Jose Mourinho head coach of Roma gestures during the Italian championship Serie A football match between AS Roma and SS Lazio on March 20, 2022 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy.

Mourinho’s turned Roma into Brazil 1970 and we can’t believe our eyes

In the blink of an eye, the ball was in Napoli’s net.

Jose Mourinho’s Roma, don’t you know, play “the most devastating football in Europe”, and it was on display late on at Stadio San Paolo on Monday night.

The “most devastating” label is typical Twitter hyperbole, an exaggerated assessment of a side that sits fifth in Serie A and some way off the pace even after a run of 12 league matches unbeaten.

But there is certainly something slick and incisive about Roma of late. They are a side with confidence, playing with the kind of penetration of Mourinho’s best outfits: think his clinical Real Madrid team or the Chelsea title winners of 2014-15.

Napoli were on the receiving end on Monday night. Having led from the 11th minute after Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty, it seemed Luciano Spalletti’s side would hold on to secure a valuable win in the title race.

But a point was rescued with a move of genuine quality, a sweeping, decisive series of one-touch passes and an emphatic finish.

Rick Karsdorp started things off on the right flank, sliding an accurate ball into the path of Lorenzo Pellegrini.

His cutback looked destined for Felix Afena-Gyan, but the Ghanaian youngster let the ball run with an intelligent dummy.

Then it was the turn of Tammy Abraham to provide the penultimate touch in a flowing move. A deft flick from the former Chelsea forward put the ball in Stephan El Shaarawy’s line of sight, and the substitute drilled his finish into the bottom left corner.

It was a move reminiscent of Mourinho’s Real Madrid. Perhaps then it would have been finished off by Cristiano Ronaldo after a subtle flick from Karim Benzema.

The Special One is working with slightly more modest resources in the Italian capital, but there are signs that his methods are beginning to bear fruit again.

His stock was perhaps at its lowest after his sacking as Tottenham manager, particularly after ignominious departures from his second spell at Chelsea and from Manchester United.

Serie A always seemed like a place for Mourinho to rebuild, though, the place where his reputation was least tarnished. And there are suggestions that he may be moving away, to an extent, from the cautious, often turgid football that alienated fans of Spurs and United.

Whether this is another false dawn remains to be seen. There were glimpses, at Tottenham, of Mourinho’s ability to create a devastatingly ruthless counter-attacking team, but they were fleeting.

Too often, in recent years, his teams have seemed inhibited, unable to play with any kind of expression.

But there was plenty of purposeful attacking on display as El Shaarawy slotted in the equaliser in Naples, just as there was in midweek when Roma dismantled Bodo/Glimt to reach the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Silverware in that competition would be a tangible reward for Mourinho’s first season at Roma, but catching Juventus in fourth will be the priority. A five-point gap with five games left is significant, although the Giallorossi are very much on the up.

In the long term, Roma supporters will hope El Shaarawy’s goal is a sign of things to come, that the next few years will see Mourinho at his pragmatic best, unafraid of letting his attacking players off the reins when necessary.

Slowly, Mourinho’s Roma could become a force in Italy, and the dented reputation of one of Europe’s great managers could be on the mend.

For now, it is a work in progress. But the signs are menacing for those who remember Jose Mourinho at his destructive best.

By Callum Rice-Coates

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