ALVISE CAGNAZZO: Smalling is leading Mourinho’s Roma revolution while Abraham is benched

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Chris Smalling capped a brilliant start to the season with Roma’s winning goal at the San Siro on Saturday night. The win over Jose Mourinho’s former side ensured Roma kept their top four bid on track while also raising hopes in the capital of a Scudetto charge. 

Meanwhile, Roma’s other scorer that night, Paulo Dybala, has started life in the capital in scintillating fashion. However, his form has been at the expense of Tammy Abraham, who for only the second time in his Roma career, started a match on the bench in Milan on Saturday. 

Sportsmail’s man in Italy Alvise Cagnazzo runs you through all of the going’s on relating to Roma’s two English superstars. 

Tammy Abraham and Chris Smalling find their Roma careers on different paths at present

Southgate would do well to look at Smalling for England

Smalling and Abraham, Roma’s English contingent, find their current form on divergent paths. 

The former Manchester United defender who joined the Italian club in a bid to revitalise his ailing career has started the season solidly, establishing himself as one of the unsung heroes of Jose Mourinho’s Roman revolution. 

Abraham, meanwhile, off the back of an impressive first season in the Italian capital is finding things a little more difficult this season. The arrival of Paulo Dybala, a bonafide superstar who had lost his way somewhat at Juventus, has somewhat impacted upon Abraham’s place in the side. 

His only scoring of two goals so far this season represents something of a sea change for his status within the team. Frankly, not every attacking move goes through him anymore. 

The Englishman is one of Jose Mourinho's most trusted lieutenants at the centre of defence

The Englishman is one of Jose Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenants at the centre of defence

Indeed, the win in Milan on Saturday was a disappointing afternoon for Abraham in that it became clear to him that no player in Mourinho’s squad is indispensable. The Englishman was mortified by the decision to not start him from the outset. Dybala’s first half goal, which set Roma on the path to a famous victory in the north, is likely to have aided his case.

When Abraham entered the field he created a lot of problems for Inter’s backline and showed he was still the man that can help Roma’s pursuit of a top four finish. What Mourinho wants from him, however, is greater quality in his all-round game. It is up to the forward to provide that. 

Despite his slightly poor form, Abraham – like Smalling – represents the strength and character of a Roma team that are overcoming their technical limitations through sheer force of will, strength and charisma. The club’s win at the San Siro over the weekend, with Mourinho watching on from a camper van outside his former Milan haunt, represented exactly what the current side are about.   

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Abraham and Smalling reflect this Roma team. They might not always be the prettiest, but their character ensures they are always up for a fight and with them, Mourinho’s side always have a chance.

With Abraham in Gareth Southgate’s England plans, seemingly, for the World Cup another player the under-pressure manager should be looking at is Smalling. Greatly under-appreciated, Smalling is a defender who would bring valuable experience to an England team with many tactical and technical flaws. Like Fikayo Tomori, sensationally overlooked for the clumsy Harry Maguire, his presence within a settled back line in Serie A would bring an air of calmness to Southgate’s defence. 

Gareth Southgate would be wise to look at the defender for his ailing back line this winter

Gareth Southgate would be wise to look at the defender for his ailing back line this winter

Smalling is superior to Maguire – Southgate must look at him again 

Smalling against Inter seemed 10 years younger. He raced and fought and put a muzzle on Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko proving that he could still be very useful to the national team.   

Southgate continues to opt for Maguire, but with disaster seemingly following the horribly out-of-form defender wherever he turns, the England manager should cast his eyes to Italy where Smalling is turning back the clock. His performances are instigating jealous glances from those in Manchester who are asking themselves: “why did we let him go for what we currently possess?” 

Smalling’s influence and presence is felt even when he is not on the field of play. A strong, technically gifted player also with a solid professionalism and discipline, the Englishman is key to Mourinho’s set up. 

Smalling is superior to Harry Maguire in that he brings an air of calmness to proceedings

Smalling is superior to Harry Maguire in that he brings an air of calmness to proceedings 

Mourinho is in love with Smalling 

It has been made clear to the Roma players that there is no better reference point in the dressing room than Smalling. While Abraham was sacrificed for the trip to Inter and others have had to succumb to the bench for tactical alterations, Smalling remains Mourinho’s one hope of consistency throughout his side. He is irreplaceable. 

It is thought that Mourinho considers the defender, with whom he worked at United, as one of his coaches on the pitch. Watch Roma and you shall see: Smalling is always barking at his team-mates, instructing them where to run, when to press, where to pass.  

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He has become a charismatic leader, the sort that is greatly admired up and down the land in Italy. Alonside relatively young and inexperienced – by comparison – centre backs, Smalling has taken to his leadership role to guide Roma up the table.

Jose Mourinho is in love with his English defender - he trusts him more than any other player

Jose Mourinho is in love with his English defender – he trusts him more than any other player

Part of Smalling’s adoration in Rome comes from how he has acclimatised to the city and made it his home. His process of ‘Italianisation’ appears to be complete. 

Since he arrived at Fiumicino airport donning a Roma tracksuit, Smalling has immersed himself in the Eternal city. It has become not unusual to spot the defender in a local coffee bar in the residential district of Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR) enjoying some of the city’s finest delicacies while playing cards with other customers while his agent watched on. Smalling has chosen to live on the Appia Antica, immersing himself in the city’s way of life. 

Equally, one is likely to spot Smalling walking along the Viale Europa. The defender is always happy to stop and talk to those that stop him. There appears to be no airs or graces about him. 

To emerge from his rut Abraham must improve

Remarkably, perhaps, for only the second time in his Roma career Abraham found himself on the bench. This time, it felt more fatalistic than the last, when he was named a substitute for a match against Bologna last May when all seemed lost for Roma in the league. 

The question then remains, what has happened? Abraham remains an important player for Mourinho and Roma generally, nobody in Italy doubts that, but that there has been something of a change in his fortunes this season with the signing of Dybala. It would be ridiculous to deny that Dybala has not had an impact on Abraham’s place in the Roma side.   

Combined with that, Dybala and Nicolo Zaniolo, a player who looked to be off in the summer but has remained and looks somewhere near his best, have struck up the kind of bond that is invaluable in top level football. To fit in, and get his Italian journey back on track, Abraham must adapt to the tactical needs of the team. He is capable of such, as his 20 goals showed last season, and now he must show it. 

Abraham is loved in Rome but to emerge from his current rut he must improve quickly

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Abraham is loved in Rome but to emerge from his current rut he must improve quickly

What will concern Abraham is his place in Qatar. Should his form not pick up between now and then, it is likely the number of times Abraham will have found himself on the bench during his time in Italy will have grown exponentially. The time is simply now for him to turn his form around.  

Dybala is an atypical player who, in order to be fully utilised, requires the team to be on his wavelength for the entire 90 minutes. The Argentine was at his most electric in his Juventus days when the team danced to his tune. That stopped happening in his later years, particularly with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. His re-emergence at Roma is thanks in part to the team playing to his wishes, which is through the central lines. 

Abraham requires a different style. His game is dependent on crosses coming into the box, something which the team just are not doing at the moment owing to the presence of Dybala. Roma’s metamorphism is happening before his eyes. Abraham writing further chapters in his Italian story requires adaptation. 

Abraham is perfectly integrated into the city 

Abraham lives in Eur, a bourgeois and quiet area of ​​Rome. 

The Eternal City is his ideal place to live and very soon thanks to the fans and the warmth of the city he will be back on the pitch. 

‘Tammy Goal’ in Roma is a generous King who pays the fans for dinner in the restaurants of Piazza di Spagna. Abraham has been known to attend the La Matricianella restaurant with his girlfriend Leah Monroe, where he has been regularly noted for paying supporters’ bills who come up to him to greet him and ask for photos. 

The former Chelsea forward is in love with the city. His love of Italian fashion makes it a match made in heaven. Such is comfort in the Italian capital, his rut is unlikely to last for much longer.  

Both Smalling and Abraham have taken to life in Rome very well, immersing themselves in the city's style and culture

Both Smalling and Abraham have taken to life in Rome very well, immersing themselves in the city’s style and culture

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