Roma Have Problems, But Jose Mourinho Has Time To Fix His Tired Squad

This likely wasn’t what Romelu Lukaku signed up for when he accepted Jose Mourinho’s call to join him in the Italian capital.

Even if it was very early days into the new season and with 35 games left to play, Lukaku’s new team are languishing in the relegation zone with just a single point on the board from three games played. Roma’s opening games of the season weren’t the most strenuous, in truth. Yes, the game against Milan was always going to represent a difficult challenge, but at least it was at home and Mourinho no doubt would’ve wanted at least a point from the game against the Rossoneri. Yet games against Salernitana and Verona should’ve seen Roma win both and go into the Milan game with six points in the board.

None of this happened: a 2-2 draw against Salernitana at home hardly is the kind of result to send optimism souring, and a 2-1 defeat to Verona saw mistakes from Rui Patricio and Chris Smalling punished in the most brutal fashion by the home side.

Much will change over the course of the next nine months, but it’s difficult to see Mourinho reaching his objective and finishing in the top four. That’s been the aim for the Friedkin Group since that took control of the club in 2020. The closest Roma have come to breaking back into the Champions League was reaching last season’s Europa League final, losing narrowly to Sevilla.

Since then, Mourinho has had to watch on enviously as Inter and Milan strengthened their squads over the summer, while Juve maintained a lot of their marquee players and didn’t lost any real quality. Roma’s FFP regulations have continually hamstrung Mourinho in the market, and this has been evident in Roma’s final positions in Serie A over the last two seasons. They simply haven’t been good enough to crack into the top four.

Despite the arrival of Lukaku, Renato Sanches, Leandro Parades, Houssem Aouar and Evan Ndicka, it’s difficult to see Roma genuinely breaking into the top four by season’s end. As ever, much will depend on keeping Paulo Dybala fit. The Argentine makes Roma tick creatively and they look an infinitely inferior side when he isn’t on the pitch. Yet his fragile body can’t be depended on to hold together for an entire season. A potential Dybala-Lukaku partnership looks great on paper, and one that could spearhead Roma into the top four, but with both suffering from injuries together over the last 12 months, it remains to be seen how many games they will play as a duo.

Defensively, Roma have looked so vulnerable and open in the first three games of the season. Defensive solidarity is usually a Mourinho hallmark: his teams are never easy on the eye, but they can be difficult to break down. Four goals conceded against Salernitana and Verona hardly screams unity at the back. Rui Patricio, who has been reliable in goal for the last two seasons, is seemingly making one serious blunder per-game. Chris Smalling and many of the veterans of the Mourinho era such as Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gianluca Mancini and Leonardo Spinazzola are looking a little leggy in the opening stages, with some arguably lacking the right motivation after two years under Mourinho.

Roma now have four league games after the international break against Empoli, Torino, Genoa and Frosinone. There can be little doubt that nothing short of 12 points gained would be a disaster for the club. Moreover, they will need new signing Lukaku to hit the ground running and start scoring goals. Having gone so close in the Europa League last season, it’s debatable whether Mourinho will give as much attention to the competition this season, and may put all his eggs in the Serie A basket.

Roma aren’t in a crisis, but things need to improve in a timely manner. Otherwise the Mourinho era could end in a whimper instead of a bang.

But for now, there’s still time.

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