For as much as we've focused on Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic and even Zlatan Ibrahimovic lately, we all know what Roma's perpetual source of weakness is, fullbacks, and this season was no exception to that rule. Rudi Garcia trotted out no less than eight fullbacks this season, ranging from the divinely malleable Alessandro Florenzi to the forgettable Urby Emanuelson. Beyond Florenzi's switch to fullback, which is a separate debate in and of itself, nothing Garcia tried on the flanks seemed to work, as Roma's fullbacks were often offensively ineffective and defensively deficient.
In the interest of time, we'll limit this review to Roma's nominal fullbacks, the ones Garcia leaned upon most this season, starting with the Greek brigade.
All stats are inclusive of league, cup and European play. Ratings range from 1.0 (think Aleandro Rosi) to 10.0 (Philip Lahm).
Stats: 28 appearances, two goals, three assists, 1.3 tackles per match, 1.5 interceptions per match, 83% passing.
Torosidis' reputation as a solid and versatile backup was reinforced this season, as the 30-year-old Greek featured on both flanks, though he was much more effective on the right hand side. When utilized correctly, Torosidis proved to be an active and effective defender, as his 7.25 defensive actions per 90 minutes (INTs, blocks, clearances) was fourth on the squad.
Without a doubt, the "highlight "of Torosidis' year was his match winning goal against Udinese from May. Yes, it was a garbage tap in, but give him credit for being in the right place at the right time.
Torosidis was also instrumental in Roma's 2-1 Europa League victory over Feyenoord, setting up both goals.
Ultimately 2014-2015 was another solid year for Torosidis, and we should expect nothing but the same next year. He is what he is, a solid backup; expect anything more and you'll be disappointed, but as 1,700 to 2,000 minute player, he's as good as we'll get at that cost
Stats: 33 appearances, one goal, one assist, two tackles per match, 2.5 interceptions per match, 82% passing
Cholebas is an interesting case study. Based on standard metrics, he was all aces, even making WhoScored's Serie A team of the season, but who among us had that much faith in him in the moment? In other words, were your eyes buying what the stats were selling?
Cholebas' 6.51 defensive actions per 90 minutes were fifth on the squad, ditto for his 2.01 tackles per 90 minutes, though he did win 53% of his tackles, which led the squad. Offensively speaking, Holebas was Roma's most efficient attacking fullback. Through 24 league appearance, Holebas led the club in key passes and dribbles per 90 minutes (among defenders), while trailing only Maicon in assists per 90 minutes, though he played significantly more than Dougie.
The trouble with Cholebas is that he is exclusively a left back, a capable one, yes, but is he enough to help Roma take the next step?
That's really the essential question, one which looks increasingly likely to be answered in Watford...maybe, just don't ask him.
Stats: 14 appearances, 1.7 tackles per match, 2.1 interceptions per match, 89% passing
Cole, much like Cholebas but for very different reasons, presents a curious case, pitting stats, perception and age against one another. To the outsider, it appeared as though Cole was simply on a Serie A retirement cruise, blessing us with his presence while collecting a hefty paycheck, but was that really the case, or was his mercenary image merely a mirage caused by misuse?
34-years-old or not, Cole's performance warranted more than 14 appearances, making his spot in Garcia's presumably luxurious dog house indecipherable. Cole averaged 1.45 tackles per 90 minutes, third among fullbacks, winning 53% of his tackles, tied with Cholebas for the lead. These aren't overwhelming numbers, but were they so poor as to deem him unworthy of playing? Offensively speaking, there wasn't a ton to write home about, beyond his impressive accuracy, but Cole was never meant to be an offensive dynamo.
And that's really the heart of the matter; what Cole has historically done well, he continued to do this past season (though not at quite the same level, of course), and should have earned far more playing time than he ultimately did.
Cole will never repeat his Chelsea days, but he should be more than afterthought.
Stats: 17 appearances, two goals, one assist, 1.9 tackles per match, 1.8 interceptions per match, 1.3 dribbles per match, 84% passing.
When we read the autopsy report of Roma's 2014-2015 Scudetto chase, the cause of death very well may have been the absence of Big Dougie, whose renaissance was so instrumental in Roma's record run through the previous season. Little though we saw of him this past season, it was clear, he's still a difference maker.
Maicon was Roma's most active defender in the passing game, averaging 62 total passes, 0.73 key passes and 0.09 assists per 90 minutes, each of which was either first or second among Roma's defenders. He was particularly instrumental in Roma's limited Champions League success, averaging over two dribbles and two key passes per European match, best among Roma's defenders by a country mile.
Given his injury struggles this season, it's tough to holistically judge Maicon, but when he was fit and available, he damn near replicated his 2013-2014 form.
Stats: 44 appearances, five goals, five assists, one key pass per match, 1.1 crosses per match, 2.5 long balls per match, 80% passing
First things first, given the variety of roles and positions he played this year, it's difficult to appropriately gauge his performance against his peers; he was a little of everything, so it's not entirely fair to stack him up against his peers who weren't thrown around like an old piece of tupperware.
Having said that, Florenzi was fantastic, doing just enough to make you believe he can do the unthinkable; successfully transition into a top fullback, becoming Roma's very own Gianluca Zambrotta.
To truly appreciate how versatile and how effective Ale was this season, consider the following. Based on per 90 minute figures, Florenzi was top ten in the following categories: goals, shots, key passes, assists, dribbles, crosses, long balls, blocked shots, clearances, fewest dispossessions and fewest defensive errors.
And those are just the things we can measure; there's simply no accounting for the effect his effort and timely runs have on Roma's performance. Florenzi is such an intelligent and versatile footballer, that it shouldn't come as a surprise that he played as well as he did out of position.
But is the best use of his skills going forward, or should he be (and this was purely coincidental) a forward?
Areas of Need for Next Season
Make no mistake, fullback remains a pox on Roma's reputation. With Cholebas on the way out the door, and with Cole and Maicon another year older, the Giallorossi are in dire need of reinforcement on the flanks. This is nothing new, though. The Salient point is what do with Florenzi. He proved that he can hack it as a fullback, and given another year or so of full time duty in that role, he might very well be the next Zambrotta, but would that rob the frontline of its best off-the-ball attacker, a crucial element in Garcia's tactics, incidentally.
If Florenzi moves back to his customary role up front, then what? There are very few affordable, effective options on the transfer market, and with Matteo Darmian's price tag soaring past €20m, he may prove cost prohibitive for Roma, especially if they sink that same amount into Dzeko.
This much is clear, a patchwork approach won't work anymore, they've ignored this problem for too long.