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Federico Fazio: The Surprise of Roma’s Season

Not many people were jazzed when Roma snapped up Federico Fazio from Spurs, but the mammoth Argentine has been a pleasant surprise for Roma.

AS Roma v FC Astra Giurgiu - UEFA Europa League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

If you’ve followed CdT’s transfer coverage over the years, you’ve no doubt noticed the extreme nature of our analyses and reactions. While we try not to make snap judgements about players or rumors, given the chaotic and irrational nature of the transfer market, it’s hard not to be a prisoner of the moment. For every rush of excitement brought on by Roma’s capture of players like Kevin Strootman and Bruno Peres, there is the equal and opposite reaction; the instant shitstorm that followed the signings of players like Victor Ibarbo and Juan Jesus.

Dont’ get me wrong, there is actually some gray area in our transfer coverage. The captures of Gervinho, Stephan El Shaarawy and even Thomas Vermaelen were all met with a healthy mixture of skepticism and optimism, and for the most part, they worked out quite well, but the sheer pace of the rumor mill produces extreme reactions.

The transfer of Federico Fazio was one such case, as we treated him with an instant blitz of negativity (sorry, y’all). Don’t believe me, give it another gander, but can you really blame me? Here was a 29-year-old defender who had spent the past few seasons bouncing back and forth between the same two teams; he was like that tagalong friend that no one liked but somehow always ended up glomming on to your crew, despite your best efforts to pawn him off on someone else.

But a funny thing happened since then, Fazio has turned out to be quite a solid signing. While he hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel, Fazio’s stoic play has been the perfect foil for Kostas Manolas’ well orchestrated madness. Fazio is the stake in the ground and Manolas is the manic pitbull desperately trying to break free from the chain.

Through ten appearances in a Roma shirt (all comps), Fazio has logged 666 minutes (the mark of the beast, how appropriate for this time of year), while completing 87% of his passes, winning 72% of his headers and an astounding 80% of his tackle attempts, all while averaging seven defensive actions (clearances, blocks and interceptions) per match, second only to Manolas.

While those marks will be hard to maintain over the course of an entire season, the early returns on Fazio have been remarkable, to the point where you have to wonder if Antonio Rüdiger will automatically assume his starting spot once he’s healthy. Now, I’m not saying Fazio is superior, simply that the continuity and chemistry Fazio has developed with Manolas might give Spalletti pause upon Toni’s immediate return, which is certainly a good problem to have.

But back to our initial point, Fazio’s role alongside Manolas. Fazio is not a gifted athlete, that much is certain, but he is a man who knows his limitations as well as his strengths. Size, composure and timing are Fazio’s calling cards, and when he remains within his sphere of influence, he has been remarkably effective.

For an illustrative example, we’ll turn to Saturday’s match against Napoli:

Fazio’s Positioning vs Napoli

As you can see, Fazio remained (roughly) within the confines of the 18-yard-box, sweeping from edge to edge on the six, where he made all seven of his clearances and two INTs. Similarly, when Fazio did venture further up the pitch, he remained similarly restrained in his movement; not taking any risks, just doing the dirty work, keeping Napoli’s attackers away from the six, using his size and composure to steady the ship.

Now watch what happens when we overlay Manolas’ heat map on top of Fazio’s:

Fazio & Manolas Combined Heatmap vs Napoli

As you can see, with Fazio holding down the fort in the middle, Manolas was free to roam the sidelines, harrying Napoli’s more aggressive and athletic attackers. While this is just good, common sense football, it nevertheless shows just how well these two seemingly polar opposite defenders have meshed. Indeed, when we look at Fazio’s better matches (Crotone and Astra Giurgiu), we see the same pattern: a more restrained Fazio enabling Manolas to improvise in the defensive end, pressing the opponents further up the pitch.

Is this enough to permanently unseat Rüdiger? Of course not—Fazio is woefully slow and limited in what he can do—but it gives Roma some much needed defensive depth and is further proof of Walter Sabatini’s ability to find hidden gems.

At 29-years-old, Fazio is what he is and will probably be prone to some downturns, but when he sticks to his role and has his head in the game, he gives the club a steady option at the back—Roma may have lucked themselves into a solid third defender for the next few seasons.

Lo siento, Federico. You’re good enough for Roma.