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Exploring Roma's Post-Pjanic Midfield Options

Now that Miralem Pjanic is steps away from Juventus, we take a look at a few possible replacements. Will Roma go the young route or opt for an experienced veteran?

Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

While there still hasn't been an official announcement from either club, the die has been cast: barring some Bayern Munich miracle, Miralem Pjanic is a Juventus player...hold on, I'm vomiting. If this is indeed the official end of Pjanic's five year stay in the Eternal City, his bitter departure may overshadow what was actually a rather brilliant albeit abridged career. During those five years, Pjanic made 188 appearances, scoring 31 goals and contributing 42 assists; numbers that won't easily be replaced.

So, whether you call him the second coming or merely a slightly overhyped playmaker, Pjanic is gone and Roma must find another option in the center of the park. We're still weeks, if not months, away from discovering who that young or old man may be, but let's run through a few of the top candidates, shall we?

Piotr Zielinski

Current Club: Empoli

Market Value: €11M

What Does He Offer?

There must be something in the water because Empoli is churning out well polished midfielders left and right. Zielinksi partnered with Leandro Paredes to give Empoli a rather solid midfield, which was key in their 10th place performance this season. Zielinksi has had a rather non-descript start to his Serie A career, but with five goals and four assists this season, he really burst on to the scene. While he isn't quite the finished product yet, PZ has shown steady growth and has already attracted some well moneyed suitors.

What Will it Take to Get Him?

While the cost won't be exorbitant, with Napoli and Liverpool circling around him, Roma better act fast, he may not be on the market long.

Verdict: Not the best option, nor the worst, but given his age, potential and Serie A experience, he very well could prove to be a bargain buy

Borja Valero

Current Club: Fiorentina

Market Value: €12M

What Does He Offer?

As we've mentioned in these spaces many times, Valero is perhaps the most criminally underrated midfielder in Serie A. Last season alone, Valero was among the top five midfielders in the league in key passes, total passes, passing accuracy, and even shot accuracy, and in many instances he outperformed Pjanic in these categories. Quite simply, he has been the key to the Viola's attack over the past four seasons. Nothing flashy, no self promotion, just a quiet, unassuming and intelligent midfielder.

What Will it Take to Get Him?

Given Roma and Fiorentina's proximity on the table, you can expect that market value to merely be a starting point; chances are, it'll rise closer towards €17 or €18 million. However, Valero represents a near like-for-like replacement for Pjanic and would enable Roma to transition virtually seamlessly into their post Pjanic existence.

Verdict: At 31-years-old, Roma may only get two to three years out of Valero, and while I don't know if a Wins Above Replacement metric exists for football, if we divide his likely cost by three years, is Valero worth six million a year? I say so--Roma is in a win-now mode and Valero may be the best short-term option out there, providing value and production with little to no acclimation period.

Mateo Kovacic

Current Club: Real Madrid

Market Value: €19M

What Does He Offer?

Well, for one thing, sympathy. After 80 or so fairly impressive performances for Inter Milan, Kovacic was an FFP casualty just like Pjanic, moving to Madrid for a mere €15 million in the summer of 2015. Kovacic, just 22-years-old, is remarkably similar to Pjanic in that he can fill a variety of midfield roles (at least in terms of his proximity to the goal) and remain equally effective.

Unlike most young players in this circumstance, Kovacic actually got a fair amount of match time for Madrid this season, making 33 appearances (though only a thousand or so minutes), chipping in one goal and two assists, while completing over 90% of his passes. Kovacic can play in the middle, out wide, and as the last man before the attack and is renown for his dribbling, possession and passing in tight spaces.  He could very well turn into Pjanic 2.0, only with superior size and athleticism.

What Will it Take to Get Him?

Money, but not quite as much as you think. Despite the gross total of appearances, as we mentioned, Kovacic tallied little more than a thousand minutes last season, not exactly enough to foster his development, so Madrid might be open to a loan or, more likely, a sale with a first-right of redemption down the road.

Verdict: If we're talking about the combination of skill, versatility and resemblance to Pjanic, Kovacic is the man, and at only 22-years-old, he could very well surpass Pjanic in no time. If Roma can swing it, he's their best bet long term.

We'll end it with an in-house option, Leandro Paredes. For the sake of this exercise, we're limiting this to players already in Europe, so no Gerson or any of the Primavera kids.

Leandro Paredes

Current club: Roma

Market Value: N/A

What Does he Offer?

Paredes is (rightfully so) the first name pursed on everyone's lips as a Pjanic replacement, and for good reason: Roma already owns him. Paredes was signed from Boca Juniors in 2014 and summarily sent on loan to Chievo. From there, Paredes made a few spot appearances for Roma during the 2014-2015 season before blossoming at Empoli last season, where he made 33 appearances, scoring one goal and contributing one assist.

Paredes is a remarkably cool customer, particularly for such a young midfielder, showing poise beyond his age this past season. While Paredes isn't Pjanic's equal in any regard, he has flashed a similar skill set already, showing equal aplomb at orchestrating the long and short passing game. Pjanic and Paredes were remarkably close in passing precision and average pass length, though Pjanic nearly doubled Leo's chance creation.

What Will it Take to Get Him (Minutes)?

Quite simply, he has to impress Luciano Spalletti early and often. While his poise should earn him ample opportunities early one, Paredes simply must make his mark or risk being relegated to the bench. Paredes doesn't have to be Pjanic, or Riquelme or anyone for that matter, he just needs to play his game and trust the men around him. If he does that, his talent will shine and Roma will flourish.

Verdict: He may not be Roma's best immediate option, but he may be their only option. Surrounding him with Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan will surely make his life easier, so we could even see an uptick in performance, but countering him with an affordable veteran may be the best course of action.

These are just a few options of course, and given Roma's current financial situation, Paredes may win by default. Whatever the case may be, what is/was undoubtedly Roma's source of strength, the midfield, suddenly has an important vacancy.

What do you think?