If you missed yesterday's roundtable discussion about Roma's recently closed 2015-2016 campaign, you can find it here. Today we shift the focus to several key players in Roma's magnificent run through the spring of 2016. Imbued with a healthy sense of optimism and a fresh set of tactics, Mohamed Salah, Miralem Pjanic, Diego Perotti and a host of others launched Roma on a 17 match unbeaten streak, finishing the season as the league's most prolific attack.
With that in mind, we honed in on a few of these familiar faces, focusing on the highs and lows of the Post-Garcia Roma.
We had a 21 match preview of Spalletti's new Roma, which player was the biggest beneficiary of this change?
Kevin: Radja Nainggolan was the biggest beneficiary of the change, scoring six goals once Spalletti pushed Ninja up the pitch more. Another argument could be made for Totti being the biggest beneficiary given his data as a super sub (granted the sample size is smaller than 21 matches).
Bren: I mean, take your pick, right? I know it's odd because he wasn't here before Spalletti, but I'll have to say El Shaarawy. I said it when they first made the deal, but this was a match made in heaven--El Shaarawy was and is perfectly suited for Spalletti's tactics. Pjanic certainly seemed to excel after the managerial change, too.
JonAS: When looking at numbers, it has to be Radja: Goals, interceptions, running, various MOTM performances. And to think he already was one of the better players in the Rudi Garcia era. I also admire he kept the young CB duo intact and gave them confidence, especially Antonio has grown on me.
Sam: Firstly, everyone benefitted in more or less some way. Rudiger matured nicely, and Perrotti showed that he could find a useful position on the field. But for me it has to be El Shaarawy, finally another sharp attacker who punishes the opposition's mistakes.
Why do you think Spalletti was so hesitant to use Francesco Totti when he first arrived?
Kevin: Who knows, all we can really do is speculate so... maybe his injury lingered, or his recovery was slower than expected?
Bren: I still stick to the notion that Totti was, in some ways, a victim of circumstance. He may have been ready to play, but with the emergence of Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti, there was simply no room for him. Spalletti's hands were tied in many ways, but I still think he made the correct decision. That being said, he still should have found a way to weave Totti in sooner.
JonAS: Maybe because of the history of both men and what happened in the past. We all know Francesco isn't the easiest of personalities but in the end, everything fell into place. Totti even scored 4 goals in 4 games and has found peace in his role as a super-sub while Spalletti now knows Totti is untouchable and he can always be count on Il Capitano to save the day. I actually think they kinda like eachother but don't show it in public. I feel respect is mutual. They all want the best for Roma after all.
Sam: I'm with Jonas on this one. It was the one nagging doubt I pushed to the back of mind when the beautiful bald bastard came back. I've got a feeling this had something to do with directions from upstairs, where management wanted to try and change the culture with ‘generational change'.
It appears as though Totti will be back, but what about Daniele De Rossi, what does his future hold? How big will his role be next year?
Kevin: To say Daniele De Rossi didn't have his best year would be putting it kindly. Watching him this season was akin to watching the San Antonio Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs. The desire to compete is there, and the big three still have small roles to play, but the mileage is really starting to show. I have a feeling De Rossi's role will be smaller next year, as the midfield will be crowded with the arrival of Gerson, the probable return of Leandro Paredes, and the rejuvenation of Kevin Strootman. Plus, Miralem Pjanic and Radja Nainggolan both should still be at Roma.
Bren: Easy now, don't bad mouth my Spurs. There were at least several b.s.calls in that series, two of the first four games could've gone either way. Back to DDR--its only natural that his appearances will decline as he ages, but the flexibility he's shown as a central defender makes him eminently more useful. While he does have a lot of miles on his legs, his game was never predicated on speed, so I'm confident he can adapt as he ages.
JonAS: I won't write off Daniele that fast. It would still be a damn shame to see him leave. Who knows, a Totti-kinda role works as well for him? A super-sub to boss the midfield when all the others run out of ideas? To be fair, once Kevin comes back 100% Dani is probably gonna ride the pine but your team is only as strong as your bench material. With Keita possibily leaving, there's a lot of action in store for Daniele in 2016-2017. And maybe as a CB or sweeper. I predict a healthy 20 Serie A games.
Sam: Sorry MLS you aren't getting hold of Danni that easy. Injuries were his main problem this season. He still has tons to contribute on the field. I don't buy into the bullshit that he is another Borriello because of his contract.
What do we do about Edin Dzeko?
Kevin: Keep hoping that a phone call from China comes? But seriously, Edin Dzeko could be one of the main storylines for Roma this summer, as he's the management's poster child for a ‘big' signing, yet Spalletti's made it clear that he's surplus to requirements.
Bren: China would certainly be a blessing for Roma's bottom line, but I'm not so certain we should completely write him off just yet. I'll give him a small benefit of a doubt and say that this was a transition year, but if they can get rid of him in the summer, DO IT!
JonAS: I'm not that fond of selling Edin. Ok, his first season was not a success and he ain't getting any younger but at least he has one full year in Rome behind him. He's tall, strong and has a particular set of skills and he ain't afraid to use them (like Liam Neeson in Taken). If there are no other (better) alternatives for that position (and I'm not talking about Ponce, Sadiq or a transfer alaThereau or Pavoletti), then might as well keep him and reinvest in other areas like the fullback. If a good offer comes, jump on it.
Sam: Yeah this is a bit of a tough one. I still think he has all the attributes to be a success in Serie A, but you can't argue against his shocking lack of form towards the end of the year. I won't cry if he leaves but am ok with giving him another shot... Wait a minute, we are talking about Iturbe aren't we?
Venture a guess, what formation will Spalletti use next season? Does he need a real striker?
Kevin: I have no clue, and that's what makes this summer so exciting! Spalletti can take this team a number of directions now that he has time to regroup and maybe bring in players that better fit what he wants to do. He's proven that he can win without a striker, but I'm willing to bet at this point that he'd take a striker if Roma gave him one.
Bren: A lot of it depends on the market, of course. If Roma does indeed have money to burn, perhaps Alexandre Lacazette or Michy Batshuayi are possibilities, but if Spalletti can make use of Ezequiel Ponce or Sadiq as backups, then the strikerless formation could succeed over the long haul.
JonAS: I'm going SNAFU right now: A 3-5-2. Alisson / Rüdiger Benatia Manolas / Florenzi Ninja Pjanic Stroot Digne / Salah SES. First to come off the bench: Totti, DDR, Perotti and Paredes.
Sam: This answer lies in the mercato.
Who should play further up the pitch, Nainggolan or Pjanic?
Kevin: This is a genuinely tough question. Since Spalletti arrived, Ninja has shown incredible finishing ability in or near the box, while Pjanic retained his uncanny ability to unlock defenses with precise passing into and around the box. If I had to pick one of them to play further up the pitch though, I'd probably still go with Pjanic.
Bren: Yeah, you're probably correct, its six of one, half dozen of another. Having said that, I think Nainggolan is better deeper on the pitch than Pjanic is, and again it depends on the formation. Pjanic seems well suited to the hole in a 4-3-1-2.
JonAS: I'm not a hero when it comes to explaining complicated tactics and all, but I think that Radja fits the Perrotta role like a glove. Which means: move him up the pitch in the hole, but not that far so he can still clean up some mess in midfield alongside Kevin and give the ball to Pjanic.
Sam: I think Pjanic is a better player when he is closer to the goal. With that said, Radja has shown himself to be more than competent in that role. Dare I mention it'll probably go to which ever one stays with us?
Give us one player Roma should purchase this summer.
Kevin: A decent centre-back, because Leandro Castan is a huge question mark, leaving Roma with only Kostas Manolas and maybe Antonio Rudiger in the middle of defense. And Daniele De Rossi in case of emergency.
Bren: I know the knee jerk is Bruno Peres, but I worry what would become of Alessandro Florenzi in that situation; he's a big game player and I'd hate to lose that. The returns of Kevin Strootman and hopefully Leandro Paredes are transfers in and of themselves, but if Roma can get one guy, and one guy alone, this summer it has to be Batshuayi--he's got everything you crave in a striker.
JonAS: Vertonghen. And I'm gonna answer the same damn thing until they eventually buy him. He's basically everything Rome needs and longs for right now: A splendid CB who can also play very decent on the fullback position. Problem solved!
Sam: I'm still on the Bruno Peres train. Also how about we DON'T sell a freaking CB this summer!
Finally, who was Roma's player of the year and why?
Kevin: Mohamed Salah. Not that he wasn't doing well before Spalletti, but Salah's dramatic spike in assists since Spalletti arrived has elevated Roma as a whole, in addition to raising his own game to the next level. He's no longer the one-trick pony some thought he'd be, but a dual threat winger that's cemented his place in the first team.
Bren: 12 goals, 13 assists in all comps. Ladies and gentleman, your player of the year, Miralem Pjanic.
JonAS: Totti. But not because of the name. Sure, he played very little and can't brag with numbers like Miralem or Salah, but he single-handedly led Roma to a CL spot, just when Inter was about to leapfrog us. He gave us a point in Atalanta, 3 points against Torino and a vital goal in Genoa. All that in the space of four weeks. Before April he hardly set foot on a pitch. And that's exactly what a player of the year does: He makes a difference. Ladies and gentlemen, the difference between EL and CL this season: Francesco Totti. Miralem and Radja honorable mentions.
Sam: Francesco Totti. Because, fuck you.
Well, that as fitting an ending as we can possibly drum up. What does everyone think? Who shined? Who sucked? Is there any hope for Edin Dzeko?