It was never going to be the most exhilarating of European nights in the capital.
With all due respect, the ambitions of Roma – not to mention their new owners the Friedkin group – will be much bigger than a Europa League group stage meeting with CSKA Sofia, a team ranked at No.200 in Europe by UEFA.
That said, these games have their uses, and Giallorossi boss Paulo Fonseca spotted an opportunity to use his side’s clash with the Bulgarians – the lowest-ranked team in the competition in the UEFA coefficient – as a platform for rotation and experimentation.
Eight changes were made to the side that drew 3-3 with Milan on the weekend, each with their own motivation to impress.
Pau Lopez is facing a fight to win his place in goal back after being ousted by Antonio Mirante this season, while his compatriots Gonzalo Villar and Carles Perez haven’t demonstrated with any real conviction why they should be in the starting line-up since their January arrivals in the capital.
A fourth Spaniard, Borja Mayoral, is yet to open his account for his new club since joining on loan from Real Madrid, while Bruno Peres had the chance to show why he’s the answer to Roma’s right wing-back conundrum and Bryan Cristante was handed the responsibility of the captaincy.
At the back, Chris Smalling made his second debut for the club after returning from Manchester United on a permanent deal in the summer, and Federico Fazio, not too long ago a first-choice centre-back, was given what has become a very rare starting spot.
The outcome was disappointing. With so many players having points to prove, very few statements were made.
Smalling was an exception. The centre-back slotted into the centre of the back three with ease and put in a commanding shift, battering away headers, launching into challenges with gusto and even showing good technique to score an early volley that was chalked off for offside.
He was replaced in the second half, which was understandable given his recent return from injury, but perhaps also a suggestion that he will be on the team sheet when Fiorentina visit the capital on Sunday night.
Lopez made several stops to deny a CSKA side that was strong and quick on the counter, while Gonzalo Villar had some good moments like a dinked pass to set up the best chance of the game, when Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s volleyed lob hit the top of the bar.
But the players Roma looked to for some inspiration failed to provide it, namely Mayoral and Perez. The attacking duo failed to penetrate the visiting defence, and mustered one shot on target between them.
The major worry for Fonseca will be that if they are unable to perform against a team that is fifth in the Bulgarian top flight and came into this clash on a four-match winless run, they can’t be trusted in important Serie A fixtures.
Mayoral’s disappointing display was a particular concern, as the Lupi will need him to step up and fill Edin Dzeko’s shoes during the busy season ahead.
He will need time. It is worth remembering that the 23-year-old has only just arrived in Italy and must get used to the style and system he is being asked to operate in.
The same can’t be said for Perez, who has shown glimpses of his undoubted ability, not least with his spectacular solo goal against Benevento from the bench earlier this month.
But fleeting moments won’t cut it, and the 22-year-old needs to use these games to prove he can compete with, or at least effectively stand in for, Mkhitaryan and Pedro. After 10 months at the club, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.
A goalless draw isn’t the end of the world, and Roma are still joint-top of their group. But performances like this do little to quieten accusations that this team depends too much on the likes of Dzeko and Mkhitaryan.