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Positional Breakdowns: Defenders

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Easily the most difficult for me, because this was the least cut and dried section and probably the one underneath the most scrutiny last summer after the departure of Christian What's-His-Nuts. It's also difficult to compare this season's defense to last year's based on results based on the quality of calcio this season. 'Twas a very good year 1-20 in Serie A this season, and one of the most glaring points is that UEFA Cup team Empoli, however miraculous that run may have been, was relegated, while every single promoted team from 06/07 finished in the top half of the table, one of those being the jailbirds in third. Not often you see that kind of quality one to three jump from B to A.

So really, the competition as a whole has to be taken into account when saying this year's Roma conceded three more goals than the Roma of 06/07. 37 goals this season to 34 the previous season. Both very respectable numbers, especially for a team which pushes so many bodies forward at times, with a couple of centerbacks who fancy themselves last-shoulder strikers at times (as you know, my favorite).

In summation, there was no drop-off this year, especially considering the main purchase, uh, pulled a Chivu, and they may well have improved. No idea how the defense of 06/07 would've stacked up against the competition of 07/08, but I have a hard time thinking there would be a great improvement, if any.

Unfortunately, this is the area of the squad being hit hardest by age, so while the system is working, we'll need to see fresh blood sooner than later. Maybe this summer, maybe next, but for 08/09 a quality foundation has certainly been laid.


Cicinho:
It took months upon months, laden with fabricated media stories of his unhappiness, but he's finally here, starting XI worthy. All along we knew of his offensive skill set, it was the defensive end which was keeping him on the sidelines. His positioning was occasionally suspect and he was clearly still adapting under Spalletti. There were some good games in the first half and some which made it clear why he still wasn't in the XI. (Mostly the games he was partnered with Ludovicious.)

All in all, it was a very good year in a unique system after a lost year due to injury. His attacking for a fullback is stellar, and you don't see too many of those who can mosey up from the back and then dribble through the midfield and defense like it's a Sunday walk in the park, which he can.

If anything, though, he's one of the greater hopes for next year. Obviously he has improved, but one of his best assets, his crossing, can go unnoticed at times simply because there isn't a big target to fire towards in the middle. If/when Roma does pick up a proper big man, backup or not, Cicinho may start to rack up those assist totals.

Grade: B+

For his defensive improvements and his obvious attacking talents. Mirko aside, wonder if any player made a greater leap within the squad from August to May.

Marco Cassetti:
His first half was as good, if not better, than anyone else's on this list - somehow. I'll be the first to admit I didn't see it coming. More than serviceable from the start, nobody would've thought by the end of the year he was going to be a candidate for a Euros call (listen, if you're Italian, a fullback and over 30, Rome is The Place for you to get an Azzurri call - Spal can work wonders with you).

I mean, he wasn't just good, he was fantastic for a long, long stretch - and in many positions. Right back, right wing, centerback, left back...hell, I even think he played left wing once or twice. Workrate, pace, forward runs, crossing - his defense was even good. Cicinho may have acclimated himself to the system long before he ever saw sustained pitch time, and Marco's form was a very big reason why. Over the course of the year he became one of my favorites, because everyone knows how much I love me some quality versatility.

His shoulder injury hampered things and by then Cicinho was already working his way into the squad a bit. After the injury - then another one - Marco was sort of thrown into No Man's Land, having to fill in at centerback on a couple of occasions, something he clearly was not suited for, while biding his time.

For me, he's the most underrated performer of this campaign. The second half wasn't terrible, and who knows what would've happened had he stayed healthy the entire year, allowing some sustained form. His first half though...something we didn't expect.

Grade: A-

I'm not sure if he peaked, he's obviously got some skills and who knows what another year in the system will do for him, but I'd be thrilled if he could match his healthy, on form time next season. At something like 2m, maybe less, he's become one hell of a bargain and a great asset to the team.

Christian Panucci:
For all his grumpiness, the man was completely invaluable. I recall having nightmares about a Panucci + Anyone central partnership after that Juventus friendly in August, but he really came through this year - for himself and the squad. After all, it's not too often 34 year olds get recalled into the national squad after 3 years out.

Now let's get down to brass tax: those headers were ridiculous. It seemed whenever Roma (or the Azzurri) was down and needed a pick-me-up, or a quick three points, it was Grumpy Old Man River to the rescue. Genoa, Empoli and Sampdoria - three games where it seemed Roma was destined to drop points, only for GOMR and his 12 year old boy haircut to come flying in to save the day. (That ball to Mirko in the Madrid game was spectacular as well.)

For a 35 year old defender asked to patch up the backline literally weeks before the season started, what more could you ask for? Not much. The guy's entering the tapioca pudding stage of his career and he's one of just 7 defenders called up this summer for a team which relies so much on good, often great, defense. I'm as unhappy as anyone regarding his inability to play nice with others, but he really, really stepped it up this year.

Grade: A

38 games, 6 goals and the unenviable task of being forced to cover another position much of the year - that is, unless he's becoming a poor man's Maldini and moving inwards as his career dwindles. Let's hope he relaxes a bit next year (and Alberto learns how to tell funny jokes out of earshot), but more of the same play would be more than welcome.

Philippe Mexes:
See here.

Juan:
'Tis unfortunate that he suffered so many injuries this year, but he hardly got off on the right foot - or any foot for that matter. Copa America meant a short vacation and then an injury meant difficulties going into the season. But he did give some glimpses, didn't he?

I think almost to a person, despite the lost time, he's got to be the signing of the mercato last year. A paltry 6.3m, he was fantastic in most of his showings and so unbelievably smooth. His positioning took a bit of time to get worked out, as well as the cohesion in the back line, but as much was to be expected.

I think I speak for everyone when I say we hope to see a full year of an uninjured Juan next year. One of the surprises of Europe, really, he's never been an injury-prone guy and seems to have simply got off on the wrong foot this year and stayed there. With his calm, smooth ability to read and pounce, I'm salivating over a full year of Crockett & Tubbs in the back, policing Serie A. After all, it took only a matter of weeks seemingly before they were being nominated for best defensive partnership in calcio.

But most importantly....Chivu who?

Grade: A-

As good as he was, there were still a few critical moments which cost Roma, namely the free kick he conceded towards the end of the Livorno game, which left us all cursing Brazilian defending and Roma finishing. But nobody is perfect, and there's a reason why teams like Barcelona are now interested. Helluva debut year for a guy with mighty big boots to fill.


Matteo Ferrari:
I had to do a double take when I saw the number of games he played in this year: 16 in Serie A, 5 elsewhere. 21 games? Did I miss a dozen of those somehow? Or is that simply how invisible he was this year?

I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. I had expected moderate sized, if not big, things this year. I wrote up some spiel before the season and it got stuck in the "I've run out of ideas to finish this thing" department, along with about 30 other posts. In it I thought Matteo would thrive finally having two straight years in the same team, same system, consistency which he'd been lacking much of his career due to the amount he'd bounced around year-by-year. The one uninterrupted stretch he'd been allowed was at Parma, which earned him the Roma move.

Well that idea shat the bed.

Do we chalk this one up to injury? Maybe. We've seen two defenders who started out the year hobbled plagued by injuries throughout, and the final nail was the meniscus injury. And when he did play....eh. The best thing he contributed was that penalty he won v Sampdoria, allowing for a goal and a cucchiaio. Of course, I, like many others I assume, are bitter about the penalty he conceded in Firenze, when he was afraid of being beaten off the dribble by a garden statue. Other than that he seemed so nervous at times, and only finally looked to have gained solid legs towards the end of his campaign.

Almost undoubtedly his last performance in a Roma shirt will be that epic turd he laid against Cagliari. So with that I say......don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Grade: C+

Well more bad than good, and I don't dare tack up the number of points he cost Roma thinking god knows what. So, uh, this is my "parting gift".

Marco Andreolli:
I had so much hope for this kid. So much hope. Half for his future, half for making Chivu look like a 12 year old fat kid on ice skates. Didn't happen. Now he's dead and all is lost.

Actually, and I'm not sure anybody mentioned this, but after Andreolli's injury, in his first game back for Vicenza, he scored an own-goal Ferrari style. Could he be any more cursed? All these injuries, one of which is a major back issue, and he's knocking in own-goals in Serie B? Holy shit. Expel this kid from Rome now. Black cat written all over him.

Be off, you witch.

Grade: N/A

Realistically, I think I want him to come back and go out on loan again, but if Rome winds up with a frog and locust issues this summer, I'm going to do the world a favor and take him out myself.

Samuel Kuffour:
Hey, thanks for eating up a fat, undeserved chunk of the team salary budget.

Grade: F-


Max Tonetto:
Old Gray Beard had a good year, not a great year, and he really seemed to bookend the year well. The beginning was good, and though he's still not an elite defender, game in, game out he seemed to be a solid contributor to the cause. At his age, without a true backup behind him, he was bound to get tired at some point, and it's the most likely theory on what happened early in the second half of the year. The pace seemed a bit lacking, crosses not as crisp and he was getting beat a bit more than we're used to seeing. The inclusion of Cassetti and iTunes really seemed to help the old legs, and in the end he picked it up.

After the role he was asked to play, with a backup always coming in either an emergency or meaningless game situation, he played the second most minutes in the squad behind, and no surprise here, Daniele De Rossi at the age of 33 in a position which requires a good amount of overlapping (he's no kiddie these days).

The question now becomes, what's left in the tank? I don't think anyone believes that he can play 3000 minutes again and hope to equal the last couple years. If anything, a younger, capable backup or platoon mate may help bring out the best in Max and freshen up those old legs a bit - better than we've seen yet. At the beginning of the year, we were clearly looking at a vice-Max. Now it looks like it's either a platoon mate or a starting XI leftback, and that's no knock on him.

Grade: B

A few people mentioned Spalletti had hit "lightning in a bottle" with Max last season. Well I think he proved it wasn't a fluke, even if he saw a few lulls at times. Let's hope Spal can now stretch those legs next year.

Needs/Wants/Desires:

The Fiat (Ferrari) looks to be out...again...and that'll require a new CB unless Spalletti thinks Marco Andreolli is truly ready (everything else indicates otherwise). Most I think would agree that it looks like GOMR will continue to be the 3rd CB at this stage, allowing Cassetti and Cicinho to platoon on the right and giving some stability to the CB position, rather than bringing in two fresh faces to a vital position. But chances are that 4th CB will actually be of playable quality - either that or a young'un plus an uber-versatile LB (a la Mathieu or Domizzi) who can capably slot over in a pinch. Allows more depth and options on the bench and really just ups the potential of the squad. Spal seems to love his versatile defenders and I do too.

Chances are this will be the most creatively worked area of the mercato, with either some player swaps or surprise young'un recalls in here to fill out the squad. Right now it's just way too difficult to predict.