Calculated or coincidence, the surprise managerial appointment of Jose Mourinho by Roma has thickened the plot ahead of their return clash against Manchester United.
Of course, if the Italians are to overhaul the four-goal disadvantage they surrendered at Old Trafford, then it would take a Europa League comeback, or collapse, of epic proportions.
Given how ruthless United were in the second half a week ago, though, it just doesn’t look to be on the cards.
Stranger things have happened in football, of course, and confirmation that former United manager Mourinho will replace Paulo Fonseca at the end of the season fits at least close to that category.
It marked an unlikely move for the Portuguese, who was sacked by Tottenham only last month.
Here are the key Roma players who are set for their ‘first’ auditions in front of the soon-to-be manager…
Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan
No sooner than Mourinho was confirmed as the new Roma head coach, social media went into meltdown with memes and suggestions that two of his former United men might not particularly have welcomed the news.
Armenia captain Mkhitaryan was signed and flogged by Mourinho during his tenure at Old Trafford, while centre-back Smalling was previously targeted by the Portuguese for a ‘lack of bravery’ and not playing through the pain barrier.
As it transpired following that public outburst, the former England international had actually broken two of his toes.
In the short-term, Mkhitaryan will have to convince Mourinho that he is worthy of a place in his squad next season. Indeed, the 32-year-old is out of contract this summer – but nine goals and as many assists during 30 games in Serie A this term represents his best return for some time.
Unlike in previous roles at elite European clubs, Mourinho will not especially be backed with eye-catching financial clout when it comes to the transfer market.
In many ways, this represents a new challenge for the Portuguese as he aims to develop a talented young squad in the Italian capital; perhaps similarly to the start his managerial career at Porto.
Of course, the likes of Smalling and Mkhitaryan offer him experienced options – as does the following player on our list – but at the forefront of Roma’s squad are prospects such as central midfielder Pellegrini.
The 24-year-old already skippers the side and has been capped 17 times by Italy since his debut in 2017.
With just over 12 months left to run on his contract, though, one of the first and most important tasks that awaits Mourinho at Roma is securing the future of a player who he might like to build his team around.
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Entering the twilight of his career at 35, the former Manchester City striker proved that he still has the goalscoring touch when he took the field against United seven days ago.
Albeit in a losing cause, Dzeko netted for the fifth time in nine Europa League outings this season.
His return during what has been an underwhelming Serie A campaign for the Giallorossi reads seven in 23 matches, but the Bosnian has put together a staggering overall record since moving to Italy in 2016.
In whatever capacity next term, the veteran’s 118 goals in 256 games will come in handy for Mourinho as he aims to replicate the huge success he achieved a decade ago in the same country with Inter Milan.