We’ve been waiting nearly two weeks for Juventus’ next match after the narrow Derby della Mole win over Torino right before the international break. And it just so happens that, a lot like things were after the last international break, Juventus resumes play with quite a big and important fixture.
It’s not Napoli in Naples. Instead, it’s a home game against Roma in Turin.
But, because of Juventus’ current situation and then need for three points every chance Max Allegri’s team steps onto the field, this first game out of the latest international break is just as important as the last one. Juventus facing Roma is almost always a good one on paper, and this is very much one that has a whole lot of spice to it knowing who is currently managing both of these clubs.
It’s been a few years since Allegri and Jose Mourinho managed against one another. Back then, it was in the Champions League when Juventus faced Manchester United. This time around, it’s because Mighty Mo has moved back to Italy and now calls Rome as his home. And it just so happens that with Juventus and Roma playing one another this weekend, we decided to go check-in with our favorite Roma fan friend of the blog.
Hello again, Bren!
Even though Roma has seen its perfect start go by the wayside, Bren can officially say that his favorite team enters this matchup in a much better place in the standings than my favorite team. And thankfully for all of us, he was nice enough to not remind us of that too often, instead choosing to talk about his own team rather than mock our favorite team.
We asked Bren about, you guessed it, Mourinho and the impact he’s had during his first couple of months at Roma. We asked about the one Pellegrini that still remains at Roma. And we asked about Roma’s newest English import.
So, away we go. Let’s see what Mr. Bren has to say about his favorite club.
BWRAO: Bren, my friend, welcome back for another one of these. Let’s get it going with the gray-haired Portuguese elephant in the room: How would you describe the first couple months of the Jose Mourinho experience at Roma?
CDT: Well, apart from a pair of 3-2 defeats to Hellas Verona and later Lazio, it’s been all aces: 15 points through seven matches and a perfect record in the Europa Conference League. I’m sure there are some fans who paid too much attention to the negative press from his time with Spurs and are waiting for the other shoe to drop, but through his first few months on the job, he looks like a transformative figure for Roma. There’s a certain seriousness attached to his name that we haven’t seen or felt since Capello was in town and it makes you think that, in time, anything is possible
BWRAO: I guess to go off of that, what’s been the good and what’s been the bad of Mourinho so far?
CDT: The good aspects of Roma’s Mourinho Makeover revolve primarily around the emergence of Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini’s career year in the making. I’m not sure many fans were expecting Edin Dzeko to finally leave and to be replaced by a kid as talented as Abraham, but thanks to his quick acclimation to Serie A, Roma’s attack looks more efficient and dangerous than at any point in recent memory. Couple that with Nicolo Zaniolo’s return and the continued excellence of Jordan Veretout and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and things are looking up in the capital.
Honestly, we haven’t seen any real drawbacks to the Mourinho experience just yet. Roma is winning while playing some pretty entertaining football, so whatever complaints we may have would be pretty granular. He’s been a tad slow to trust Roma’s youngest players, but we’re seeing Ebrima Darboe start to carve out a role in midfield, but he doesn’t seem to have any use for Bryan Reynolds, who was no easy transfer just last season, so that’s been a bit puzzling. I don’t expect Roma to keep winning at this clip, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts when things get tough and the media really starts hounding him, but at the moment, we’re on cloud nine.
BWRAO: Last Jose question: It’s not like Roma’s roster is completely different from a season ago, so what has Mourinho been able to do that his fellow countryman and predecessor wasn’t able to do?
CDT: Hmm, that is really an excellent question and I think it’s one that extends beyond the pitch. Paulo Fonseca utilized a pretty similar tactical set up when he first arrived, so it’s not as if Mourinho is reinventing the wheel here, but the real difference between the two managers is simple: one was hired by the current owners and the other wasn’t. Fonseca never really enjoyed the full trust of the Friedkin Group or GM Tiago Pinto, nor was he the first choice when he was hired, so he was always a long shot to be brought back this season. And credit to the Roma leadership for pouncing on Mourinho the minute he was available, but more than that, they seem to be working in lockstep with him to improve the squad, spending within their limits while also recognizing that this won’t be a quick and easy fix. Tiago Pinto and José Mourinho were the Friedkins first substantial personnel decisions since acquiring the club, so I think they will get all the support and leeway they need as they attempt to make Roma a legitimate winner.
Given that Fonseca had to deal with the pandemic and the change in ownership all within a year or so of taking the gig, any comparison between him and Mourinho is inherently unfair, so Mourinho’s early successes don’t necessarily mean Fonseca failed. There’s just a certain gravity to Mourinho that Fonseca can never replicate, and it’s one that’s already helping Roma on the pitch, on the transfer market, and in between the players’ ears.
BWRAO: Lorenzo Pellegrini, clearly the better of the two Pellegrinis in this Juve-Roma matchup, has been mentioned as one of the best players in Serie A so far this season. Has this big jump forward by him been expected? Is it more of a pleasant surprise?
CDT: It’s a bit of both, really. We have a saying at CdT: You don’t know why it matters when a Roman plays for Roma; you just know that it matters a lot. When a talented local kid plays for Roma, every season, every match, and hell, every touch is dissected to the nth degree. And when we’re talking about Lorenzo Pellegrini, who is not only Roman born and bred, and not only a youth academy product, but was a ball boy during the 2010s when Francesco Totti was the King of Rome, that math gets even more complex. He’s essentially been the anointed one since he was barely old enough to drive, so he’s never known a life free of outlandish expectations. So in that light, the Pellegrini we’re seeing this season is the player we’ve been expecting for years. I hesitate to say it’s a complete surprise because he racked up 8 goals and 15 assists over the past two Serie A campaigns, but he definitely is playing with more aggression, intelligence, and confidence than we’ve ever seen. It’s not crazy to think he could wind up with 12 to 15 goals and maybe another 10 or 11 assists this year.
BWRAO: How has Nico Zaniolo looked since returning from yet another major knee injury?
CDT: I mean, he’s back, and that’s really all we should have expected after missing basically two full seasons with ACL tears. There have been some great moments where we’ve seen the strong, confident, and aggressive Zaniolo that looked like Italy’s next global superstar, but we’ve also seen some uncertainty and some inconsistencies, which are perfectly natural when you consider how much time he’s missed. I don’t expect we’ll see the real Zaniolo until sometime in 2022, but the simple fact that he’s playing free from pain and injury is really all we could ask for at the start of the year.
BWRAO: Small sample size, obviously, but just how fast have you come to love Tammy Abraham? What kind of jolt of energy has he brought to Roma’s attack so far this season?
CDT: For me personally, as someone who really doesn’t follow the Premiership, I could only go off what I heard and read, which was basically “he’s a talented kid but not the total package.” And through the first two months or so of the season, I can confidently say that he was sold woefully short; this kid is as real as they come. He’s stronger, faster, and more creative than he was given credit for; he really is a complete striker. When Dzeko left, there was some concern about how Roma would play without a hulking, total striker—which Dzeko was despite his inconsistent scoring and shooting—but they haven’t missed a beat with Abraham. I suspect we’ll have to spend the entire summer writing about Chelsea or PSG or I guess even Newcastle now wanting to sign him for, like, €90 million.
But back to the question at hand: yes, he’s provided a jolt to Roma’s attack. For all the reasons we’ve already discussed and because he’s struck up quick chemistry with Pellegrini, Zaniolo, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he allows Roma to play quicker and more directly than they could with the larger and slower Dzeko. And once Abraham really gets in tune with the rest of the attack, Roma will be incredibly dangerous.
BWRAO: Match prediction — go!
CDT: The only thing that gives me pause is that this match is at the Allianz and we’re coming off a two-week break; not ideal circumstances. But I honestly think Roma can and will win this one. I think it’ll be a four or five-goal barnburner, but Roma will prevail.