2021 European Apertura Top 25 (8 of 25)
Though his star has somewhat dimmed since his days at Chelsea, Internazionale, and Real Madrid, José Mourinho’s arrival at Roma was still a subject of much interest, particularly given the side’s sparkling start to the season. With English import Tammy Abraham leading the line, Roma put seven past Fiorentina and Salernitana while conceding only one in their opening two games. Sassuolo, however, were Mourinho’s stiffest competition thus far. Though under new manager, Alessio Dionisi, this was a side who had finished 8th place for two consecutive seasons under Walter De Zerbi, challenging Atalanta title as the hipster’s Serie A favorite with their attractive attacking style. Add in the fact that this was Mourinho’s 1000th game as a manager, and the table was set for night to remember.
Both sides had chances in the first half, as Domenico Berardi had a goal called back for offsides in the build-up, while Abraham put a shot narrowly wide of the left post. In the latter stages of the half, Abraham won a free kick off Vlad Chiricheș, and Lorenzo Pellegrini passed it into the box for Bryan Cristante to score off a well-executed training ground routine. After the break, Sassuolo brought on striker Gianluca Scamacca and his impact was immediate. Shortly before the hour mark, he found Berardi on the right side of the box, who spun gracefully away from Matías Viña and found Filip Đuričić at the near post for an equalizing goal.
Roma immediately raised their level, with Pellegrini forcing a save from Andrea Consigli and Abraham hitting the post almost immediately after conceding. But as the opportunities again began to favor Sassuolo, Moruinho added first Stephan El Shaarawy and then Eldor Shomurodov and Carles Pérez in support of Abraham. Dionisi responded with his own attacking changes, first Grégoire Defrel and then Hamed Traorè, who hit the post only minutes after his introduction. That was shortly before the end of regulation; in injury time, center-back Gianluca Mancini launched a ball forward that Shomurodov cushioned back for El Shaarawy to stroke home a beautiful late winner. Mourinho was off the bench and dashing to the Curva Sud in celebration.
This would prove the high point of Roma’s first half of the season, taking the club to the top of the table as the highest-scoring undefeated side. A 2-3 loss to Hellas Verona the following weekend would see them drop to 4th, and though they entered the winter break in 6th place they were no longer the talk of Italy. Sassuolo, too, dropped off after this game, ending the first half of the season in 13th. Tactical Analysis from: Running the Show, Mr. Blue (YouTube).