AS Roma’s recruitment this summer had the pundits purring in anticipation ahead of the Serie A season kick-off. The addition of Paulo Dybala was viewed as a game-changing move that could push the Giallorossi towards the top-four, or even better.
But there was something quite anti-climactic about the start to life with the ‘Fantastic Four’ of Dybala, Tammy Abraham, Nicolo Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini playing together.
Jose Mourinho’s men mustered just three goals in their opening three games and only one of those, Abraham’s equaliser against Juventus, was scored by an attacker.
Where was the showcase of attacking fury?
On Tuesday night, it was unleashed for the first time in 2022/23 against hapless Monza, whose league-worst defence provided the perfect target for Roma’s heavy artillery.
The aforementioned quartet hasn’t been fielded in the last two games, since Zaniolo’s injury, with Mourinho switching to a combative midfield of Nemanja Matic and Bryan Cristante instead to support his front three.
But that tactical switch, and the arrival of Giovanni Stroppa’s strugglers to the Eternal City, helped the goal tap finally be turned on – with an inspired Dybala at the centre of it all.
Dybala unchained as Mourinho plays waiting game with AS Roma
Roma were happy to cede possession to Monza, with the aim of drawing the visitors forward before winning the ball back and catching them out with fast, vertical counter-attacks.
It worked a treat. When a long ball was sent towards the halfway line on the 18th minute, Dybala was already on the move before it reached Abraham.
The England striker won the flick-on, and La Joya took it full pace in his stride, before dribbling into the box and dispatching a composed finish into the far corner.
It was a wonderful piece of skill and anticipation from the former Juventus man to mark his first Roma goal.
He showed another side to his game, grit and determination, with the second goal, as the Argentine slid in to beat a defender to a loose ball and steer into an empty net.
Dybala could’ve had three when he shot straight at Michele Di Gregorio early in the second half, but he put in a hugely encouraging performance shining with confidence and creativity.
It’s unusual to see a big side spend so much time off the ball against the bottom team in the league, but Mourinho’s approach paid off.
Roma ended the game with just 39% possession, but won comfortably and could’ve had an even better night had Abraham, Pellegrini or debutant Andrea Belotti finished good chances.
Stroppa feeling the heat at Monza
It would be unreasonable to expect Giovanni Stroppa to start fast this season, considering that Monza are competing in Serie A for the first time and that they’ve brought in 20 new players since being promoted.
Twenty. You read that right. Six of the starting XI at the Olimpico were new signings.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that the anticipation around what the Lombardy club run by Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani could achieve this season has been dampened somewhat by their slow start.
That they can’t stop shipping goals, conceding a league-high 11 in four matches, and they are bottom of the table, still waiting for their first point as a top-flight club.
It is early days, and to be fair to Stroppa he’s not had the easiest of starts with trips to Naples and Rome, but rumours of a move to replace him with Roberto De Zerbi will not go away until this team starts to click.
They improved in the second half, but failed to truly test Rui Patricio or create noteworthy chances throughout, too often resorting to throwing balls in towards the hulking figure of Andrea Petagna.
The fixture list isn’t imminently getting much easier for the Biancorossi, either. Their next two home games are against Atalanta and Juventus, with a trip to fellow newly-promoted side Lecce in between that looks like an absolute must-win.
Given the ambitious nature of this club, they’re unlikely to have the patience to wait too long for points.