When Jose Mourinho looks around the dressing room on Sunday evening ahead of Roma’s opening game of the Serie A season against Salernitana, there should at least be a hint of a smile from the often stern-faced manager. Surely, Mourinho will be happy with his lot.
Roma are the team that many calcio fans are talking about ahead of the opening matchweek. Some even go as far as saying they’re dark horses for the scudetto. Such sentiments may prove not quite as fanciful as at first glance, even for a team that finished sixth last term.
Mourinho and the Roma hierarchy have overseen strong recruitment this summer with their squad notably strengthened, particularly in attack. Celebration reigned in the Italian capital when the Portuguese manager guided Roma to their first European trophy since 1961 at the end of his first season in charge in May, lifting the inaugural Uefa Europa Conference League trophy in Tirana.
However, expectations have heightened as the arrivals have kept coming through the summer, seemingly sold by Mourinho’s project in Rome. Paulo Dybala has turned to pastures new after his influence petered out at Juventus and arrives at Roma on a free transfer, Gini Wijnaldum has signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain while Nemanja Matic and Zeki Celik have come in from Manchester United and Lille respectively. Andrea Belotti is on his way from Torino.
Such additions have added notable verve to a Roma team who were impressive at times last season despite finishing with a gap of 23 points to the table’s summit. Mourinho’s 3-4-2-1 has also brought good results in pre-season — including a win over Tottenham Hotspur, his former club — with only one defeat in six games.
However, it is at the Stadio Arechi on Sunday that Roma’s quest for a first league title since 2001 begins in earnest. Tammy Abraham, who scored 27 goals in 53 appearances during his first campaign at Roma, will be hoping to challenge for the Capocannoniere from the off, and with Dybala and Nicolo Zaniolo flanking him, Roma have an eye-catching trident up front.
Yet any Mourinho success would naturally be built on a resilient defence; and Rui Patricio, Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini all demonstrated their qualities during last season. A full pre-season under Mourinho’s tutelage will only have benefitted.
Milan clubs played out immense title race last term
Should Mourinho match his league triumphs — which have already encompassed England, Spain and Italy, with Inter Milan — then his team must overcome last season’s Serie A winners: AC Milan. Although their transfer business has been muted, they are still considered favourites by many.
Stefano Piolo will hope to steer the same group that achieved success last season to a similar end with his progressive play. That said, they do have Belgium’s next big thing: 21-year-old Charles De Ketelaere. A 6ft 4in No.10, he scored 14 goals for Club Brugge last season.
Inter were mightily close to pipping their city rivals last season, falling two points short, and have welcomed Romelu Lukaku back after a miserable spell at Stamford Bridge. It was at the Milan club that the best spell of Lukaku’s career came — he was Inter’s top scorer and leading assist provided in 2020/21— but that was under Antonio Conte while it is Simone Inzaghi and a slightly different style of play that awaits his return.
Player-wise, it is more or less as it was when Lukaku left — except for Ivan Perisic who’s left for Spurs. The defence of Alessandro Bastoni, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar remains an area which Inzaghi can build on to keep Inter as a legitimate threat.
Doubts surround the Old Lady
Intrigue surrounds Juventus and whether they can wrestle back the Serie A crown which for a decade was theirs alone. Such dominance is no longer the case, and Massimiliano Allegri must improve on last season’s relatively dire showing in which his team were never in the title race and ended up fourth.
Managing the arrival of Angel Di Maria and return of Paul Pogba will be Allegri’s main task early on, and the Italian manager’s playbook may be in need of expansion. Federico Chiesa will hope to continue his solid form having signed permanently after two seasons on loan.
Further south and Napoli are undergoing a transition. Captain and local hero Lorenzo Insigne, his deputy Kalidou Koulibaly and fan favourite Dries Mertens have all departed after lengthy spells in Naples and, as a consequence, manager Luciano Spalletti will have his work cut out to get his charges into the top four. Hopes will be pinned on Victor Osimhen matching the performances displayed in the first half of last season rather than the second.
A debutant and 26-year returnee
Elsewhere in the league and there will be plenty of eyes on Serie A debutants Monza, who are run by ex-Milan moguls Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani. They have spent and recruited whole-heartedly which could see their aim of becoming a top-flight regular materialise. Also hoping to stay up following promotion are Cremonese, back in Serie A after a 26-season absence.
Recent strugglers Sampdoria and Torino will be looking over their shoulders towards the bottom. Meanwhile, Atalanta and Gian Piero Gasperini will want to return to European qualification having got the taste for it. Fiorentina could win hearts and minds with their exciting style under Vincenzo Italiano. A second season better than the first will do Maurizio Sarri at Lazio.