Jose Mourinho desperately needed to fix AS Roma’s dreadful form in big games, and Matchday 17‘s 2-0 victory over Napoli will give the coach reason to hope he is on the path to doing just that.
The Giallorossi’s miserable record in such matches was one of the main arguments cast against them earning a coveted top-four spot this season.
It was more important now than ever to change the narrative, as the visit of Napoli was the first in a run of four massive tests for the Giallorossi, who now face Juventus and AC Milan away either side of hosting Atalanta.
AS Roma’s usual big game woes
For all Roma’s joy in Europe since Mourinho arrived, their underwhelming Serie A campaigns have largely been a result of their failure to pick up points – and deny them their opponents – in head-to-head clashes with top-four rivals.
Before the Napoli match, Roma hadn’t won any of their last 13 games against teams who started the game week in the top five positions.
Overall, since Mourinho arrived they had mustered just five wins in 27 games against fellow members of the so-called ‘Sette Sorelle’ (seven sisters): Inter, Juventus, Milan, Napoli, Lazio and Atalanta.
It was a shockingly bad return that ultimately stopped them from breaking the top four and achieving Champions League qualification in Mourinho’s first two years in charge.
Win over Napoli offers opportunity for change
Before the visit of the champions, their record for 2023/24 looked ominous, with one point gained from three games against Inter, Milan and Lazio – a 0-0 Rome Derby draw.
The chaotic manner of their victory against Walter Mazzarri’s side won’t be something they can reproduce week on week, aided as it was by two red cards for the visitors, but the Lupi had the better chances when the numbers were even and played a smart and balanced game.
Away from home will be another test, especially against sides performing better than this disjointed and unpredictable version of Napoli.
But they have one superpower that others lack, and it was again on show against Mazzarri’s men.
Roma have become late-game assassins this season, producing a stoppage time come-from-behind win over Lecce, a 90th-minute victory against Monza and a late comeback in Sassuolo to take nine points that looked unlikely.
They were at it again on Saturday, rolling on the subs and scoring twice inside the final 15 minutes to steer a game in their favour that was previously in the balance. This calendar year, Roma have scored 26 goals in that period, from the 75th minute onwards, including nine of their last 11 goals overall.
According to Opta, that has equalled their historic record of 26 from 2016. If it shows one thing, it’s that Mourinho has successfully instilled a never-give-up attitude in his players.
If he can now add to that a belief that they can build on their Napoli victory and take down more illustrious opponents over the turn of the year and beyond, a top-four finish will suddenly look far more attainable in previous years and could finally end that five-year wait for Champions League football.