2017-18 SERIE A PREVIEW

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It is a year of radical change for the Giallorossi and one must be realistic about their short-term prospects, writes Andrea Tallarita

A Roma revolution

It's been a year of change, chez Roma. First director Walter Sabatini was gently shown the door, then club legend Francesco Totti bid his tearful farewells, and finally Coach Luciano Spalletti sailed off to Inter.

In came Monchi, the distinguished former sporting director from Sevilla, as well as long-awaited Eusebio Di Francesco, the young Coach who had turned minnows Sassuolo into a force to be reckoned with.

It all feels distinctly like the club is turning a new page, and it will be interesting to see how these developments bear fruit not just this season, but in the years to come.

While there have been some heavyweight renewals within the club's management, one thing that did not undergo dramatic qualitative change was the squad. Roma have been very active on the market, sure enough, but they haven't picked up any star players.

Monchi sold Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger and Leandro Paredes, and replaced the latter two more or less adequately, with Hector Moreno in defence and Lorenzo Pellegrini in the midfield. On the other hand, the signing of Gregoire Defrel and youngster Cengiz Ünder hardly seem appropriate to fill the shoes of Salah.

This means that Giallorossi's ideal starting XI is now not stronger but weaker, if marginally so. The strategy seems to have been to sacrifice quality in the team's starting XI in exchange for much greater depth on the bench.

Monchi supplied a combination of experienced veterans and promising youngsters which include not just Moreno, Pellegrini, Defrel and Ünder, but also Rick Karsdorp, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Maxime Gonalons (as well as schoolboys Rezan Corlu and Zan Celar, although most likely to loan them out).

The result is that Roma are stacked with options in just about every department, and should have the means to handle all three of their competitions in relative comfort, even allowing for an injury crisis.

If I'm allowed a zoological metaphor, Roma went from being a bull to a mountain goat: they pack less of a punch, but are mobile in all sorts of new and difficult environments. They may have some trouble in direct encounters against Napoli and Juventus, but they should demonstrate much greater consistency in the championship as a whole.

There is certainly a coherent philosophy behind this, and it's all the more impressive that Monchi managed to build such a muscular squad whilst netting a profit (the club's financial outlook is actually better now than it's been in many years).

The element of risk remains the Coach. The advantage of such a supremely flexible squad lies in its ability to absorb shocks. The team may lose a player to suspension, but go on deploying its preferred tactical system with no dips in efficiency. This is only a good plan if said tactical system is solid in the first place.

A club with outstanding individual players can compensate for times when their team is being tactically outwitted by their opponents, but this is not an option for Roma. If Di Francesco's tactics fail to deliver, this could be a really bumpy season for the Capital team.

So, what can be expected of the former Roma player turned Coach? His 4-3-3 seems like a natural synthesis of Zdenek Zeman's pathologically offensive systems and the rigours of contemporary calcio, which is a good thing. It proved remarkably successful with Sassuolo, and there is no reason to believe it wouldn't do well with Roma's much more talented squad.

The main cause of concern is Di Francesco's lack of experience. It's good that he already played in the capital, because at least he knows what kind of environmental pressure to expect, but the man has never coached a team in the Champions League, nor worked under the exhausting rhythms of top-flight football.

Even if his tactics are successful, and with a starting XI that is probably weaker than those of both Napoli and Juventus, it is hard to imagine an improvement on last year's domestic achievements. And we must also entertain the possibility that his system may not be successful at all, in which case Roma could plunge as low as fifth or sixth.

The team

2017-18 prediction

Roma have laid the foundations for what could really be an evolutionary transition. They have a strong, young and balanced squad, an ambitious Coach with potential, are financially in great shape, and may even start building their stadium. In the short term, however, one must be realistic. Their starting XI is not the strongest in Italy and their tactician is still learning the ropes. Expect no more than we got last year, and possibly a bit less.

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