Now is the time to find out if Roma are for real. A strong start has the Giallorossi sitting pretty near the summit of the Serie A standings, with three straight wins making them the Peninsula’s form side.
However, they face two huge tests in the space of six days that could well decide the direction the rest of their campaign takes. Second-placed Inter are up first before a colossal Derby della Capitale next Friday. Success in those contests could spell a serious Scudetto challenge for La Lupa.
The capital club are certainly in the thick of the title chase as things stand. They are perched only four points off leaders Milan and three adrift of the Nerazzurri, who travel to the Stadio Olimpico smarting from a surprise setback at Sampdoria.
Paulo Fonseca’s men will be eager to inflict further damage on Inter’s ambitions but doing so will prove easier said than done given the recent history between the two clubs. The last time the Giallorossi got the best of Sunday’s opponent was on February 26 2017, when a Radja Nainggolan brace laid the groundwork for a 3-1 triumph at San Siro.
Nearly four years and six Serie A showdowns have passed since that memorable match, and a win this weekend would signify so much. It would simultaneously shove La Lupa to the front of a crowded chasing pack behind the Rossoneri and quiet the critics who say they shrink against the big boys.
Roma’s record against the top four from 2018-19 and 2019-20 reads two victories, nine draws and five losses, with one of those successes coming last summer against a heavily rotated Juventus that had already been crowned champion.
Those struggles against the elite have continued this term. Heavy defeats in Naples and Bergamo set alarm bells ringing, with the Eternal City slickers hit for four on both occasions. Staying solid at the back will be crucial for a Roman rearguard that is the worst of any team in the top seven (24 goals conceded), especially considering the Nerazzurri’s attacking prowess (Serie A high 41 goals scored).
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez form one of Europe’s deadliest strike duos for the visitors, but Roma can also call on an impressive arsenal of offensive weaponry.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been one of the stars of the season so far, while golden oldie Edin Dzeko is still one of the Peninsula’s most lethal predators. Those two have been ably supported by native son Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has struck up a close understanding with the Armenian ace in particular.
That trio will be crucial to ensuring there is no repeat of Fonseca’s first campaign, when La Lupa flew out of the blocks before fading away after Christmas. With the likes of Juventus, Napoli and Atalanta breathing down their necks, there are those who will think that Champions League qualification is still a more realistic aim for the Giallorossi. The events of the next few days will either vindicate those doubters or force them to eat their words.