Jose Mourinho’s shock return to Italy with Roma upped the ante of Inter’s already high-stakes meetings with the Giallorossi by a handful of levels. The man behind Inter’s treble will be on the same touchline as the Nerazzurri for the first time since he left for Real Madrid. This time, though, the Special One will be part of the opposition. To scout out Saturday’s opponents and check in with how Mourinho is faring, we asked the ever-knowledgable Bren from Chiesa Di Totti for his expertise on all things Roma.
A big thanks to Bren for stopping by!
Q: Roma spent some of the most of any club in Europe over the summer, bringing in almost €100 million worth of players. How have the new imports fared? Does Roma’s shopping spree look like a success? Looking ahead, what would you expect from the January market?
A: Well, I think it’s important to give that figure a bit of context. The lump sum of that total (€45 million) went towards Tammy Abraham, Roma’s now record-breaking signing, so that was the club’s shiny gift to Mourinho. They then dropped about €17 million on Eldor Shomurodov, which was a bit of a reach in my opinion but he has an exciting collection of skills and looks a bit like Mirko Vucinic, and then they nabbed Rui Patricio for about €11.5 million; a decent price for a keeper with his experience. The final portion of that hundred mill was injury forced, as the signed Matías Viña once Spinazzola got hurt.
The point being, while the figure itself is eye-popping, there was really only one marquee signing: Abraham. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s bagged three goals in the past week alone, so he appears to be hitting his stride and he’s striking up a wonderful chemistry with Nicolo Zaniolo. So the extent to which this 100M shopping spree is deemed a success depends solely on Abraham’s transition to life in Serie A—the other names on that list are merely complementary pieces, so I don’t think they’ll make or break Roma.
In terms of next month’s transfer activity, the transfer vultures have been circling around a bona fide defensive midfielder (Denis Zakaria has been linked most frequently), a backup right-back to sit behind Rick Karsdorop and likely some sort of hybrid attacking midfielder/winger in the mold of Filip Kostic or Dusan Tadic.
Q: One of the biggest managerial surprises of the year was Jose Mourinho’s appointment in the Eternal City. What was your initial reaction to Paulo Fonseca’s exit and Mourinho’s arrival? How is the Special One’s project looking four months in?
A: I’ve always maintained that Paulo Fonseca got a raw deal from Roma, though not intentionally. He was, at best, their third choice in the summer of 2019, and throughout his two-year stint with Roma, he faced the following: the DS who hired him left the club under contentious circumstances, he loses Zaniolo for two years, the pandemic sets in and, finally, the club changes owners.
In that light, he never experienced life in Roma under normal circumstances, nor did he really enjoy 100% support from either the outgoing Pallotta regime or the incoming Friedkin Group. If I had my druthers, I would have kept him. We just don’t know what he truly would have been capable of with better support but he did some great work with guys like Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling, Borja Mayoral, and Rick Karsdorp, to name a few.
The Mourinho news was a COMPLETE shock. I was at the doctor’s office and as soon as I got out, my phone was blowing up with messages from some of my staff. At first, I thought maybe the site crashed or something, but I...can’t even find the words; it was just that shocking. He’d been connected to Roma before (fleetingly at least) but it never seemed plausible and suddenly there he was, smiling all over the club’s social media channels, scarf in hand.
Four months in and it’s about what I expected (or was warned about): a lot of great results upfront, followed by some frustrating moments, players being called out or thrown under the bus, and plenty of social media fodder from his press conferences. This season was always meant to be a transition year; a time for Mourinho to evaluate what/who works well with his long-term vision and to establish a strategic plan alongside GM Tiago Pinto and the club ownership, so I think it’s imperative for Roma fans to remind themselves of that fact—myself included.
Q: What does a successful season look like for Roma? What about a successful Mourinho tenure in charge?
A: Going along with that, anything between fourth and sixth should be considered successful—it would be an improvement on last year, after all—but missing out on the Champions League again (for what would be the fourth straight year) would be disastrous. So, whether it’s by hook or crook, Mourinho has to get this club back into the CL in order for his project to take flight.
It’s hard to describe what a successful Mourinho tenure would look like simply because Roma managers tend to have incredibly short lifespans, something on the order of 15 or 16 months; 18 max. So once he crosses that threshold, I think we can discuss what a successful project would look like under his leadership. But broadly speaking, getting the club back to its pre-pandemic status as a yearly Champions League club, one that has a legitimate chance to advance out of the group every year, should be his goal.
Q: What areas of the pitch do you see Inter causing Roma the most problems? Any glaring weaknesses for Inzaghi to focus on?
A: Welp, we just found out we’re losing Lorenzo Pellegrini for six weeks, so that robs Roma of their best player, full stop. In terms of where Inter can attack Roma and find sustained success, there isn’t any single glaring weakness—Mourinho teams do know how to defend—but the club’s Stephan El Shaarawy-as-a-wing-back experiment could be put to the test against Inter. It’s one thing to roll those dice against Zorya or Torino but facing a club like Inter could really test Roma’s experimental formation.
Roma is also pretty wasteful in attack, so if Inter can lure them into low percentage shot areas, they should stand a good chance of shutting down Mourinho’s attack. That’s common sense to an extent, but Roma has been among the least clinical teams in Serie A for most of the season.
Q: Continuing that line of questioning, where could Roma give Inter worries? What are the Giallorossi’s biggest strengths?
A: Well, I think we hinted at it early: Tammy Abraham. After starting off the season in fine form, he hit a bit of a rough patch (and the goalposts, like, six times) but, as of last weekend, he scored three goals in his past two matches, so he appears to be rounding back into form. Roma may not shoot or finish very efficiently, but they pass, move, and create chances at the ready. Now, some of that will suffer in Pellegrini’s absence, but there is more than enough size, speed, and talent to tear a hole in the Inter backline.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Abraham and Mkhitaryan find their names on the scoreboard this weekend, so watch out for them.
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s marquee clash? How do you see Jose Mourinho lining Roma up against his old club?
A: Oh gosh, we made it this far and I didn’t even make the Mourinho-Inter connection...haha. I think losing Pellegrini will hurt our chances, but if Tammy remains hot, I can see a high-scoring draw, so I’ll say 3-3.