Roma ring the changes but look to continue their success under Coach Luciano Spalletti, writes Chloe Beresford.
There is a sense of excitement and optimism around Roma that hasn’t been seen for quite a while. Much of that is down to Luciano Spalletti, who transformed the side when taking over from the increasingly unpopular Rudi Garcia in January. The Lupi powered their way back up the standings to secure third place and a Champions League play-off spot against Porto. The result of that European crossroads moment will inevitably impact their Serie A campaign, as spreading resources in the Europa League and Champions League are two very different prospects.
“I met with [Sporting Director Walter] Sabatini and everything went well,” Radja Nainggolan told reporters this summer. “I am staying at Roma.” Hanging on to their star midfielder after a heavy pursuit from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea was perhaps the best move of the close-season for the Capital club.
That aside, it has been a summer of mixed fortunes for the Giallorossi, with some positive moves in the transfer market dampened by the immense loss of Miralem Pjanic. Whilst last season’s loan players Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko were all tied up on permanent deals, the impressive Lucas Digne returned to parent club PSG. Roma were quick off the mark in signing his replacement – the highly-rated Mario Rui of Empoli – only to see him tear the ACL in his left knee during a training session and the defender now faces four months on the sidelines.
There is a definite injury problem at the Olimpico, as Germany international Rudiger is also out for a lengthy spell after tearing his ACL during Euro 2016 preparations. The hope is that Kevin Strootman can finally put his nightmare behind him after two years to truly get back to being the player that he was when first joining the Giallorossi.
Similarly, veteran captain Francesco Totti is still at the club despite turning 40 in September and inevitably he’ll only be used as a supersub off the bench to inspire teammates and fans. Spalletti has to trust the supporters and media will be less obsessed with getting Totti into the starting XI this season, but one never can control the Pupone spotlight.
Despite finishing just two points behind Napoli in 2015-16, Roma conceded nine more goals than the Partenopei and have thus further strengthened their backline this summer with the loan signings of Thomas Vermaelen from Barcelona, Inter’s Juan Jesus and Federico Fazio of Tottenham.
The prospect of a full season under Spalletti – who lost just one league match after taking over from Rudi Garcia in January – is an exciting one for the fans, but the loss of Pjanic to Juventus has considerably strengthened their rivals. The Bianconeri have also captured 36-goal Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, meaning that Roma supporters are all too aware that a sixth Scudetto in a row for Max Allegri’s men looks increasingly likely.
After revitalising a jaded Roma side in the second half of the last campaign, expectations will be high that Spalletti can produce the results once again in order to keep pace with an extremely strong Juventus team in the race for the Scudetto.
The 23-year-old was the most prolific of the January signings, racking up eight goals and two assists in the second half of 2015-16. The Savona-born player will be looking to link up with Mohamed Salah and hit the ground running in the new campaign.
After securing those aforementioned loan players, snapping up this versatile Brazilian from Inter could well be the most important piece of business done by the Giallorossi. His ability to play on the left of the defence will certainly help Spalletti with new signing Mario Rui out with a long-term injury.
The 25-year-old gave a good account of himself at this summer’s European Championships, making four starts for the Azzurri under Antonio Conte. His versatility will be an asset to new boss Giampiero Ventura when Italy begin their World Cup qualifying campaign against Spain in October.
After making 33 appearances for Roma during the 2013-14 season, there were rumours that the 29-year-old defender could return to the Capital this summer. He was surplus to requirements at Bayern Munich when the Bavarians captured Mats Hummels, but Benatia opted to join Juventus instead.
Szczesny; Florenzi, Manolas, Rudiger, JESUS; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Salah, Perotti, El Shaarawy