For the second summer in a row, Roma go into the new season having lost more than one key component of their squad.
The loss of two key starting players, in midfield engine Radja Nainggolan and sweeper-keeper Alisson, will without question have an effect on how Eusebio Di Francesco transmits his style of football entering the 2018-19 Serie A season. And with the arrival of more than a dozen new faces up and down the squad, the shape of the Giallorossi comes off as being a bit more balanced and position-orientated at the first few glances during this pre-season tour.
Despite finishing third domestically and as a semi-finalist in the UEFA Champions League, fans would have liked to see Roma delve into the market to add that depth without significant sales like that of Mohamed Salah, who was sold last summer and wound up terrorising the Premier League in what is considered to have been one of the best seasons England has ever witnessed.
Unfortunately for supporters, this major market activity came somewhat at the expense of two key players leaving equating close to €100m in proceeds, though the coffers were fattened as a result of their European achievements which aided in a more flexible operating budget for sporting director Monchi.
When you analyse where Roma have improved on from last year, you can pinpoint attacking playmaker Javier Pastore.
While Di Francesco has yet to define the Argentine’s role in the 4-3-3, that shape does provide the positional flexibility to either create down the centre of the midfield or play through the wing, which also welcomes the energy and attacking potential Justin Kluivert exudes.
The Ajax academy talent easily finds himself playing a prominent role for Roma, especially when you consider the production from this area in recent years. Though competition for minutes on both ends remains open with Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Ünder; Kluivert’s inclusion allows for Patrik Schick to find comfort in his preferred central role as deputy to starter Edin Dzeko. Kluivert still must settle into his groove in the Italian capital, but his trickery and skill on the ball are welcomed qualities in this side that lacked attacking balance.
Beyond Pastore and Kluivert, there is the acquisition of Bryan Cristante who brings with him the wherewithal to plunge forward and provide goals from an important midfield role. In all competitions last season, the former Milan youth product tucked away 12 goals for Atalanta, a sum not to be overlooked for Roma, who simply did not score enough from that department last season.
Throughout the International Champions Cup tour in the U.S., Di Francesco used the tournament as a platform to shuffle his personnel in an effort to gauge where certain players fit best. Based off the matches with Tottenham, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the midfield’s proven to be Di Francesco’s main area of focus, looking to sort out who is best suited for the three positions.
While it is completely understood these ICC fixtures must be taken with a grain of salt, they present an opportunity for many in the Roma side to convince Di Francesco and secure spots just weeks away from the Serie A opening weekend.
On the surface, Roma could prove to be a bit more balanced top to bottom, but the biggest question remains in Robin Olsen’s ability to effectively integrate into Di Francesco’s scheme and show enough confidence in possession and with his feet to neutralise at least a bit of the impact taken from the departure of Alisson.