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Serie A Preview: Roma and Their Ruins: This Season is Going to be Ugly

Two Seasons After Climbing out of Their Ruins, the City’s Team has Crumbled

Last season for AS Roma was tumultuous, to say the least. The ultras boycotted games, Roma fired their head coach, players became enemies of the city, and the team bowed out of the Champions League with controversy. During the offseason, Daniele de Rossi was rumoured to become a Viola man and Francesco Totti exploded with frustration about the incompetence of Roma’s ownership group. That drama is now over, however, in its aftermath, the team is likely to regress.

Roma for years has been unable to decide what direction they are going. Once Roma was usurped as the second-best team in Italy, the risk of a downfall emerged. After losing Mohammed Salah in the 2017 transfer market, losing Alisson in the 2018 transfer market, both to Liverpool, and now Stephen El Shaarawy in the 2019 market, questions about the team’s ability have deepened.

The midfield holds promise with its youth and the introduction of Diawara, however, the backline is where the team becomes ghastly. Manolas was the only positive defensive player for the team last season and has now left. His departure continues a negative pattern of selling quality center-backs, like Marquinhos and Alessio Romagnoli, to other top European sides. Roma gave up the most goals out of any of the top 8 teams and now their defense is more suspect.

Roma has signed a possibly better goalie, however, that may not be enough with this compromised defense. Roma will likely have a more difficult season than it did in 2018/19, because the backline, which was already weak, has gotten worse.

The Goalies

Roma’s new goalie, Pau Lopez, had a well above average season at Espanyol before his quick move to Tottenham Hotspur. Since that move to Tottenham and then his departure to Real Betis, he has been a league-average type goalie in La Liga. To compare him to Olsen, based on last season, we can use Expected Goals Against (xGA), a formula that gives a numerical value to the likelihood that an individual shot would score. All shots, whether goal or not, are worth below 1. The better the opportunity, the closer to 1 a shot is. Teams compile more expected goals as they take more shots and especially more dangerous shots. Using this statistic, the Roma goalies can then be compared by the percentage of expected goals they gave up over the past season. This uses Between the Posts data.

Olsen vs Lopez

Goalie xGA Goals Against GA/xGA Goals/90 Save %
Goalie xGA Goals Against GA/xGA Goals/90 Save %
Olsen 66.02 46 0.697 1.45 68.18
Lopez 49.85 34 0.682 1.32 66.67
Between the Posts

GA/xGA measures what percentage of goals are given up compared to how many expected goals were allowed by the goalie. Closer to 0 is better. Alisson in his last season at Roma was at .557.

Olsen and Lopez, based on last season, handled the Expected Goals Against about equally well. Lopez does have a small edge, but this transfer does not fully solve Roma’s goaltending issues. If defensive form continues to the next season, then more of the same should be expected in terms of goaltending. The silver lining for Roma is that Pau Lopez, at 24, is young and may progress into next season.

The Defense

Florenzi, Mancini, Fazio, Spinazzola. They should be the starting four defenders next season and they do not form a strong backline. Spinazzola was on strong form for about three games last season and then was demoted again because he was not playing well. Florenzi has become a defensive liability. He contributed to a consistent theme last year for Roma, which was the center backs being isolated by attackers. Federico Fazio is one of the slowest players in Serie A and does not read the game well enough to make up for his lack of pace. His one key tool is that he wins aerial duels. Every person who watched Serie A last season watched him time and again get turned by quicker opponents. Manolas masked many issues in the Roma defense that may become more apparent next season.

Mancini is a strong signing and he should develop decently next season. He will need to prove that he can run defense with weaker players and worse tactics. There will be a learning curve for Mancini and without a quality veteran defender, he may feel lost at times.

Kolarov may see time in the backline, but at his age, and lack of movement, he will not be an impact defender. His free-kicks were a major bonus for Roma last season, but those do not hide his lack of ability.

While all of these players come together this defense may turn ugly before it becomes decent.

The Midfield

This is where Roma becomes incredibly interesting. Cristante, Pellegrini, Nzonzi, Diawara, Coric, and Zaniolo provide the elements for something strong. The youth in midfield could change the landscape of the team. There are formations that could create a strong midfield for the entirety of the 2019/20 season. A 4-3-1-2 could maximize the ability of the team to cover its flaws. Diawara should start at the 6, Cristante should play on the right side of the midfield, Zaniolo and Pellegrini could split time as the attacking midfielder and left-center midfield. This gives Roma a strong pivot-style player, a box-to-box defensive cover, and two very strong attacking options. Nzonzi, Coric, and Pastore coming off the bench will help provide the depth necessary to compete in three competitions.

However, if Nzonzi plays over Diawara and the two attacking options, Zaniolo and Pellegrini, are played out of position, then the midfield could struggle. Nzonzi and Diawara could both play together for defensive cover; however, Roma will need to play an offensive style so that the defense can have protection. Playing the above midfield formation will allow Roma to do so.

Veretout has just been signed by Roma, reported by Fabrizio Romano, and should be a best used as a backup. Fiorentina had a terrible season last year and buying almost any of these players is a bad risk. There is a lot of talent here, and adding a player like Veretout and putting him in the attacking lineup is a bad decision. He is not what Roma needs, and should not beat out any of the midfielders I listed above.

This midfield could be a bright spot for Roma, if played correctly.

The Attack

Roma lost one of its most dynamic attackers and highest goal scorer in Serie A this off-season. Stephen El Shaarawy is an incredible offensive talent who has been given away for next to nothing by two Italian teams. I will never understand this from either Roma or AC Milan. I am sad that he is going to China and I hope that he returns to Italy to show why he was the man who beat Chelsea over two legs, and the man who had one of the best seasons a youngster has had in Serie A. I’ll miss Steve and I hope he comes back soon.

Back to Roma and their attackers. Dzeko, Under, Kluivert, Defrel, and Schick highlight their attacking four. Perotti has the technical skill, however, he has not proven throughout his career that he is able to read and adapt to the game. In a 4-3-1-2 formation, Dzeko and Under, or Defrel, are the best options in attack. Dzeko is beginning to fade and needs a more dynamic support striker, which is a service that Under can provide. Defrel also played as a support striker at Sampdoria last season. Comparing Defrel and Under, Defrel contributed to 3 more goals, however, he did it in 10 more games. Under is younger and has more potential. Both should see time, but Under should start. Schick and Defrel should be the backup duo for Roma and Kluivert should see as much time next season as he can. In a 4-3-3, Kluivert becomes Roma’s only quality left-winger. If Roma does play a 4-3-3, Kluivert should start on the left side of the attack.

Roma will need to prepare for life without Dzeko soon. There’s a chance that Dzeko stops being the player he was at his peak, or even last season. Maybe Schick can show the potential everyone saw when he was at Sampdoria, however, this would be surprising. Roma has some quality youth, however, the potential at striker has become of concern.

The Prediction

Roma is the most unpredictable team in this series because of how much turnover has occurred. Roma has lost their best player in Manolas, lost one of their best attacking options in El Shaarawy lost their captain in De Rossi, and have increasing questions about their starting striker. There is a new starting goalie, left-back, center back, center midfielder and a possible formation change. Ranieri played a 4-2-3-1, however, this formation slowed the pace at which Roma was accumulating points. The best possible lineup for Roma is the 4-3-1-2. Ranieri has played multiple different formations over his career, and the 4-2-3-1 formation was fine but not good last season. Dynamic offensive youngsters will be able to buoy the issues that Roma may have, however, if they are played in their wrong position, then Roma will crumble. There is a team here, it just needs to be played correctly.

Roma could go two ways next season. There is a scenario in which Roma drop to eighth. There is also a possibility that the midfield is played correctly, and the team could maintain their 6th position or improve. Serie A’s increased competitiveness in Champions League, new ownership groups and, better transfers and development have changed what it takes to succeed in the league. Roma has young players of quality, especially Nicola Zaniolo, who could become the structure of a strong team on the peninsula. There is promise here, it may just be a season or two away.