Roma began their Europa League campaign with a 4-0 win over Istanbul Basaksehir on Thursday night, extending their unbeaten run to 13 games.
Having picked up their first win of the league season on Sunday with a first half demolition of Sassuolo, Paulo Fonseca’s men scored four again, only this time they kept a clean sheet as well.
Ambitions are high for the tournament, and things could not have got off to a better start – especially with unfancied minnows Wolfsberger thrashing Borussia Monchengladbach by the same scoreline in the group’s other game.
Roma took advantage of an early own goal, with Edin Dzeko, Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert adding to the tally to continue the positive start to the season.
Fonseca finds the right balance
It could have been easy for Fonseca to rotate his entire team, with a busy week of Serie A coming up that will see Roma face Bologna on Sunday and Atalanta on Wednesday. Indeed, the coach did take the opportunity to rest some players, with Gianluca Mancini, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Alessandro Florenzi getting a break – but a consistent spine was kept in the starting lineup.
Defenders Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov, midfielder Bryan Cristante, striker Dzeko and winger Kluivert have been among some of the club’s most consistent performers in their opening four games. All started the Europa League opener, and continued their bright form. Cristante put in his best passing display of the season – perhaps even his entire time at the club – by orchestrating play from the base of midfield. Dzeko was the ever-reliable focal point up front, scoring his 90th goal for the club as he closes in on a century. And the defensive duo also played their part in building play from the back.
There was also the opportunity for the likes of Javier Pastore, Amadou Diawara and Leonardo Spinazzola to get much-needed gametime with their first starts of the season, while Nikola Kalinic came off the bench for his debut. All in all, Fonseca made the most of the opportunity to rotate.
Nikola’s Kali-Schick moment
Kalinic’s cameo did not make the best impression, though. After being played in with a glorious through ball from in-form sub Pellegrini, the new striker had yards to run at before what should have been an easy one-on-one finish. Instead, the former Fiorentina man pulled the trigger far too early, making it an easy save for the keeper. It was reminiscent of the chance Patrik Schick – the man he has replaced at the club – missed against Juventus in his first season. Fans will only hope that it isn’t the start of a wretched spell in Rome like the one Schick went on to endure.
Praise for Pastore
When Pellegrini was replaced by Pastore against Sassuolo, the attacking midfielder’s arrival was met with a howl of boos from the fans. There could not be a greater difference between the perception of the two players – Pellegrini is Rome born and bred, one of the fans, and was comfortably the best player on the pitch that day, turning in one of the best individual displays seen at the club since the likes of Dzeko and Kostas Manolas in the famous Champions League win over Barcelona in 2018. As for Pastore, his time at Roma has been a disaster, due to injuries and a lack of quality.
However, when the reverse substitution was made against Basaksehir, Pastore was applauded off the pitch instead. Particularly in the first 15 minutes of the second half, he had started to show some quality, beating opponents easily with his range of tricks. The end product was missing, as he couldn’t quite set up a chance for his teammates, but he had done enough to begin the healing process with the supporters. Even so, a run of games will be hard to find given how well Pellegrini did when he replaced him.
Zaniolo’s versatility growing
Another player who will still pose a threat to Pastore’s chances is Nicolo Zaniolo, who delivered his best performance of the past six months. The promising midfielder hasn’t started the season in the best form, leading to his omission from the senior Italy squad for the first time since his debut, but looks to be on the road to redemption already.
Starting on the right wing for his first Europa League appearance, he caused problems for ageing full-back Gael Clichy all night thanks to his pace and strength. Whenever he has played out wide before, Zaniolo has looked wasted, but Thursday night showed that he is beginning to adapt to the demands of being a versatility man. He did not look out of place as he put in a man of the match display.
Let’s not forget that his first, and most famous, Roma goal came from the right-hand side, when he bamboozled the Sassuolo defence after cutting inside last December. Especially with Pellegrini making the number 10 role his own, Zaniolo can be a useful option on the right – as can Kluivert, whose goal came from that side of the box despite him playing as a left winger – while Cengiz Under recovers from injury.
Lopez yet to fully convince
Roma may have picked up their first clean sheet of the season, but not without a couple of nervous moments from Pau Lopez. High hopes are placed upon the Spaniard’s shoulders after Robin Olsen’s failure to live up to expectations last season. Lopez is the most expensive goalkeeper in Roma’s history, but the credit for the clean sheet does not lie with his gloves.
There was one moment in the second half when he came to claim a cross, but fumbled at it, only for the defence to spare his blushes. Of course it will take time for him to settle in – he quickly needs to gain a better grasp of the language than he did that cross – but has he made a memorable save yet? Even if he hasn’t been terrible, Lopez needs to show his worth soon.
Player Ratings: Lopez 6; Spinazzola 6; Fazio 7; Jesus 5; Kolarov 6; Diawara 5; Cristante 7; Zaniolo 8; Pastore 6; Kluivert 6; Dzeko 7
Subs: Pellegrini 7; Veretout 4; Kalinic 4
Coach: Fonseca 7
Man of the Match: Zaniolo