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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: 2016 Edition, Part I

It’s that time of year again. The CdT crew assembles to make a few predictions for the coming season.

AS Roma v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League Qualifying Play-Offs Round: Second Leg Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Despite yesterday’s horror show against Porto, which will see Roma relegated to the Europa League, the 4-0 victory over Udinese last weekend gave us reason to be optimistic. So we assembled the news team to make a few predictions for the coming season. Please note, this was created prior to the Champions League Playoff debacle.

1. Perhaps it’s because of the always controversial transfer season masking it, but we tend to forget about Roma’s torrid run through the spring of 2016. Can Roma carry that momentum over into the new domestic season? In other words, what must they do to hit the ground running?

Sam: It’d be nice for the brand spanking new defence to have a few training sessions and maybe a practice game or two together. No? Ok, must win champions league matches will suffice.

NANF: Do the same things they did last season?

Jimmy: Beyond winning a couple of matches? I’ve heard that white water rafting trips seem to do the trick.

Dhaw: The suits along with some social-media savvy players need to shut up and put their heads down and win matches and let the results do all the talking instead of running their mouths after every couple of wins and they for sure have to stop talking about the Scudetto.

Bren: I mentioned it in the Porto preview, but its worth repeating, especially given how light Roma’s early fixtures are. If El Shaarawy and Salah can come out running, Roma should be okay through the first couple of weeks. There’s simply too much attacking talent to sputter against Udinese and Cagliari in the early weeks (knock on wood), so if they can use that to build some momentum and integrate the new signings, we should be okay heading into the fall.

JonAS: Some players like Salah, Dani, Radja and Manolas immediately need to perform at best. If the new guys like Peres, Vermaelen and Alisson adjust just fine and on top of that Dzeko finally starts to bang ‘em in, we are off to a good start, maybe even repeat the trick of ten consecutive wins under Garcia. Ow, a certain Totti on the bench to drag Roma through would be handy as well.

masonio: They can but it will be difficult since once again it’s a new year with new faces and they all have to settle in and figure things out. Spalletti will also no longer be a surprise tactically for other managers as now the league knows what to expect from us. I expect us to do well but not as well as we ended the last campaign.

2. Okay, speaking of transfers, which new Roma player has you most excited? Which one stands the best chance to make an immediate impact?

Sam: Bruno Peres. This guy has been the sought after jewel our team has longingly pined for. His acquisition is a serious upgrade in a problem position. Allison also looks the business.

NANF: Allison has me excited, and should make an immediate impact. Belgium 2.0 should be fun to watch, I guess the defense in general over who is going to go and win the starting spots.

Jimmy: I know that he’s not exactly a new signing, but Gerson’s first full season playing for Roma seems like it could be quite good. At only nineteen he’s looked impressive in friendlies, and considering how Trigoria seems to built on an ancient Roman burial ground, I wouldn’t be surprised if he found plenty of minutes to wow us with silky smooth passes this season.

Dhaw: Thomas Vermaelen. The ball playing defender we’ve been missing since Mehdi Benatia.

Bren: Well, we created this document before Peres landed in Rome, so he’s an obvious candidate, but I’ll echo NANFs sentiment; there’s just something about Alisson that I love. I doubt he’ll be a worldclass keeper, but I think he’s going to transform the way Roma plays--his aggression, size and distribution are all things we haven’t seen at the back in ages. Very exciting indeed.

JonAS: As much as I love the Peres deal, I can’t help but say Vermaelen. A bit patriotic of me, but really, if you saw what Thomas can do at Arsenal and Ajax, he’s gonna be a star in Rome in no time. He’s one of the smartest defenders in our ranks, perhaps since years. Now light a candle every night in your local church and pray his legs remain in one piece. (Update: I wrote this piece before Porto so don’t blame me).

masonio: We’ve needed fullbacks for years so obviously Bruno. Toni’s injury will give Rrruan, Vermaelen & Fazio an opportunity but I’m not huge on any of them. I do like Fazio the most out of the three, though. With some minutes and a little luck, Gerson could be our surprise of the season.

3. Flip it around, which transfer (incoming or outgoing) still leaves you shaking your head?

Sam: Letting Digne go was a shameful bit of business never minding what happened to his anointed replacement. The kid is gonna be a superstar.

NANF: Ucan, What was the point.

Jimmy: Definitely agree with Sam here, Digne is by far the most disappointing departure (even if we didn’t own him in the first place). When you have a player like Digne who wants to play for you instead of a cash-rich club like PSG, you do whatever you can to keep him. Rumors had it that the Parisian club was willing to lower their price to around 12m - definitely a good price, and better value for money than Mario Rui (even before his ACL tear). I only hope that a long-term replacement at left back is found quickly; it’s one of the main holes this squad still has.

Bren: I’ll jump on the Digne bandwagon. Yes, the combo or Rui and Peres was cheaper in the short run, but Digne is going to be a stud AND he wanted to stay here, which makes it worse. Couple that with his hot start with Barcelona, and this looks like one to regret, though getting Peres softens the blow somewhat.

JonAS: Digne, Pjanic, meh. OK, quality left Rome, but what I really didn’t understood was letting go of Morgan. The perfect second-choice keeper on cheap wages. Now we have two young guys fighting it out but perhaps an older and younger keeper (Alisson-Morgan) was better for the morale. Now we paid a lot for Alisson and worked hard to get Woj back on loan but we still don’t have a clear no1. Alisson being Morgan’s understudy could have been a golden combination. Alas, we will never know.

masonio: Nothing this club does can make me shake my head anymore.

4. What can we reasonably expect from Kevin Strootman this season, who many are touting as a de facto transfer himself?

Sam: At the very minimum Kev is going to provide tactical stability and is a leadership presence. At the best he provides a serious weapon that excels at connecting our front third with quality delivery.

NANF: Kevin makes everyone around him better. The way he was orchestrating counters in early Garcia tenure were a thing of beauty.

Jimmy: Strootman’s already being put forward as Capitano Futuro Futuro, so the leadership is obviously a big part of what he brings to the table. When it comes to actual tactical help, he can definitely assist with counters, while also taking some defensive pressure off Nainggolan. An attacking Nainggolan is a happy Nainggolan, and a happy Nainggolan means a happy Roma.

Bren: I’ve always said that we can’t and shouldn’t count on him for anything, which may sound harsh but given what he’s been through it’s only prudent. Having said that, whatever Roma does receive from him is gravy. But we’ve already seen it throughout preseason, Strootman is a leader in every sense of the word and really seems to have bought into the Roma ethos. All I hope for him is two dozen or so appearances, which would be tremendously reassuring for his future.

JonAS: Mostly wash the team’s dirty shirts and underwear during training… And a goal or 6 and an assist or 8. Kevin feels like a new transfer and was sorely missed last season. Can’t wait to see him bossing the midfield alongside Radja.

masonio: Expectations and what we hope and want are completely different things. Are his ligaments fully healed and at full strength? I expect it to take some time for his match fitness, timing & endurance to come back. If he can stay healthy this year and prove to be a solid starter I’ll call his season a success.

5. The sale of Miralem Pjanic was controversial to say the least, how will Roma fill that void? Will they replicate his role with Leandro Paredes or rely more heavily on Diego Perotti for playmaking?

Sam: This is a tough one, when it first happened I think the only reason I wasn’t inconsolable was the fact we had Leo waiting in the wings. Without those piercing eyes on the field I think we will be missing the creativity we had at the end of last season. I’m not sure that is really Diego’s role, a certain Number 10 however...

NANF: Replacement by committee. It is going to be a combination of Perotti, Paredes, Strootman to replace him. Free kick production is certainly not going to be the same.

Jimmy: I think a combination of Strootman, Gerson, Paredes, and Perotti will divvy up assist duties. It really depends on Spalletti, and he’s put forward a couple different intriguing formations in pre-season so it’s anyone’s guess.

Bren: I wrote about it earlier in the summer, but throughout Roma’s run in the spring, the real playmaking onus was on Perotti, and I see no reason why that won’t continue. With Perotti and Totti providing the spark in the middlish-final third area of the pitch, and with Peres, Salah and El Shaarawy covering the flanks, I think we’ll be alright

JonAS: Jeezs let it go already would ya? Mire’s not here anymore, cry baby. On a serious note: There are a lot of players who could benefit from the situation and get more responsibility, like Paredes and Strootman. Miralem’s minutes are up for the grabs and the best one according to Spalletti will feature heavily in Serie A. That can only benefit Roma.

masonio: Simple. They won’t unless Gerson gets minutes and does well.

6. Okay, so who will lead the club in assists?

Sam: Mirale… oh shit, um Kevin Strootman?

NANF: Kevin.

Jimmy: My brain says Perotti, my heart says Strootman. I’m going to go with my heart on this one, if only because Strootman having an incredible comeback season would be the best story in Italian football.

Bren: I have to go with Perotti, I doubt he’ll replicate Pjanic’s total from last year, but I wouldn’t be surprised he ends up with 9-11 assists when all is said and done. Could be Strootman, but that’s largely dependent on health, while Gerson certainly profiles as an assist maker, but we don’t know where he’ll even play.

JonAS: I’m going for Peres thanks to all his crosses and infiltrations. Douglas Mai-who?

masonio: I’m leaning towards Salah or ‘new neck Totti tattoo’ Perotti but wouldn’t be surprised if it was De Rossi.

7. How about goals, will Mohamed Salah repeat as Roma’s top scorer?

Sam: Edin Dzeko. Honestly I think goals are going to be ideally shared around with this side, but Dzeko is too fundamentally sound to produce another horror showing like last year.

NANF: Tough one.

Jimmy: It’ll be close, but I’m putting El Shaarawy as Roma’s top scorer this year. He scored eight goals in less than half a season once he joined up (and boy were some of them pretty goals). If he can even just replicate that form, he is one of three players that Roma has who could force themselves into the capocannoniere conversation. The other two players? Mohamed Salah and (who else) Francesco Totti.

Bren: I’m tempted to agree with you, Jimmy, mostly because I love SES and I think he’ll be close, but Salah’s game changing speed will probably give him the edge; they’ll be the leaders for sure, I dont see anyone coming close to their haul.

JonAS: If I just predicted Peres to be top assist man, then Dzeko’s going to bang all those crosses in. Or at least a couple of ‘em. It won’t be a tally of 20 but something around 15 goals sounds doable for a rejuvenated Edin.

masonio: I’ll say yes but that only happens if Dzeko repeats. Hopefully he does not. This is also considering Salah will be missing for the AFCON.

8. Despite his 10 goals in all comps, it was hard to see Dzeko’s first season with Roma as anything other than a failure, how will he do this year? Can he top a dozen domestic goals?

Sam: See above. I think he’ll do alright.

NANF: Yes.

Jimmy: If he starts the season off well (i.e., scores one or two in the first couple matches) then he’ll top a dozen domestic goals. Roma invested more than just the number 9 kit in Edin, and if his torrid form during preseason is any indication, we might finally see a return on investment this year.

Bren: Well, even if the numbers don’t always bear it out, Dzeko insists he does better in his second season, and he’s certainly looked capable in the preseason, so I certainly hope he can get at least 10 domestic goals, but the Perotti-SES-Salah frontline is Roma’s best bet, so Im not sure he’ll have the match time to stay sharp enough to get 12 goals.

JonAS: Perhaps he needed to adjust longer than the rest, I don’t know but if we can just support the guy and give him faith, maybe he turns out ok for us? I predict he’ll pass the dozen goals easily. Unless he horribly misses a sitter in the first two games, then burn the Pantheon to the ground with Edin in it. With pitchforks obviously.

masonio: I want to believe in Edin. So, I’ll say yes. There is enough talent to ricochet a dozen goals in off of his body.

9. We’re all pretty high on Stephan El Shaarawy, what sort of season do you see him having this year? Can he continue his progress or was last spring merely an aberration?

Sam: I’m a big fan of this kid’s football but not his stupid hair. He seems a natural fit for Spalletti’s system and has a killer eye for goal.

NANF: I doubt he regresses, but I’m not sure how much more progress there is left in him from last season. He was pretty good.

Jimmy: I put him down as my top goalscorer, so hopefully he proves me right and has an incredible season. He’s finally found a place where he’s loved by the fans, the coach, and the management, and if you don’t believe me just based on his highlights, take a look at Roma’s kit sales. Even if he barely progresses and just shows consistency, we could be in for a 17/18 goal season, which would certainly delight me.

Bren: Listen, he’s my favorite non-Roman on the squad, so Im expecting big things, nor do I think last year was an aberration. His career really went off the rails once Milan brought Balotelli aboard, and perhaps he wasn’t mature enough to adapt, but as we’ve all mentioned since he came aboard, he his tailor made for this system and vice versa, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he goes above and beyond 15 goals.

JonAS: Am I the only one who thinks SES could/will stagnate this season? Don’t get me wrong, he was impressive since joining us in January, but maybe we expect too much of him after those five months? He’s still young and pressure could in the end break him if he doesn’t play well in his first few games. I don’t see him reaching the numbers of Salah last season. A vital part of the team nonetheless.

masonio: If he can match his output last season across the entire season, we may have just found our way to balance all these loans next summer. Crisis averted.

10. Over or Under: Can El Shaarawy and Salah team up for 35 goals?

Sam: As I said before I think the goal scoring will be shared amongst the entire team a bit more than relying on the Egyptian dudes.

NANF: Under. 35 is a lot.

Jimmy: Under. I think that there isn’t a pair of players more likely to crack 35 goals together on this Roma team, but it still isn’t going to happen. Remember that Roma, despite all her faults, had the most potent offense in Serie A last season. That happened because nearly every player had the potential to score, not because the ball was fed to one or two players. So as excited as I would be for this to happen, I would rather Roma keep the multi-faceted attack that made Spalletti’s return so entrancing.

Bren: 35 may be a bit high, but fuck it, I'm going over. Salah had 14 goals last season and I recall several woodworked shots, so I can see them each getting 17 or 18 goals if everything goes according to plan.

JonAS: Nope, but they don’t have to because we have so many players who can score in all kinds of situations: Radja, Perotti, Salah, Peres, Vermaelen, Dzeko and last but not least Totti. In the first place both kids need to enjoy themselves like last season under Spalletti, then we’ll be just fine.

masonio: No.

11. Speaking of which, Roma’s attack is pretty well settled, but what about this defense, can they keep Roma within shouting distance of Juventus?

Sam: So many unknowns here. I think it is a dangerous attitude to have to be aiming for Juventus already. Let’s just get through the champions league qualifiers and the first couple of games before we throw the book at the (once again) brand new D.

NANF: Is there even any certainty to what the backline against Porto is going to look like? I think it takes some time for the defense to settle in but I think everyone else steps up to carry the team early on. Doesn’t really answer the question though. This defense will scares me with uncertainty.

Jimmy: This is going to be the deciding factor for Roma this season. If the defense can gel quickly and rival the five plus years of experience Juventus’ boys have playing together, things might get interesting. The individual ability is there, but I think we’ll see in the first playoff match versus Porto if we can hope for defensive coherence.

Bren: Dybala and Higuain not withstanding, I think Roma’s attack will go toe-to-toe with Juventus this season, so it really all falls down to the defence. If Vermaelen can remain healthy and Rruan takes a step forward, we might have a damn good defense on our hands. Peres and Rui will be a potent combo once the latter is back, while Manolas is already among the league’s best central defenders.

JonAS: This window we bought defenders from Inter, Barcelona and Tottenham. That beats Atalanta, Catania or Siena, no? We kept our best man (Manolas), brought in two starters (Vermaelen and Peres) while there’s also prodigy Emerson, Florenzi as makeshift RB and tower Fazio as fourth-choice CB. If Rüdiger and Rui come back, Spalletti will have a real headache. Finally some decent cover in defence, at last. I for once am quite optimistic about this department, for the first time since ages.

masonio: If we do it’ll be because something goes wrong in Turin.

12. Which new defensive player will make the largest contribution this season?

Sam: Benvenuto Bruno!

NANF: Belgium 2.0, I’m gonna get this nickname to stick, I have extreme difficulties spelling that one for some reason.

Jimmy: Bruno Peres. Salah and Peres on the right flank is going to be otherworldly, and they’re both under 27! I only hope that Florenzi somehow finds a spot in the starting XI. Maybe as left back? Stranger things have happened.

Bren: Again, this survey was created before Peres became a reality, but it has to be him, right? Having said that, Vermaelen’s impact could be MASSIVE; he’s just so solid in all aspects that he could really make this machine work.

JonAS: C’mon NANF, it’s not so hard. First the A, then the E. Vermaelen. Fazio might surprise us as well and earn his place in the line-up thanks to his aerial threat. But I literally drool about the sight of a Manolas-Vermaelen combination at the heart of our defence.

masonio: I think Vermaelen. He’s already made a contribution in our first match.

13. How many points will Roma amass this season?

Sam: Mate, I don’t even know how many matches are in a season never mind how to multiply that number by three. I think we should do better than last season, but still be short of the summit.

NANF: Between 70 and 80.

Jimmy: Roma had 80 points last year, and that was with a pretty putrid run towards the end of Garcia’s reign. 89 points is my guess - enough to win a Scudetto nine times out of ten, but, as usual, it will all depend on how well Juventus plays.

Bren: Thank you for doing my research, Jimmy. I forgot how many points we had last year, but 80-85 seems reasonable, but that would require at least one draw with Juve and few to no dropped points versus the minnows, which is always the bane of Roma’s existence.

JonAS: 82 points, double of Lazio’s total (see what I did there?). I expect it to be tighter than last season.

Masonio: 79.

14. What sort of role do you envision for Francesco Totti, and what will his stat line look like?

Sam: I guess he is going to be the ‘break glass in case of imminent defeat’ kind of guy. I’m not going to try and predict his stat sheet, but I’m hopeful he’ll see enough minutes to make a serious impact.

NANF: 10 goals, 10 assists at least, infinite memories. Just want another in a Derby win.

Jimmy: First sub off the bench for the attack. He comes in as the opposition defense is tiring and laces a beautiful through ball to Salah or El Shaarawy, guaranteeing Roma victory whenever he puts on his cleats.

Bren: Well, if this is really it for him, fuck it, let him loose. We saw last season just how lethal he can be in the final 30 minutes or so, and that’s really an unparalleled asset in the league, but I hope Spalletti doesn’t wait until the levee breaks to bring him in this season.

JonAS: Super-sub, can’t really expect more of him as a 40-year-old (unless he was a goalkeeper).People tend to forget how few players still play at the highest level at such age, we should all be thankful he’s still with us. Every goal and assist are a bonus from now on. If you insist: five goals and as many assists would be great given his limited time on the pitch and the competition up front.

masonio: They will do their best to make his role as small as possible. 8 goals, 4 assists.

15. Finally, is this really it for him, or will he come back next year?

Sam: This is it. Do what you must people, to take it all in.

NANF: Not thinking about it. Just going to enjoy it.

Jimmy: Isn’t Totti playing until he can hand off the #10 to Cristian?

Bren: Honestly, I think he’s coming back. Call me crazy.

JonAS: Only my erection when I look at a Scarlett Johansson pic lasts forever, all the rest doesn’t. So yeah, I think he’ll call it quits after 2017. I must say, the perfect timing at the age of 40, even more so if he holds the Coppa or… grasp, Scudetto come May.

Stay tuned for Part II which focuses on broader, league wide questions.