Midfield, the bread and butter of Luciano Spalletti's 4-2-3-1 attacking system. One of those systems where the players fit the system, not vice versa, a lot of guys on the squad can fill in adequately at a few position. Essentially divided into two different groups, the wingers and the central midfielders. The wingers doing what wingers do, but the central midfield comprised of two "defensive mids" and one trequartista; or, in Simeone Perrotta's case, jack-of-all-trades, master of a couple. This is where those vaunted "waves of attack" come into play. Everyone is required to fulfill their respective defensive duties (some more than others), but the moment the ball turns over into Roma's possession, it's get your ass in gear and join The Roman Clusterfuck in the opponent's penalty box. Thus far it has proved to be one of the effective and exciting attacks in Serie A, if not Europe. Proof of the tactical genius that is Lucanio Spalletti, aka The Grand Imperial Poobah. The usual suspects:
Daniele De Rossi (CM): The Heir. To what? Everything. At 24, already considered arguably the best midfielder in all of Serie A. Totti's captaincy is his when Il Capitano rides off into the sunset. Francesco's status as the best player of Roma and icon of la citta eterna will be his. It's all his. His starting spot somewhere in the Roma XI is assured for the next 8-10 years or so. This year should see DDR grow from a maturity and decision-making standpoint, allowing him to completely dominate the midfield area singlehandedly like only few can. Essentially, he's Roma's answer to Steven Gerrard, and one of the most talented and valuable players in the world. DDR is a difference maker, and will dominate the midfield accordingly. It's hard to describe him in words - he's it. That's all. He is it.
Prediction: 5 goals, numerous assists and the award as the Best Midfielder in Serie A for the season.
Ahmed Barusso (DM): Ahmed is still somewhat of a project, but he's the only true ball-winning defensive mid on la rosa; and that alone will get him some playing time, especially when De Rossi is given a rest or taken off at the end of a game. However, he's still a player whose most significant contributions lay in the future, and he'll be treated accordingly. Don't expect him to challenge for a starting spot anytime soon, but he will earn some playing time with his aggressive style and pure physicality. At this point a best guess is a role similar to Ricardo Faty last season. Some early Coppa time and late game substitutions to begin with.
Prediction: Early Coppa playing time, as well as against some weaker squads during Champions League and/or Azzurri weeks. 15 games or so and a lot of drooling from the tifosi when he starts unleashing those Howitzers from just inside the half. Roma's half.
Alberto Aquilani (CM): My Boy. Everybody knows the future of Roma's midfield is Daniele & Albert. Is it now? It does appear that way. He has the talent to be one of the premier all-around central midfielders in Europe, and should start to make the casual fans sit up in their seats a little bit this season. He has elicitied the interest of some of the top sides in Europe already - Valencia, Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea to name a few - despite not having a horde of experience on his CV. Obviously the spot to be won has belonged to David Pizarro over the last 12 months, and the two will likely end up splitting the majority of the time when David returns from laying out in the trainers room all day. The key is who is called upon during the games that absolutely need the best Roma XI possible, such as a big CL game or Inter, Milan and Juventus games. Considering Alberto's performances recently (including the U-21's) as well as his unquestionably exceptional talent, it's fair to say it's his time. His spot.
Prediction: He and Pizarro will likely split the majority of the games, with AA getting a few more should he stay healthy. 3 goals, some cheeky rabonas, chicanery which makes you question whether or not his passport is actually Brazilian and - if this summer's performances are any indication - on the short list for Best Young Player in Serie A.
David Pizarro (CM): There's no question David is is a very good playmaker with vision and precision passes. However, he's lacking everywhere else which could cost him minutes. For starters, his injury will keep him out likely until October, at which point he'll have to jump directly into Roma's 7 week gauntlet of calcio hell. It's more lingering than serious, but sometimes those can be worse. Lingering injuries are the one's that flare up often, so hopefully he isn't rushed back too soon for the sake of depth. Afterwards his playing time will be determined by how well Aquilani performed throughout his absence.
Prediction: 20 games or so, but won't be the mainstay he was last season. 1 goal, a few cheeky passes and lots of hugs for Giuly.
Matteo Brighi (CM): Incomplete. He may stay, he may not. If he does, he'll back up and see 15 games or so. More information in September.
Prediction: He sticks around as cover for the central midfield as mainly a substitute and performs well, but not spectacular.
Simone Perrotta (CM/SS): The trequartista spot is his, and where we could probably consider Totti the heart, brain and feet of the squad, Perrotta is the spine of the formation. His presence and characteristics are integral to Spalletti's style and tactics, specifically, his stamina, pace and pinball-like box-to-box abilities. Despite being considered the trequartista, he assists greatly on the defensive end, making his absence in the squad felt more only with De Rossi and Totti (see: Old Trafford). His finishing can leave something to be desired, but if Roma can create similar chances to the silver platters offered up to Ludovic Giuly in the Super Coppa, then Roma should be an offensive beast. Highly underrated and underappreciated.
Prediction: The boldest prediction of the season, Simone will bag 10+ goals and be one of the main difference makers in this season's campaign. He'll also start most games, and all games that really matter. No question.
Mancini (LW/RW): A non-worry. He'll be spectacular, he'll disappear, he'll be spectacular again. That's the pattern. His starting spot is assured and is obviously one of the keys to Roma's offensive and overall success. The biggest question heading into the season is the status of his extension talks and how that will affect his game. There is still no definitive word on what halted the talks prematurely even though things were going smoothly by all accounts, so it is somewhat of a mystery. All parties point to it not being much of an issue, but if not, it shouldn't affect his on the field performance. He showed to be a true professional by keeping his rift with Totti private for as long as possible and not leaking word to the media and still performing exceptionally on the pitch - even if the two didn't give each other big hugs and kisses during goal celebrations. Whatever happens, it shouldn't affect his stellar on the field performances.
Prediction: 30 games, 9 goals and starting to broach elite winger status with a little more consistency.
Ludovic Giuly (LW/RW/CM/SS): When he was bought it was widely assumed it was as a winger. The absence of Simone through injury in the preseason has forced him into a more central role, even though the bulk of his playing time should still come on the flanks. Due to his speed, an ideal late game sub and change-of-pace type of guy for tired defenses. Also best suited to larger pastures based on his lack of physical stature. Will still see some starts all along the front line, and could even fill in for Totti in dire emergency.
Prediction: 20 games, 6 goals, with his biggest impact coming during the Champions League.
Mauro Esposito (RW/LW): Seems to have somewhat dropped in favor during the preseason, but he's also coming off an injury plagued season and not in full form yet. Regardless, probably the biggest boom-bust in the squad. He could either fall flat on his face or replicate the form that had him score 16 goals from the wing 2 years ago. A great ability to cut and shoot, but his shots thus far for Roma have been off target and far from vintage Espo. He will need to prove himself early to be considered a main option from the wings.
Prediction: 20 games, 4 goals, and becoming much more impressive during the second half of the season.
Rodrigo Taddei (RW/LW/CM): Deserving of his starting spot on the right wing and will stay there for the time being, unless Esposito or Giuly both jump into the rejuvenation machine and start channeling their 2004 selves. Taddei is one of the most underappreciated players at Roma and even in Serie A, how many people forget Roma beat out Juventus and Inter for his services? Has the bag of tricks and pace but actually uses them intelligently and with purpose, which makes him Bizarro Christian Wilhelmsson. His versatility allows him to play anywhere along the midfield front line and even give some defensive assistance out wide. A solid, sometimes spectacular, player and one of the least worries in the squad.
Prediction: 30 games, 5 goals, still highly underrated.
Edgar Alvarez (RW/LW): Burritos is one of those "average at everything but one plus plus attribute" that scouts tend to run away from ASAP. That one plus plus attribute in this case being speed. He's got it and he's got it in spades. Roma has plenty of that now with the additions of Espo and Lulu Gulu, so Alvarez has to ascend the Himalayas if he wants to force some playing time. There is always the option of selling/loaning him in the next week, but there has been nary a word from the streets on any potential suitors and Spalletti's desire for 97 wingers in his stable. He'll get Coppa time and emergency duties, but not much else outside of that. Still, it's always good to have a body around in case the apocalypse mosies on down from high.
Prediction: A few spot games early in the season and then loaned/sold to relegation fodder in January.
Adrian Pit (LW): The ex-Bellinzona superduperstud looks to be sticking around despite reports sending him on loan to Bari, as well as having reports say post-signing he would be loaned out to Serie B ASAP. Why? His experience is limited to the Swiss and Romanian 2nd divisions, which, for those out in the cold, is a far cry from Serie A and the Champions League. He may or may not be loaned out before the season commences, but he will see very little time at Roma regardless.
Prediction: Loaned out, either in August or January, after seeing very little, if any, time on the pitch.
Aleandro Rosi (Rw/LW/RB): Aleandro is somewhat of a mystery. He certainly has the skills and he'll definitely be a quality Serie A starter someday, at the very least, but where he fits in this season is a question. His two most likely positions, RW and LW, are currently stacked, although he could probably be placed 5th on the depth chart ahead of Alvarez. His youthful exuberance and passion for Roma really comes out in his play which, combined with his skills, will have him forming a core of Romanisti at the club in the next few years. In terms of skill, he's like a rich man's Marco Cassetti, but still a little raw. Some offensive skill, some defensive skill and a whole lot of questions as to where he truly belongs on the pitch. He's not a diamond like Aquilani, but he's talented in his own right and will start to force his way higher and higher on the depth chart as time progresses and eventually towards that starting XI. Almost assuredly not this year, but it should be nice to watch him blossom over the next 18-24 months, provided he isn't loaned out. Many pundits peg him as a guy without the elite skills, but one whose vigor and determination will turn him into a star. Let's hope so.
Prediction: Still the ever-present possibility of a loan, but Spalletti really likes this kid - and all the scouts rave about him. A betting man would have him sticking around. More and more late game substitutions and a lot of Coppa time early on, with Spalletti keeping a watchful eye on his progression. Eventually he's going to surprise everyone and show up as a high class player. Could be soon.
Next Installment: Defenders & Keepers