Excitement abounds in the red half of Rome. The Giallorossi are within touching distance of the Serie A summit, while they secured their ticket to the Europa League knockout stages with a minimum of fuss.
Furthermore, the recent triumphs over Bologna and Torino underlined La Lupa’s attacking prowess, and the capital club have every chance of securing Champions League qualification and contending in Europe’s second-string tournament if they can continue their fine form up front. Regardless of their offensive brilliance, however, issues in goal and against the division’s heavyweights could yet see them come unstuck.
Roma also got off to a flyer in Paulo Fonseca’s debut season before suffering a serious slump post-Christmas, but they look far more likely to stay the course this campaign. The Portuguese’s players appear more attuned to what is being asked of them tactically, and that increased cohesion and understanding has been seen most nearly in Fonseca’s fluent front line.
The stats back up the notion that Roma have moved up a gear offensively. In 2019-20, they boasted the Peninsula’s 4th-best attack with 2.03 goals scored per match. This year, they are finding the back of the net 2.25 times per game. Only Inter (2.5) have a better ratio.
Although Edin Dzeko remains the main goalscoring threat, the sterling work of his supporting cast has been the major positive so far. Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks a man reborn after an unsatisfactory stint in the Premier League, with his 7 goals and 5 assists putting him near the top of the Serie A charts in both categories.
Pedro’s presence has also been a plus despite his red card against Sassuolo, while Lorenzo Pellegrini has excelled in the engine room or as a number 10.
That versatility could prove crucial in the coming months. Mkhitaryan and Pedro are both the wrong side of 30, and Pellegrini’s presence should allow Fonseca the chance to give his two veteran schemers the rest that their experienced legs need.
If only the Giallorossi had similar strength in depth in net. Neither Antonio Mirante nor Pau Lopez, who arrived in the Eternal City for a whopping €23.5 million in the summer of 2019, are entirely convincing options. The Spanish shot-stopper’s sketchy showings have relegated him to the bench in favor of Mirante, who was originally brought in as a backup. Instead, the 37-year old has been pushed into a leading role, which is quite the comedown for a club that has seen the likes of Alisson and Wojciech Szczesny star between the sticks in the not-too-distant past.
Perhaps the painful 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Napoli would have been avoided had either of those two world-class performers been around. Lorenzo Insigne’s long-range free kick beat a poorly positioned Mirante at his near post for the all-important opener, while the former Parma netminder spilled a straightforward Eljif Elmas shot straight into the path of Dries Mertens for the 3-0.
Mirante was not the only one at fault in a lackluster collective display at the San Paolo. The Giallorossi have the worst defensive record among the top six in the Serie A table with 17 goals conceded and must also figure out how to put the big boys to the sword.
Their only win versus a top four team last year was a 3-1 final day triumph over an Old Lady that already had the title sewn up, and that disappointing record against the country’s elite has continued this campaign. In addition to that dispiriting reverse in Naples, La Lupa had to settle for a share of the spoils with Sassuolo, Milan and Juventus.
Overcoming their struggles against the cream of the crop will go a long way to deciding the Giallorossi’s fate. A crowded calendar includes clashes with Atalanta, Inter and Lazio in the next month, while a trip to Juventus Stadium is set for early February.
A couple of victories in those tricky fixtures would go a long way to banishing the demons of last winter and set Fonseca’s men on course for a successful season.