Jose Mourinho has had a hectic October with Roma. In keeping with his character, the Portuguese wasted no time in calling out individuals for not being up to scratch, before then fielding those exact players in a 6-1 to loss Bodo Glimt.
Mourinho put himself in the spotlight after calling out Bryan Reynolds, Marash Kumbulla, and Riccardo Calafiori following the Giallorossi’s 1-0 Serie A loss to Juventus on October 17, before selecting them days later in the Europa Conference League – a decision that clearly backfired as they took a hammering in Norway.
He then led his team to a 0-0 draw with Napoli after dropping several fringe players from the squad in favour of his youth players. Fast forward three more days, and the Roma coach found himself travelling away to rock-bottom Cagliari for a midweek fixture in Round 10.
Once again, Mourinho axed Borja Mayoral, Gonzalo Villar, Amadou Diawara, and Bryan Reynolds from his squad in favour of seven players under the age of 20 to fill the bench.
There were places on the bench for Calafiori, Nicola Zalewski, Filippo Tripi and Edoardo Bove – all 19 – as well as 17-year-old Cristian Volpato and eventual debutant, Felix Afena-Gyan, 18, making another statement.
The game itself, started very slowly as both teams failed to register a single shot on target during the first half. Casteddu’s Raoul Bellanova did manage to rattle the crossbar with a lovely effort, but the teams went in goalless with fans left yawning.
Cagliari came out fighting knowing that a win would have taken them out of the relegation zone, and went ahead in the 52nd minute thanks to Leonardo Pavoletti’s first goal of the season, no thanks to Roma defender Matias Vina who horrendously misjudged a Razvan Marin cross to enable the Cagliari forward to fire home.
Fast forward five minutes and with one fell swoop of Mourinho’s axe, Vina was replaced by a striker. The player in question was Ghanain Afena-Gyan who stepped on smiling from ear-to-ear as he made his Serie A debut. It proved to be a good move by Mourinho as his side were level four minutes later when Lorenzo Pellegrini put a corner on the head of Roger Ibanez for the defender to nod home. A Mourinho masterclass? Maybe, but things certainly looked up from there.
Pellegrini wrapped a lovely free-kick – their first since Aleksander Kolarov in 2019 – into the top corner just seven minutes later and all was well with Roma, although Mourinho still looked agitated as he sat in amongst the home fans, surrounded by bodyguards. Roma had hit the bar via Stephan El Shaarawy in between scoring both goals and have now banged the woodwork eight times this season. Only Spain’s Real Betis – nine – have hit the posts more in Europe’s top-five leagues this season.
The Giallorossi saw the game out to move back into a Champions League spot after Inter and Atalanta had won earlier in the evening, but the 2-1 loss only managed to compile their opponents’ misery further. Cagliari remain bottom with just six points from the opening 10 games.
Mazzarri’s men up for the fight
Although Walter Mazzarri’s team have only won one game this season, they showed fighting signs against Roma on Wednesday night, despite missing Diego Godin, Martin Caceres, Nahitan Nandez and Kevin Strootman. Leonardo Pavoletti, a fan favourite on the island, put in a good performance after being chosen ahead of Keita Balde from the off.
The target man got his first of the season, had a lovely diving header tipped away by Rui Patricio and had a glaring chance to put his team two up, only to slip at the last minute and completely miskick the ball, but he looked a lot sharper than many had expected.
In fact, his post-match interview had a touch of humour about it as he likened his left foot to a walking stick: “I’m sorry, the ball found me wide open and I thought I could catch the keeper going the wrong way, but I slipped and connected with my walking stick of a left foot. It’s a shame”.
One talking point for Casteddu is their formation and the uncertainty surrounding who does what in certain phases of play. They lined up with a 4-4-2 which became a deep 4-5-1 under sustained Giallorossi pressure, leaving talisman Joao Pedro wide left and out of the game, unable to get on the ball in key areas.
If Cagliari are to avoid the drop then they’ll need their main man in and around the box as much as possible, although tactics may have been implemented as a one-off, needs-must measure due to their lack of key players against much stronger opponent.
Six points from 10 games is a negative that hasn’t been seen in Cagliari’s last 15 Serie A seasons, so they’ll want to put an end to that when they visit Bologna next Monday night. However, they showed enough fight against Roma to leave their fans beleiving that it can be done.