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Gregoire Defrel: Roma’s Answer to AFCON?

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He may not be the sexiest of names linked to Roma, but Gregoire Defrel may just be the winter signing that Roma need.

US Sassuolo v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

With the unfortunate injury to Alessandro Florenzi, Roma will most likely have to look to the transfer market in January to find cover for Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian stands to miss several matches for AS Roma while playing for his country in the African Cup of Nations. This has of course led to numerous transfer rumors of wing players, such as Memphis Depay. The name Gregoire Defrel may sound unfamiliar, especially in the context of needing a winger. However, it is his positional flexibility that makes him the type of player that Roma need to target.

Tale of the Tape

25 year-old Gregoire Defrel arrived at Sassuolo in the summer of 2015 from Cesena for a transfer fee of €7 million. In 33 appearances last season, he racked up 7 goals and 6 assists for the Neroverdi. The Frenchman has been in great form so far this season, with 5 goals and 3 assists in just 11 Serie A matches. He’s also tacked on two in Europa League qualifying and another two in the group stage. In total: 9 goals in 18 appearances. Not bad at all, and good enough to have gotten the attention of Liverpool and some shite North London team that wears red.

Defrel has mostly featured as a CF/ST for Sassuolo, however, his above average pace and excellent left foot have allowed him numerous cameos at RW. This experience would make him an above average fill-in for Salah and provide Roma with additional cover at RW in the future (cover that is not named Juan Iturbe!) However, Defrel’s preferred position of CF may actually be the place where Roma need depth the most...

AS Roma v Carpi FC - Serie A
Totti is still out...
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Where is the Depth???

Last year, Spalletti seemed to mix it up a lot with an out of form Dzeko as a striker or an in form Diego Perotti as a false nine. This season has been a complete 180, with the Bosnian’s excellent form etching his name in stone for the starting eleven. Francesco Totti has seen some minutes up top in matches against smaller opponents and has also featured as a trequartista behind Dzeko. However, his recent injury struggles have kept him sidelined for a long period of time, including the hip injury he suffered just a few days ago.

Here is where Roma have a true depth problem. If Dezko succumbs to the Ancient Burial Ground of Trigoria Curse like the other half of the squad, Spalletti is left with Totti as the only man up front, and he’s currently injured. Diego Perotti could very well fill in, however, his depth is very much needed at winger, a position where Roma currently only have 3 true footballers on the roster (he, El Sharawaay, and Salah). This lack of depth and flexibility was on full display in the loss vs Atalanta, and will only be made worse by Salah’s absence for AFCON.

This is where Gregoire Defrel provides Roma with more cover and flexibility than a typical winger. The Frenchman has been deployed mostly as a ST/CF for Eusebio di Francesco’s side, making him a solid option to back-up Dzeko and Totti up front. If both of them are healthy, Defrel’s pace could allow Roma to have a CF who can come on late in matches and press and run at defenders, a trait that both of the current two forwards do not possess.

US Sassuolo v FC Crotone - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

Price?

With his blistering start to the campaign, Defrel will be no bargain signing. However, his Serie A experience and tactical flexibility make him an ideal transfer target. Rumors have his price somewhere around 12-15 million, a steep amount for someone who will not start many matches. However, Defrel is only 25 years of age and has bloomed rather late (alla Luca Toni/Gianluca Lapadula), leaving one to think that he could still improve even more and someday be a typical Roma flip for a profit kinda player.

Chances?

75% No: Sassuolo would need to go out and find another CF to replace Defrel, and it is hard to see Roma shelling out 12+ million for a player who would mostly feature from the bench. In addition, Alessandro Florenzi should be back sometime before spring and next season could potentially see more attacking depth on the roster in the return of Matteo Politano and/or Federico Ricci from Sassuolo. Even Ezequiel Ponce and Umar Sadiq could return to Roma as well.

25% Yes: If Roma want to seriously challenge on three fronts this season, a player like Defrel is a necessary signing in January. Roma’s attack is the best in the league right now and it is hard to see any realistic transfer target out there that would jump straight into the starting 11. However, this squad does lack reliable and flexible depth up front, especially when compared to Juventus, who can bring anyone of Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca, or Juan Cuadrado off the bench. Roma counter that with Totti (when healthy), Stephan El Shaarawy, and Juan Iturbe. Huge drop off at number three, and that doesn’t take into consideration that Mandzukic is 3rd string at striker. If Roma seek to go far in the Europa League while keeping pace with Juventus in Serie A, Defrel could very well be an important piece of the January transfer window puzzle.