The wolf’s howl is currently reverberating up and down the peninsula, but that does not mean that their campaign won’t end with a whimper. Roma are off to a flyer both at home and abroad and would be undefeated were it not for an embarrassing administrative error in the opener against Hellas Verona. Although their free-scoring ways have raised hopes of a return to the Champions League, an abundance of caution is called for.
It is worth remembering that the Giallorossi also began last season in fine fettle. They were sitting pretty near the top of the table heading into Christmas after suffering just two defeats in their first 17 Serie A matches, but a disastrous post-holiday run put paid to their chances of obtaining a place in Europe’s premier club competition.
That failure reflected poorly on manager Paulo Fonseca, and it remains to be seen if the Portuguese has learned the painful lessons from last term. The former Shakhtar boss still has a lot to prove, and the recent change in ownership casts further doubt on his future. New owner Dan Friedkin could decide to switch things up in the dugout if Roma go off the boil, which would make any dip in form particularly destabilizing.
Nevertheless, that dreaded rough patch could be avoided if the club’s attack continues to produce. An experienced front three of Pedro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko has been devastating so far, with that trident contributing to an impressive collective haul of 13 goals in the last four domestic outings. Mkhitaryan deserves special mention, with the Armenian scoring or assisting every 81 minutes in all competitions. The seasoned schemer is back to his best after disappointing spells in England with Manchester United and Arsenal, and that can only bode well for La Lupa moving forward.
Fonseca’s terrific trident has turned the capital club into one of the division’s most devastating offenses, but durability is a worry. All three are north of 30, and both Pedro and Mkhitaryan have spent significant time on the treatment table over the last two years.
Alarm bells would surely ring around Trigoria were one of that trio to go down for a prolonged period. Nicolo Zaniolo is in the early stages of his recovery from another cruciate ligament rupture, which leaves the Spanish duo of Carles Perez and Borja Mayoral as the only attacking options off the bench. Perez has shown promise since arriving from Barcelona in January, but it is unclear how he would handle the pressure that comes with a starting spot. Meanwhile, Real Madrid cast-off Mayoral’s lone experience outside of his home country was an unsuccessful stint in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.
Even after such an encouraging beginning, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the Giallorossi. The permanent capture of Chris Smalling is a boon at the back, but even the Englishmen’s calming presence could not prevent a brittle backline from conceding more goals than any other top seven side last year. Furthermore, the disappointing draw against 10-man Juventus demonstrated that the struggles against the division’s elite persist. The next month will be decisive to understand the team’s ambitions this season.
Fonseca’s side will face both Napoli and Atalanta away from Rome and Sassuolo at the Stadio Olimpico in December while the derby della Capitale and another home game against Inter arrive early in January. The next month will be a decisive one to understand the team’s ambitions as Gianluca Mancini pointed out in an interview with Il Corriere dello Sport.
It has to be said that Roma’s 70-point total in 2019-20 would have sewn up fourth place in 16 of the last 20 Serie A seasons. Even incremental improvements on the problems that have plagued them in recent times should be enough to satisfy Friedkin’s ambitions, especially given the inconsistency of the other big boys