Sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed to revive a stalling career. Premier League cast-offs Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pedro are proof positive of that concept, and both have shone in the Eternal City. The former has gone up a level after a solid loan spell last term, while the latter has fit in seamlessly since his summer move from Chelsea. Together, they are capable of bringing Champions League football back to the red half of Rome.
The veteran creators were at the heart of Sunday’s 3-0 destruction of a beleaguered Parma. Pedro’s ability to provide an outlet on the right and cut infield made him a useful weapon against a massed visiting defense, especially during a first half an hour when space in the final third was at a premium.
Meanwhile, Mkhitaryan was well-marshaled in the early stages but sprung to life after Borja Mayoral broke the deadlock. The Armenian ace scored one of the goals of the season so far with an astonishing first-time volley that left Luigi Sepe grasping at thin air, and he showcased his predatory instincts a few minutes later to complete a thrilling opening stanza for the hosts.
That terrific double comes off the back of a clinical hat-trick against Genoa before the international break. The absence of captain fantastic Edin Dzeko has barely been noted as a result, and manager Paulo Fonseca will hope that he can continue to coax match-winning performances from his mercurial number 77.
The Portuguese tactician deserves enormous credit for his work with “Mkhi”. The ex-Dortmund dynamo is the definition of a confidence player, and the self-belief that was absent during his stint in England has been restored on the peninsula.
Like fellow thirtysomething Pedro, Mkhitaryan was acquired on a free transfer. The Giallorossi have augmented their attack on a shoestring budget, and the question now is how far their two seasoned schemers can take them.
The answer to that query would be clearer were it not for the tandem’s checkered injury history. Both have spent plenty of time on the treatment table over the past two years, and a prolonged stretch on the sidelines for either would be particularly worrisome due to the lack of depth in attacking areas. Star turn Nicolo Zaniolo is in the middle of his recovery from another ACL tear, which leaves the untested Carles Perez as the main alternative.
The Barcelona academy product will surely get his fair share of opportunities given the crowded fixture list. Roma must juggle domestic commitments with their participation in the Europa League, and Pedro and Mkhitaryan will probably be rested for some of the upcoming continental contests. A return to the Champions League is the main aim, with a top four finish in Serie A the most likely route.
That prospect seems realistic at the moment if the inconsistency shown by many of the country’s elite outfits persists, with Fonseca’s charges only three points off top spot. However, we will know a lot more about their chances after the first week of December, with duels against an upwardly mobile Napoli and a streaking Sassuolo marked in red on the calendar. Both of those games will be difficult, but it would be unwise to bet against Mkhitaryan and Pedro on this form.