A polished Zaniolo, as well as the alternative Solbakken

The Norwegian former Bodø/Glimt man is the ideal replacement to back up the Nicolò. Now Mourinho can also choose between the two left-backs

Nicolò Zaniolo against Yokohama Marinos

Nicolò Zaniolo against Yokohama Marinos (As Roma via Getty Images)

PUBBLICATO DA Lorenzo Latini
03 Dicembre 2022 - 13:00

The good second half against the Yokohama Marinos, topped by the momentary 1-2 goal, is still a sign. Yes, it came in an unremarkable friendly, and in January Roma will be expected to face quite different tests. But in the meantime, Roma knows it can count on a charged Nicolò Zaniolo who is determined to make his mark in the second half of the season. The Tirana hero has experienced these first months of 2022-23 between highs and lows, inevitably suffering from the disappointing performance of the entire team. Still, if Mourinho continues to consider him a fundamental member, there will be a reason. With Pellegrini and Dybala, the 22 will be the player called upon to ignite the spark in a department. He will be the offensive one, that in the months from August to November has shown a muddled maneuver, when not completely sterile. With his accelerations and dribbles, he can contribute to the Giallorossi's rise in the standings and (hopefully) to the continuation of the Europa League path. After all, during last season Nicolò already proved to excel in the cup.

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The new face

Perhaps now Zaniolo will, from time to time, be allowed to catch his breath. In fact, last season the alternative to the 22 was Carles Perez, who was held in very low esteem by the "Special One." But now the first reinforcement of the winter market has arrived in that role: Ola Solbakken, the left-hander who drove Roma crazy in the two group stage challenges of the last Conference League, as an identikit that makes him Nicolò's natural alter ego. Left-footed, like Zaniolo he loves to start on the right and then center himself, aiming to attempt a finish or an assist to a teammate. And, like Nico, he loves to be thrown into the open field, but he can also (thanks to his dribbling skills) create problems for lined-up defenses. Regardless of the form Mourinho adopts from match to match, the 24-year-old former Bodø/Glimt man has the characteristics the Giallorossi team needs. The hope of the fans and the coach is that he can put them on display as well as he did when he wore the yellow and red jersey. His natural role is that of right outside attacker, thus ideal for the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but if necessary he can also be slightly centralized in a 3-4-2-1, the system most used by José in the first part of the season. Also, not only that, but for preferring the right lane, Solbakken has also acted on the left, and with good results. If need be, he can play second forward at the limit, albeit with atypical characteristics. In short, he is a genuine attacking wild card, who will come in handy in the rotations needed up front there in the next six months, which are shaping up to be very challenging and with a hectic schedule. There will be so many matches and an inevitable expenditure of energy requiring alternatives in all departments. As far as the three-quarter is concerned, especially on the right, with Zaniolo and Solbakken, Mourinho can sleep soundly. The options are there. It is up to the two players to make a positive impact.