Roma’s early momentum dissipates to leave Mourinho pointing the finger | Serie A

The players were in the tunnel ready to emerge for the second half at the Mapei Stadium, but José Mourinho was headed in the opposite direction, returning from the dugout to the changing room. Roma were drawing 0-0 with Sassuolo but just for a moment that was not his priority, as he went to retrieve a team shirt to give to a young supporter in a wheelchair he had noticed beside the pitch.

This gesture could not surprise anyone who has followed Mourinho in his career. This is the man who gave a Manchester United supporter the jacket off his own back, and who had Inter staff send him the first person in the queue for Champions League final tickets so he could give them two free of charge. Such generosity with individuals has always been part of his nature. And so has a habit for singling out scapegoats when things go wrong.

By full-time, we had progressed to the latter. The game ended 1-1, Tammy Abraham putting Roma ahead in the 80th minute before Andrea Pinamonti equalised in the 84th. Despite briefly leading, Mourinho’s team deserved no more than a draw, showing commitment in the tackle but little inspiration on the ball. The better chances fell to their hosts.

More compelling than the game itself was the post-game press conference that followed. “Our efforts were betrayed by a player with an unprofessional attitude,” said Mourinho. “Mistakes are part of the game; footballers know they can mess up. But I don’t like unprofessional attitudes. I had 16 players on the pitch: I liked the attitude of 15. The other one, not so much.”

He declined to name names but said he had done so in the changing room, inviting the target of his ire to find a new club. “You have never seen me be critical of Rui Patricio who made a mistake here last year or [Lorenzo] Pellegrini who missed a penalty against Juve. You have never seen me be critical of any player. I make mistakes too and as a family we need to support each other.

“But attitude is a different story. When you’re a professional in something, not only in football, you need to respect who you represent, the people who work with you, giving your all like everyone else. That’s the only reason I’m unhappy, because I feel this sensation, and because I know the process behind that attitude.”

Corriere dello Sport reported that he had been talking about Rick Karsdorp. Other outlets soon followed suit, although there remains no confirmation that the Dutchman had been the subject of his wrath. Karsdorp, who replaced Zeki Çelik at right wing-back in the 65th minute, was at fault for the equaliser, tracking back lazily as Sassuolo broke down his flank. Giorgos Kyriakopoulos floated a pass down the line to Armand Laurienté, who cut it back for Pinamonti to flick home.

Heartbreak for Roma 💔

Just moments after Tammy Abraham scored what looked to be the winning goal, Sassuolo’s Andrea Pinamonti pokes home an equalizer 🤯

— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 9, 2022

Mourinho had defended Karsdorp at the weekend, after the player responded to his substitution in the Rome derby by walking straight down the tunnel without acknowledging his manager or teammates. “He returned [a few minutes later] with some ice,” pointed out the Portuguese. “I don’t know if it was for his knee, his hamstring or his fever. He’s had a lot of problems this year.”

With hindsight those words might be framed in a different light. Was Mourinho trying to tell us even then that this is a player who always has an excuse not to train at 100%? Or was it all just another act of misdirection by a master of the art, whose team had dropped five points in four days? Gazzetta dello Sport defined Mourinho as “an exceptional snake charmer, quickly finding the way to shift everybody’s attention”.

Sassuolo celebrate after Andrea Pinamonti’s equaliser.
Sassuolo celebrate after Andrea Pinamonti’s equaliser. Photograph: Serena Campanini/EPA

The momentum that seemed to accompany his club in the summer, as they followed up their Europa Conference League celebrations by presenting Paulo Dybala to a crowd of thousands on the steps of the Colosseo Quadrato, has dissipated. Roma are not exactly having a bad season – they are a point better off than at the corresponding point last term – but nor have they shown any real signs of progress.

Mourinho had pointed to Dybala’s absence after defeat in the derby, naming him as the only forward on Roma’s books with the creativity to open up a low block. The next player he might turn to for inspiration, Pellegrini, was forced off with an injury of his own in the second half.

To lose such players would be a blow to any team. Dybala is the team’s top scorer, and Roma have also had to do without their other big-name summer signing, Georginio Wijnaldum, who fractured a tibia 10 minutes into his Serie A debut against Salernitana back in August.

Then again, were Lazio not also missing their two most influential players, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile? And ought the risk of injury not have been baked into any consideration of Dybala’s role? He missed 39 games for Juventus over the past two seasons, many of them due to muscle strains similar to the hamstring issue which has sidelined him since 9 October.

His absence cannot explain the poor form of others. Abraham scored 17 times last season, but has only three so far in this campaign. Mourinho dropped him to the bench against Sassuolo, and his well-taken goal, stealing in front of his marker to head home Gianluca Mancini’s cross, reflected a hungry performance.

A November World Cup has disrupted this season in too many ways to count, but the question of whether Abraham’s anxiousness to claim a spot in England’s squad for the tournament had impacted his play hung in the air. “Probably there was too much pressure,” he said post-match. “I really wanted to score a goal, that started a vicious cycle.”

Quick Guide

Serie A results


Fiorentina 2-1 Salernitana, Inter 6-1 Bologna, Torino 2-0 Sampdoria, Lecce 2-1 Atalanta, Sassuolo 1-1 Roma, Cremonese 0-0  Milan, Napoli 2-0 Empoli, Spezia 1-1 Udinese.

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Abraham had begun by apologising to fans, teammates and coaches for not being “the best I can be”, yet if one thing is clear with this Roma team it is that the supporters are sticking behind them. Derby defeats have produced mutinous reactions many times, but on Wednesday the away section was packed out, with a banner at its centre inviting critics to silence in crude terms, and backing “Mourinho to the bitter end”.

We are a long way from that yet. The chasing pack behind Napoli at the top of Serie A are so closely clustered that Roma could yet finish the year anywhere from third to eighth. It will be fascinating to see how they approach the January transfer window as they weigh their pursuit of a top four finish. Mourinho will agitate for reinforcements, as well as for Wednesday’s scapegoat to be sent on his way.

European roundup: Oshimen’s stunner seals victory for leaders Napoli at Roma | European club football

Napoli’s seemingly unstoppable winning streak continued when Victor Osimhen’s late strike secured a 1-0 win at Roma in Serie A, giving them 11 straight victories in all competitions.

In front of a raucous crowd at the Stadio Olimpico, both sides were evenly matched in a largely uneventful first half. Napoli thought they had a penalty in the 38th minute when Roma goalkeeper Rui Patrício challenged Tanguy Ndombele but the decision was rescinded after a VAR check.

Napoli were in control by the hour mark and had several chances, with Roma struggling to get the ball out of their own half. Osimhen secured the win for Napoli 10 minutes from time when he half-volleyed in a brilliant rasping shot from an acute angle, after getting the better of his marker Chris Smalling.

Napoli have a three-point lead at the top with 29 after 11 games, three ahead of Milan in second. Roma are fifth with 22 points.

Mattia Zaccagni and Felipe Anderson scored to give Lazio a comfortable 2-0 win at Atalanta, moving up to third as a result. Zaccagni converted in the 10th minute, poking in a Pedro cross.

Anderson made it 2-0 seven minutes after half-time, firing a low shot into the bottom-left corner. The visitors continued to control the game and Atalanta had Luis Muriel sent off in the 90th minute for a second booking.

The Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said: “It’s a fair defeat. It’s true that Lazio had an extraordinary first half and we were unable to limit their passing, while the early goal put them in the best possible situation. Only after the second goal did we see something positive.

“It’s a loss we deserved and we will learn from this experience. We hoped that Lazio would drop their tempo and we got close after the second goal but it was too late,” Gasperini added. “We had not yet met a team that was so good on a technical level and with a high press; they always got to the ball first, and perhaps we had not yet faced a team of this level.”

In Spain, Ousmane Dembélé scored and provided assists for Sergi Roberto, Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in La Liga.

Barça remain second in the table on 28 points, three behind leaders Real Madrid and five clear of third-placed Atlético Madrid. The hosts scored three times in 10 minutes in the first half, starting with Dembélé’s towering header from close range in the 12th minute.

The France forward then put Roberto through with some brilliant one touch build-up play in the 18th minute, with the Spanish full back’s strike bouncing in off a defender past a helpless Unai Simón.

Ousmane Dembélé scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembélé (centre) scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao. Photograph: Quique García/EPA

Four minutes later, Dembélé ran down the right channel before crossing to Lewandowski who swivelled and finished with a powerful shot. Barça took their foot off the gas after the break but there was still time for Dembélé to deliver another assist less than 20 minutes before the end, playing the ball in from the left touchline for Torres to score.

Two second-half goals from Antoine Griezmann, one scored directly from a corner kick, gave Atlético Madrid a 2-1 win at Real Betis, extending their unbeaten run to five games. Griezmann opened the scoring in the 54th minute directly from a corner.

Fifteen minutes later, substitute Matheus Cunha passed to Griezmann whose right-footed shot found the bottom right corner. Betis replied with a Nabil Fekir free-kick in the 84th minute but the visitors held firm.

In Germany, relegation-threatened VfL Bochum scored once in either half to stun Union Berlin 2-1, leaving the Bundesliga leaders with only a one-point gap at the top and moving off the bottom of the table.

Union, with the league’s best backline before the game, suffered only their second loss of the season. Philipp Hofmann’s glancing header two minutes before the break put Bochum with the hosts’ high press proving a major problem for Urs Fischer’s team.

Union’s Milos Pantovic whipped a shot just wide on the hour mark but it was Bochum, who had also hit the woodwork early in the second half, who scored again.
This time they struck on the break with Gerrit Holtmann completing the lightning-quick passing move, tapping in from a Christopher Antwi-Adjei assist.
Union remain in top spot on 23 points, one ahead of champions Bayern Munich. Freiburg are third on 21.

Schalke 04, who sacked coach Frank Kramer on Wednesday, dropped to bottom place following their 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin courtesy of Wilfried Kanga’s 88th-minute winner.