BLOG ITALIA
Tuesday January 3 2017
Roma's best defence is midfield

A single investment should be enough for Roma to secure second place, writes Andrea Tallarita, but it must be chosen carefully.

Alongside Milan, Torino and Atalanta, Roma are one of a number of teams that look stronger now than when they started in September. While the potential seven-point gap with Juventus makes a Scudetto run still unlikely, the Capitoline club's hold on second place is as solid as it's ever going to get.

The good news is that the Lupi don't need to add much more muscle to their squad in order to defend their no-layover ticket to the Champions League.

The return of Antonio Rudiger already did wonders for their (formerly shaky) backline. Not only do they have plenty of solid-to-excellent choices in terms of central defence, such as Kostas Manolas, Thomas Vermaelen and Federico Fazio, but the German international also proved surprisingly capable as a right-back.

With the forthcoming returns of Bruno Peres and Mario Rui, Roma should be compact enough in defence to require no significant reinforcements in that department. There will be room for improvement next summer, as there always is, but right now this is not a top priority.

The attack too has every weapon fully loaded. Edin Dzeko can do anything, and he is backed by Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mohamed Salah, Juan Iturbe (if he isn't sold) and Francesco Totti.

Coach Luciano Spalletti has been able to field a competent attacking trident even without the Bosnian in the past, meaning the only pressing question is the replacement of Salah.

After Dzeko, or perhaps on par with him, the Egyptian winger represents Roma's most incisive offensive threat, but he will be busy with the Africa Cup of Nations from January 14 to February 5. The question of how to make up for his absence tactically has been covered at length.

It's not entirely clear yet whether the Giallorossi will look to buy another winger-striker on the market. They have been speculatively linked to some possible surrogates, such as Sassuolo's Gregoire Defrel, but this is one of those cases in which the wisest move is probably to stay put.

Spalletti may have to temporarily reshape his team a little bit, but that's hardly a task beyond his means. And his opponents during Salah's absence will be Udinese, Cagliari, Sampdoria and Fiorentina, with no Europa League games until mid-February. The Viola aside, these are all sides that Roma should be able to face quite comfortably even with Perotti or El Shaarawy stepping into Salah's shoes.

At worst, looking for a replacement would mean splashing money on a mediocre player whose future will almost certainly be on the bench. At best, it would mean signing a strong figure at considerable expense to play in a position that is already spoken for.

Roma don't really need to reinforce either the attack or the defence. They do, however, need to work on their midfield. Their current starting trio consists of Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi, three wolves on the loose who are backed only by such cubs as Leandro Paredes and Gerson.

This lack of depth means that Roma will face considerable trouble any time a single one of their Three Musketeers bows to injury or suspension. At least one extra central midfielder of quality must be added to the squad, and that's the area where the club should really invest its resources.

A number of names have been linked to Trigoria. Sampdoria's Lucas Torreira, at age 20, is currently just another Paredes. Promising, and by no means a wasted investment, but probably not what the club needs right now. Ditto for Sassuolo's Lorenzo Pellegrini, popular as he may be.

Bournemouth's Jack Wilshere, on loan from Arsenal, is a much more interesting candidate, although he certainly wouldn't come cheap. If he can be picked up on loan, then he represents almost exactly what Spalletti needs: an energetic, skilled central midfielder capable of holding the ball and linking up play with the attack.

Wilshere, or another player of equivalent heft, also represents a viable alternative to the styles of Nainggolan, De Rossi and Strootman. These are all much more defensively minded players, in whose midst the creativity and technique of a new playmaker would represent a very welcome supplement.

The main question behind the 24-year-old is how quickly he'd be able to adapt to Italian football. Disappointed once by Ashley Cole, the Romanisti have learned that Premier League players sometimes struggle when dropped into Serie A out of the blue. Dzeko eventually bloomed, sure, but it took him a year to find his feet.

To make a more general argument, although purchasing a creative midfielder seems like an obvious move, one wonders whether Spalletti needs one at all. His tactical design this year seems to involve funnelling all technique and playmaking skills onto the wings, whilst creating an unbreachable wall in the middle.

A proper analysis of Roma's new system deserves its own article, but what we must bear in mind now is that the most intuitive move on the market won't necessarily be the best. Spalletti's greatest strength was always his ability to execute original tactics, and maybe another mediano would be more useful than a regista. Let's be cautious with our judgments.

Roma's ideal profile is that of a quality central midfielder with experience and the ability to hit the ground running. A new Seydou Keita, in brief, to be picked up on loan rather than for good, if at all possible.

This is because a short-term investment represents a preferable option for Roma than buying a youngster or a dark horse. The Giallorossi are about to inaugurate a whole new marketing era next summer, as a new sporting director will be nominated to pick up Walter Sabatini's old job (and in all likelihood the man's smoking habits too, given the bear pit he's about to step into).

Sevilla's Monchi is the number one favourite to take that place, but the specific candidate is beyond the point. You don't pick the ingredients until the chef comes in, and for this same reason Roma should resist making long-term investments in the absence of their soon-to-be director.

Their only target should be to maximise performance from here until next summer, even at the cost of making non-renewable investments. Spalletti must build a fortress around his second place, so that when Monchi (or whoever) finally comes in, there's a pile of Champions League cash waiting for him. Then they may think of youngsters, Italians, dark horses, cubs, unicorns and all the other fantastic beasts they're paid to find.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
The next year Coloccini and Scott Parker made the team of the year so there. Besides I never said he was never good but that he has not improved and overrated. Personally I'd go for Fabregas or Javier Pastore or Rabiot. Very good players rotting on the bench at big clubs
on the 7th January, 2017 at 10:06am
surprisingly there was no mention of florenzi
on the 7th January, 2017 at 8:40am
@Dennis,

Not to say I agree with it but that very year he made the PFA Team of the Year..so one way or another, you're more confident in your point than you have any right to be.
on the 6th January, 2017 at 6:48pm
Roma needs to take a page from Juve's book and start stealing players from their competitors. Obviously they don't have the pockets to buy players from Juve, but they should be able to poach from Lazio, Milan, etc. Maybe they will start this after they get the new stadio.
on the 4th January, 2017 at 11:12pm
Wilshere at 19 was in 2011 and the PL had midfielders like Silva, Toure,Carrick, Song, Gerrard, Essien, Lampard, Mata, Cabaye. How many of these players did Wilshere outperform then? Sure he has had injuries but they are his fault. His indiscipline on and off the pitch is the reason he has had these injuries. He would not stand out in this league as so many players with his dubious "ability" but perhaps not his celebrity.
on the 4th January, 2017 at 7:38pm
Wilshere overrated and hasn't improved since he was 16? First of all you must mean 19, when he was one of the best midfielders in the PL. Overrated is ridiculous. Shockingly injury prone, yeah. He turned 25 on New Year's Day. Please bruh.
on the 4th January, 2017 at 2:01am
Come it is second best defence in the league in terms of goals conceded you could improve it by bringing in another midfield player or getting salah and perotti to do more tracking back but as it stands surely it is a case of finding someone worthy of starting along side manolas. My personal opinion anyway is that roma should use this mercato to build a better squad of players for the next season.
on the 4th January, 2017 at 12:09am
Good read, Andrea.
on the 3rd January, 2017 at 8:47pm
I have seen Paredes play and I am leaning towards the author in his case. De Rossi has to play but I do see your point about Strootman. I have never understood the hype about him in the 1st place but since his injury woes he has been worse. Not that I agree that the over rated injury prone (no improved 1 iota since he was 16) Wilshire is the answer.
on the 3rd January, 2017 at 7:47pm
Hussein should stick to not talking if he isn't going to think clearly. I'm sure you think he's better than Strootman and De Rossi with his feet (who are both clearly better than Radja with it), but he isn't. He doesn't "improve the way Roma play"; he makes himself look good and the team does not move the ball better, nor do they become move incisive. Opinions like that are widespread in the game, which is why the game is played so ugly. Individuals playing individually. Stop it Hussein.
on the 3rd January, 2017 at 7:43pm
De Rossi and Strootman are no longer good starters? What have you been smoking? And who gave away that penalty to Atlanta should I remind you?
on the 3rd January, 2017 at 7:42pm
I wonder if the author ever saw Paredes play. He's decent defensively (may lack experience but not weak by any means). And He's way better than Strootman and De Rossi combined with the ball at his feet. He actually improves the way Roma play.

What Roma actually need is either:
1- Get Radja to play alongside Paredes, and sign an attacking midfielder

2- OR Sign a midfielder to play alongside Paredes and leave Radja in his current role


De Rossi and Strootman are no longer good starters
on the 3rd January, 2017 at 5:36pm

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