Roma get underway in their Europa Conference League group on Thursday with a home match against CSKA Sofia.
It marks a reunion between familiar opponents, who were also paired together in the group stage of last season’s Europa League. Although Roma topped the group and CSKA Sofia came bottom, the side from the Bulgarian capital were the only team that Paulo Fonseca’s side did not beat in either of their meetings in last season’s competition.
Now, Roma are in a new era with Jose Mourinho in charge and looking to continue his positive start after winning his 1000th match in management in dramatic circumstances.
Mourinho’s Roma reign actually began in the Conference League, with the first leg of the play-off tie against Trabzonspor. It was evidence that there are tough opponents around every corner of this competition, despite some turning their noses up at it, so there can be no room for any underestimations.
That said, Mourinho will rotate his lineup so he can prioritise Serie A – even if he still retains faith in those who will be coming in.
He has confirmed that Riccardo Calafiori will play at left-back, for example, while Stephan El Shaarawy will get his own chance after scoring the winner against Sassuolo at the weekend.
The only other hint at his team news was that he would not change both centre-backs at once. He also said he was yet to tell Nicolo Zaniolo and Carles Perez which one of them would be starting on the opposite wing to El Shaarawy.
For the opponents, there have also been a few changes since this time last year. They have a new coach in the dugout, with Stoycho Mladenov returning for a fifth spell. On the pitch, meanwhile, Tiago Rodrigues and Ali Sowe – both of whom scored in the second meeting last season, a 3-1 win for CSKA Sofia – were sold over the summer.
Also since that fixture, striker Jordy Caicedo has arrived at the Bulgarian Army Stadium and made a good impression, although he is suspended for this match.
It will be another factor that plays into the hands of Roma, already the favourites to get off to a winning start in the group stage.
As last season showed though, nothing can be taken for granted.
The game kicks off at 8pm UK time on Thursday and will be available to watch live on the BT Sport ESPN channel.
Francesco Totti’s autobiography is released in English this month by deCoubertin – you can pre-order it here.