The pressure was on for Roma’s reserves to impress against Cluj on Thursday night.
Last week’s grim 0-0 draw at home to CSKA Sofia, the lowest-ranked side in the Europa League, raised concerns over the quality in depth of the Giallorossi squad after Paulo Fonseca made sweeping changes to his starting line-up.
Therefore, the 5-0 thumping that a similar team produced against the Romanian champions was a big response, and one that suggested patience and game time could indeed be the simple antidote some of these Roma players require.
A close eye has been trained on the intermittent displays of Borja Mayoral since he arrived on loan from Real Madrid in the summer, largely because he is Roma’s only natural centre-forward beyond 34-year-old talisman Edin Dzeko.
The Spaniard’s early appearances did little to convince anyone that he would be challenging the Bosnian for his shirt any time soon, but this time he showed what he is capable of.
The striker’s first half tap-in was his first goal in Italy, and it seemed to fill him with confidence as he had two good chances to score after the break before eventually notching his second with a calmly taken finish late on.
Fonseca has so far played his cards well in the Europa League, using it as a testing ground for rotation and experimentation, while getting results.
With two wins and a draw from their opening three games, Roma sit pretty three points clear at the top of Group A and look well set to progress to the knockout stages.
In a season as frantic and unpredictable as this one, the Portuguese will be grateful for the chance to take risks in lower-profile midweek games.
On Thursday, Gonzalo Villar was deployed in a more advanced role near Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Juan Jesus was surprisingly introduced as a left wing-back at half time and 18-year-old midfielder Tommaso Milanese made his senior debut for the final 20 minutes.
Milanese made his presence felt as he bagged an assist for Pedro’s last-minute strike, and the youngster’s confident start to first-team football should put him in contention for more minutes before the group stage is out.
It’s likely that most of the team that achieved the resounding win over the Romanians will be replaced for the trip to Genoa on Sunday.
But the fact that a second-string side can produce Roma’s biggest win of the season, and their first-ever five-goal Europa League haul, should give Fonseca more confidence in his bench for their upcoming Serie A fixtures.
Far more confidence than he would’ve had this time last week, at least.