comfortable position.
ssciavillo: I have to say Ndicka more because he was an unknown for most of us, while Lukaku is a known commodity. But, since I already sung the Ivorian's praises, I’ll give Lukaku some love here. I have to say I’ve been impressed. I know a lot of Calcio fans were saying things to the effect that he’s a finished player, but he’s far from it. He can still bully defenders and score plenty of goals. I don’t know where Roma would be without his overall play so far.
Give us one or two names that must step it up in the second half.
Bren: Hmm, if he’s here, Leonardo Spinazzola. Roma needs functional play from the wing-back spot, and he hasn’t been consistent or reliable enough this year. Going back to one of my previous responses regarding the depth in attack, Houssem Aouar has to be that second banana behind Dybala. We’ve seen glimpses, but he seems like he drifts through matches at times rather than taking the initiative. He has it in him; we just need to see it more regularly.
Jimmy: Nicola Zalewski is my answer. I don’t have faith in Spinny’s ability at this point, but Zalewski hasn’t had the same leap Edoardo Bove has had this season, and Roma desperately needs that kind of leap from him ASAP. I have faith he’ll get there, but it’ll make Roma’s fight for Champions League football that much easier if they have a consistently in-form left wing-back.
JonAS: If you guys go left, then I go right: Karsdorp. At one moment, I thought Slick Rick would be back to his best, but lately, he has gone into ‘meh’ territory once again. It’s well known our wingbacks are not having their best season, and if your formation is a 3-5-2, then my friend, you’re in trouble.
So the only right answer here is all of Zalewski, Spinazzola, Celik, and Karsdorp. Goals, assists, precise crosses, just give us something, men!
ssciavillo: I agree that it has to be the wingbacks. Roma needs more out of those two positions, especially going forward. Roma has one of the best strikers in the league playing up top but can’t whip in a cross for him to attack. That’s a problem. If you’re playing a 3-5-2, those guys need to provide width.
Dean Huijsen looked pretty comfortable during his Roma debut. Can this 18-year-old phenom really help Roma reach the Champions League? Do you envision any scenario in which Roma is able to retain him past June?
Bren: While it was exciting just to see him out there last weekend, I think we’d all be wise to remind ourselves that he’s just 18 and will be prone to inconsistencies. Having said that, he looked composed and calm on the all, and he’s clearly one of the tallest, lankiest dudes we’ve seen play for the club in quite some time. But, given his age and lack of experience, I don’t think he’ll be the player to push us over the line.
As far as keeping him, who knows? It’s obviously a dry loan, but we know Roma and Juve have come together on all sorts of deals in the past several years, so I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they extend the loan for a year. I only wish we had a commensurate talent we could essentially trade for him.
Jimmy: Bren, no, thank you, I’m going to jump to conclusions and say he’s the new Aldair. More seriously, I agree — he looked calm on the ball and not afraid of the moment. If he keeps applying that over the rest of the season, he’ll go far, whether that’s at Juventus, Roma, or elsewhere. My guess is that if he’s impressive enough and Roma get Champions League football, Huijsen might just stick around the Olimpico after this season. Otherwise? Juventus looks like greener pastures for a teenage center-back to me, even if you have to fight your way through Juve’s defender depth.
JonAS: Are we really that desperate in Rome to start believing this kid is the solution? He has talent, obviously, and is very welcome, but in the end, he remains a Juve Primavera. Sure, we can try to make him fall in love with Roma and Mourinho in those six months, but he still has a long contract at Juve. It’s a dry loan; after June, he will return to Turin. They won’t simply hand us one of their most prized diamonds.
Perhaps I can see his loan getting extended until 2025, but why on earth would Roma nurture any of our rivals’ talents for free? Only to give them the next coming of Van Dijk in June 2025 so Juve can win the Scudetto for the next five years? Hell no, I’d rather bring back Loria or Scurto. Give me one of our own Primavera kids, or search Brazil/Argentina for intriguing prospects instead.
ssciavillo: While it would be great if Huijsen looked so cool, calm, and collected, we have to remind ourselves that it was only 45 minutes, and he's just 18. It would be an amazing story if he's able to seize his opportunity and at least provide a rotation piece along the backline, but saying he'll put us over the top is a stretch. Roma needs more goals, in my opinion, for that, and that's not his job.
In terms of keeping him, I don't think there's any position that would be advantageous for Roma to pry him away from Juve. If he's that good of a prospect, Juve will probably want him back, and even if the kid falls in love with Rome and requests a move, the Bianconeri would try and rob Roma blind—as per usual. So, no, I don't think there are any long-term prospects for this one.
Is there any particular match you'd like a do-over on? Any loss/draw you think could have gone the other way if the circumstances were a tad different?
Bren: The 1-0 loss to Inter from late October stands out, if only because they could have taken at least one point from the top club in the league. But really, any of those first three matches would be nice to hit reset on.
Jimmy: The 4-1 Genoa loss still stings, and I think it colors a lot of folks' opinions of this season despite the Giallorossi being only four points out of fourth.
JonAS: I'm not going that far back. Atalanta 1-1. A match Roma always should have won. In a week in which Fiorentina, Bologna, and Napoli all lost points, Roma could beat another direct rival for the top 4. Not only a win but a huge confidence boost as well for the players and fans. Now, we're once again left with a bitter aftertaste—such a shame.
ssciavillo: There are so many really. Genoa definitely jumps to mind. So does Atalanta and even Fiorentina. However, I'm going even further back to match day 2 against Hellas Verona. Roma lost that match 2-1 after absolutely dominating. We can chalk up the dropped points against Salernitana to some Antonio Candreva magic. And it wouldn't have felt so bad if Roma didn't lose to Verona in the next match. I think a win there could've had Roma feeling just a bit better about themselves to open the season and may have been the catalyst for better results in some of the other matches mentioned above.
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, what concerns you the most?
Bren: The schedule! We've got the Coppa Italia, the Europa League knockout rounds, that random friendly in Saudi Arabia on top of the regular league matches. I think we'll have a good idea of Roma's Champions League chances by mid-February.
Jimmy: Yup, the schedule is what usually kills Roma in the second half of the season. Gotta hope that the rotations work and Roma can survive in multiple competitions for the next four months.
JonAS: Both previous answers in combination with Dybala's legs.
ssciavillo: Agreed. It has to be the schedule. Luckily there's no gauntlet run of matches like Roma is finishing up this weekend against Milan, but just the overall number of matches that a deep Europa League run could bring may be a lot for this team to overcome.
Okay, time for the big question: Will Roma qualify for the Champions League?
Bren: Gosh, I really don't know. I just think so much has to go right for Roma to finish in the top four/five that the odds remain a bit too long. But, like I said at the outset, it's likely to come down to the wire, with several clubs vying for that final spot.
Jimmy: I have a good feeling for 2024. I think it's our year. I'm going to say yes. Feel free to crucify me if I'm wrong.
JonAS: Yes, by winning the Europa League. *mic drop*
ssciavillo: I'll remain optimistic and say yes just because everyone from fourth place Fiorentina to ninth place Napoli is just as flawed as Roma. A few big head-to-head wins could be enough, especially if Italy captures a fifth spot via the UEFA coefficient.
You've heard our takes, now it's your turn: What's gone right for Roma so far? What do they need to fix? And will they make it back to the Champions League?
Will Roma qualify for the Champions League at the end of the season?
This poll is closed
Yes, by virtue of 4th place
Yes, thanks to the Italy's extra spot