The sight of Jose Mourinho sprinting down the touchline to celebrate a late winner at the corner flag with his players was a familiar one to those who have followed the Portuguese’ career. This is how the 58-year-old reacted to a Stephan El Shaarawy goal in stoppage time against Sassuolo earlier this month, evoking memories of his famous celebration at Old Trafford as Porto manager all those years ago.
Much of what Mourinho has done in the early stages of his Roma career has been reminiscent of past glories. First and foremost, he has made an immediate impact, leading the Giallorossi to three straight victories to start the 2021/22 campaign. Players are fighting for Mourinho and the Roma support are already behind their new manager.
Defeat to Verona brought some realism to the discussion around Mourinho’s start at Roma, making it all the more important that the Portuguese coach wins his first Derby della Capitale this weekend, with Rome’s two Serie A giants set to face each other at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Mourinho isn’t the only manager who needs a win on derby day to accelerate their development of a new team. In fact, it could be argued Maurizio Sarri’s need for three points from this Sunday’s fixture is even greater than Mourinho’s with Lazio struggling to find much consistency under the 62-year-old.
Of course, it’s still early days for Sarri at his new club, but the former Chelsea, Juventus and Napoli boss is toiling to find the right balance in midfield. Without this balance, ‘Sarri-ball,’ as it is dubbed, can’t succeed. There has, however, still been signs of adaptation in the way Lazio have played at times this season.
‘We are now starting a new path,” goalkeeper Pepe Reina said when asked to describe the changes being made by Sarri. “Sarri is asking us to play very differently. We need some patience, even if in Rome it is not obvious to have patience. We need to do everything right and get results. Our potential is strong and we’ll carry on along our path without listening to or seeing what is said about us.”
Sarri has had to strike a difficult balance between building on what Simone Inzaghi did at Lazio and implementing new ideas that allow him to impose his own style of play. A victory over Roma in this weekend’s Derby della Capitale would help the 62-year-old win some hearts and minds, something he never truly had on his side at either Chelsea or Juventus.
Mourinho has more credit in the bank. While his reputation in England might have been damaged by the tailspins he experienced at Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, the Portuguese is still considered one of the very best in Italy, where he led Inter to an historic treble 11 years ago.
Most fans and pundits also recognise the challenge Mourinho has ahead of him to establish Roma as a force that can realistically target the Scudetto. Juventus might be at their weakest point for over a decade, but Inter have stepped into the void left by the Old Lady, while AC Milan is also resurgent under Stefano Pioli.
Nonetheless, Mourinho must still deliver progress this season otherwise the aura he retains in Italian soccer could diminish. It wouldn’t take much for the Portuguese to experience another situation like the one that got away from him at Tottenham Hotspur, where incremental progress would have been tolerated – just like at Roma.
Tammy Abraham has settled quickly at the Stadio Olimpico following his summer switch from Chelsea, while others like Lorenzo Pellegrini and Jordan Veretout have also found strong early season form with Mourinho at the helm. There is already a sense that Roma have found the right shape and system under their new manager.
The same can’t really be said for Lazio yet, even if Ciro Immobile has started the season with five goals in four Serie A outings. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has also found some early season form which at least suggests Sarri has the key men within his squad on side. This gives him a platform to build on.
Rome is a city with untapped soccer potential. Lazio haven’t won the Scudetto since 2000 while Roma have gone 20 years without finishing top of the pile in Serie A. It’s been 13 years since the latter won a major honour, a drought that Mourinho has been hired to end, while Sarri is expected to build on Lazio’s progress in recent years. Sunday’s derby will indicate who of the two is on track.