Daniele De Rossi’s managerial tenure with Roma has been all sunshine and rainbows up until this point. A 100% win record, a revitalized Lorenzo Pellegrini, two intriguing signings in Angeliño and Tommaso Baldanzi, and a convincing 4-0 win against Cagliari all make it clear that maybe the Giallorossi did need a change at the top.
Yet, as much as Roma has looked intriguingly like a Champions League-quality side since the hiring of Capitano Futuro, the asterisk attached to all that success is the simple fact that Roma hasn’t played any side of consequence in the past month. This was probably an intentional move on the part of The Friedkin Group; after all, if you want to give a new manager time to get used to his role, you give him a couple of matches that are likely to be victories. That improves the morale of the side and the morale of the fans and gives that manager a longer leash if and when things go south.
That honeymoon period for De Rossi is likely over starting tomorrow, as the Giallorossi host league leaders and likely Scudetto winners Inter Milan at the Stadio Olimpico. I’ll be level with you, CdTers: I’m expecting a draw or a loss here. Inter have only lost once this season and drawn three times. Jumping from playing the likes of Cagliari, Verona, and Salernitana to playing a team that could very well make the Champions League final this season is like jumping straight from the mildest hot sauce on Hot Ones to the Last Dab: you’re going to have to endure a lot of pain, and you’re probably going to cry.
Given these low expectations for tomorrow’s match, I’m mostly looking for the Giallorossi to play competently against Inter. A win, draw, or tight loss where Roma takes good chances and defends well will give me hope for Daniele De Rossi’s continued employment in Rome after the end of the season; a drubbing and I’m pretty sure The Friedkin Group will be looking for a new manager when the summer window opens. Those are the likely stakes.
What To Watch For
The Return of Sardar Azmoun
The good news for Daniele De Rossi is that his side is getting closer and closer to full strength. While Evan Ndicka is still playing at AFCON (good luck to Ivory Coast in the final!), Sardar Azmoun has returned to the club following Iran’s loss to Qatar in the AFC Asian Cup semi-final. Azmoun certainly left a mark on the competition and was nearly the difference-maker for Iran in their quest to get to the final; just take a look at this sweet goal he scored in the semi-final:
Roma's Sardar Azmoun with a SENSATIONAL finish for Iran!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 7, 2024
Improvisation of the highest order. pic.twitter.com/E7aqiC0k9q
While Azmoun is likely disappointed that his run at the AFC Asian Cup is over, it’s definitely to Roma’s advantage that he’ll be available against Inter. With Andrea Belotti on loan at Fiorentina and Tammy Abraham scheduled to return to full training in a month, Roma is short on strikers without Azmoun. While he won’t be a starter for Roma against Inter, the Iranian forward will hopefully continue to be a burst of energy and fresh air off the bench for Daniele De Rossi as he was for José Mourinho.
Matches between two big sides are often decided in the dying minutes of the second half. Azmoun has shown an ability to be a difference-maker in those spot minutes; don’t be surprised if the reason Roma gets a positive result tomorrow is that Sardar provides a bit of the same magic he offered for the Iranian National Team for the Giallorossi.
Baldanzi’s Slow but Sure Integration Into the Senior Team
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that the Tommaso Baldanzi signing might be one of the most important non-superstar signings Roma has completed since the beginning of the decade. The Italy U-21 international is tipped by many to be the future #10 for the Azzurri, and even in a tough situation in Empoli, Baldanzi showed himself to have the class necessary to shine.
Despite all that promise, it’s a good thing for the Giallorossi and Baldanzi that he doesn’t have to be the Next Paulo Dybala right away in Rome. Instead, reports suggest that Daniele De Rossi intends to slowly but surely integrate Baldanzi into the side via consistent substitute appearances. This is undoubtedly the right move for the attacking midfielder; it allows him to understand the tactical differences between playing for a side like Roma compared to a side like Empoli, and it lets him use his fresher legs to his advantage against tired sides who, nevertheless have had their match against Roma circled on their calendar for months.
Just as Azmoun could be a difference-maker for the Giallorossi tomorrow, I’m also pegging Baldanzi as a potential super-sub difference-maker in the fight for a positive result against Inter.
Can Roma Seize on Inter’s Injury Troubles?
One thing that might make Roma’s job against Inter a tad easier is the injury conversation. While Roma is now only missing Tammy Abraham and Evan Ndicka from action through either injury or international play, Inter will be without both former Roma man Davide Frattesi and Colombian international Juan Cuadrado due to injury issues.
That still leaves Inter with a veritable murderer’s row of talent to fill out their starting eleven; when you can say that Henrikh Mkhitaryan is likely the weakest part of a side’s midfield, you know your team has its work cut out for them. Yet with a side like Inter, you have to take every scrap of a chance that you can get, and I think that if Roma is to take something from this match, it will come through creative play that slices up Inter’s midfield with through balls.
The Nerazzurri have shown a slight weakness in that style of play before, and thankfully, Roma has the creative talent necessary to make plays like that happen. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala will need to win the creative battle from the jump because any side with Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram up front will certainly find enough good chances to give Rui Patricio headaches.
Date: February 10th
Kickoff: 18:00 CET/12:00 EST
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Roma