Roma vs CSKA Sofia: Europa League preview

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Having maintained their perfect record to start the season by beating Sassuolo with a 91st-minute goal from Stephan El Shaarawy, the Giallorossi are now looking to the group stage of the new competition that no one seems to care much about: the Europa League. Conference. Why do I say no one seems to care about the competition? Well for starters it was pretty much impossible for an American to find a legitimate feed for the two play-offs against Trabzonspor, and from what I understand a lot of people ended up using the YouTube page of a network of Turkish soap operas to watch the matches in low definition 360p. This is not exactly an endorsement of the importance of this competition.

Even if this competition is totally insignificant in the eyes of Paramount +, it is in one respect: if the Giallorossi can find a way to win it, it will be their first trophy since the 2007-2008 Coppa Italia. We laugh at the UECL and its brand new trophy, but the silverware remains the silverware for a club like the Giallorossi. I’ll take him where I can find him, and I imagine The Friedkin Group will too, so hopefully you’ll continue to join us in finding a way to watch the Giallorossi make their way through the third level of European competition.


Rome against CSKA Sofia: September 16. 9:00 p.m. CET / 3:00 a.m. EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Rome.


We have already delved into the different clubs Roma will face in the group stage; suffice to say that they are not necessarily at the level of the even weaker competition that Giallorossi faces in Serie A. Given that, the name of the game for José Mourinho will undoubtedly be rotation, rotation, rotation, at least for the early stages of the Europa League Conference.

What to watch out for

How much will Mourinho turn?

Photo by Giuseppe Bellini / Getty Images

Of course, rotation is something that can come in all shapes and sizes, and how Mourinho chooses to rotate the team against Sofia will tell if this game is close or busted. Many sources have already suggested that a fairly heavy rotation would be in effect, with Matías Viña, Jordan Veretout, Tammy Abraham, Nicolò Zaniolo and Gianluca Mancini among those who could catch their breath. If so, be on the lookout for the reaction of their replacements to their first real chance to start under José Mourinho.

We will then discuss two players who could specifically benefit from this match against Sofia, but a other player I’m looking to see break out in this game is Riccardo Calafiori. He was supposed to be in contention for a start against Sassuolo last weekend, but that didn’t happen and Viña played the full 90. Will Mourinho give him a real chance now, against much weaker competition? If he doesn’t, that could indicate how far Richy needs to go until he can be more than a nominal left-back replacement.

The return of the Max (Kumbulla)

AS Roma training session

Photo by Fabio Rossi / AS Roma via Getty Images

Max Kumbula has had an odd career in Rome since his transfer from Hellas Verona last summer. During his time in Hellas he established himself as a centerpiece of Ivan Jurić’s defense, but when he moved to Rome he became a high-priced super-submarine, registering 21 appearances during his first season with I Lupi but remaining far behind Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez in the pecking order. So far this season, there is no indication that Kumbula has done anything to change that hierarchy under Mourinho; he’s barely seen the pitch since Special One took over, registering just one appearance in qualifying for the UECL.

Kumbula is still incredibly young for a defender, but the more he straddles the pine behind Mancini and Ibañez, the more he looks like the Giallorossi could grow to regret their transfer of 28 million euros for the Albanian. If Kumbula has a chance to shine in the Europa Conference League and grabs it, however, he could quickly become a key rotation option for Roma, especially as Chris Smalling seems to be perpetually struggling to stay in shape.

Borja gets minutes?

AS Roma training session

Photo by Luciano Rossi / AS Roma via Getty Images

It really hasn’t been Borja Mayoral’s last two months. Despite being the club’s top scorer last season, the Friedkin squad have seen fit to sign Eldor Shomurodov and Tammy Abraham for permanent contracts this summer, and even with the departure of Edin Džeko, that puts Mayoral firmly in Mourinho’s “third option”. Depth table. It’s the opposite of ideal for a striker who was just starting to prove himself in the top flight, and this lack of room in the forward rotation is why rumors linking Mayoral to a move to clubs like Fiorentina and Atalanta resumed towards the end of the transfer window.

While still with the Giallorossi, don’t expect Mayoral to start in the heavily-turned side against Sofia; this starting attacking spot is likely to go to Eldor. Nevertheless, there are at least ninety minutes in every game, and given the fitness issues that several Roma forwards are currently facing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mayoral as one of the first substitutes on the bench Thursday. Just like Kumbula, if Mayoral grabs any chance Mourinho gives him on the pitch while showing he’s more than just a poacher, perhaps the Spaniard can put himself more firmly in the mix as an advanced option in the matches. Serie A.

There is little to no chance that he could become Roma’s starting striker, and if you ask me, there is an equally slim chance that the Giallorossi will end up exercising their € 20million option. on Mayoral next summer. Despite that, every chance he grabs this season increases the chances of Mayoral finding a home at a more reputable club, or maybe even returning to real Madrid. How’s that for the incentive to perform?

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