After an impressive recruitment drive over the summer break, Roma get their 2022-23 campaign under way against Salernitana on Sunday evening.
Having finished sixth last season in Serie A, the Europa Conference League winners now seek to take the next step under Jose Mourinho, and they start against a side that defied the odds to survive relegation in May.
A tumultuous first year under their charismatic coach ended in glory for Roma, as they were crowned the inaugural Conference League champions in Tirana, though they fell short in their quest for Champions League qualification by some seven points.
The Giallorossi will therefore enter the Europa League at the group stage this term, and for the challenge ahead, Jose Mourinho has recruited a host of experienced heads.
A special Eternal City welcome was laid on for Paulo Dybala, whose successful time at Juventus came to an injury-plagued end, with two former Premier League stars Georginio Wijnaldum and Nemanja Matic also arriving to supplement the squad.
Some dead wood has been cleared out too, but Mourinho may have preferred to retain midfield pair Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jordan Veretout, who left for Inter and Marseille respectively.
After two wins from their first four friendlies of the summer, Roma saw off both Tottenham Hotspur and Shakhtar Donetsk without conceding a goal, and they are set to stick with a similar lineup for their first competitive game of the season.
As they have not lost a Serie A season opener since 2011, and face modest opposition, the capital club can travel south confident of claiming all three points.
Of their previous six top-flight encounters with Roma, Salernitana have won only once, and though the Campanian club start as outsiders on Sunday, they will be glad just to get their toes on the start line following last season’s events.
Having narrowly avoided expulsion from the league a month earlier, the Granata appointed proven survival specialist Davide Nicola in February, as the club’s new ownership decided to make a managerial change.
The third coach of the season at Stadio Arechi, Nicola turned the ship around and ultimately defied the odds to keep Salernitana afloat, after previously saving Crotone, Genoa and hometown club Torino from the trapdoor to Serie B.
Nonetheless, after finishing with the lowest points tally to escape relegation in the three-points-for-a-win era, the southern side will need to improve if they are to secure a third straight Serie A season.
With that in mind, Matteo Lovato has been brought in on a permanent deal to shore up the defence, with Lille left-back Domagoj Bradaric and goalkeeper Luigi Sepe also signing up for the challenge of defying the drop.
After a series of draws in pre-season, Salernitana were dumped out of the Coppa Italia by Serie B side Parma last week, and that 2-0 home defeat does not bode well for the visit of Roma.
Though he took a flexible approach last term, Jose Mourinho is expected to start off with a back three this season, while two attacking midfielders support a lone striker up front.
Therefore, as in Roma’s final two friendlies, Nicolo Zaniolo, Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala will occupy the final third, with captain Lorenzo Pellegrini forced into a deeper role.
Abraham’s first season in Rome brought 27 goals across 53 appearances, and his first Serie A strike came against Salernitana at the Arechi last August – only Ciro Immobile scored more times than the England striker in away matches last term.
As young full-back Nicola Zalewski has recovered from an ankle injury sustained against Spurs, he contests a place on the left flank with Leonardo Spinazzola. On the right, Rick Karsdorp is set to start ahead of new signing Zeki Celik – his fellow Dutchman Gini Wijnaldum will be on the bench.
Salernitana kick off the campaign with an attack weakened by the exits of Ederson and Milan Djuric, but 39-year-old Franck Ribery remains, and some late additions offer Davide Nicola a range of options this weekend.
Norway Under-21 forward Erik Botheim scored 15 times in the Eliteserien last season, and netted twice in Bodo/Glimt’s infamous 6-1 win over Roma in the Conference League, while veteran winger Antonio Candreva will provide width following his switch from Sampdoria.
While the latter is unlikely to start, given he only arrived in Salerno this week, 2021-22 top scorer Federico Bonazzoli – now at the club on a permanent deal – should lead the line up front. Meanwhile, Matteo Lovato, Ivan Radovanovic and new boy Domagoj Bradaric are all sidelined through injury.
Salernitana possible starting lineup:
Sepe; Gyomber, Fazio, Pirola; Kechrida, Capezzi, Coulibaly, Kastanos, Mazzocchi; Botheim, Bonazzoli
Roma possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Matic, Pellegrini, Zalewski; Dybala, Zaniolo; Abraham