We’re slightly past the halfway point of the 2016-2017 Serie A season, one which has seen its fair share of ups and downs. For every 4-0 thrashing of the Udineses of the league and every 3-1 triumph over the Napolis there have been the devastating dropped points to the Cagliaris and Empolis of the world. With Roma, things seldom come out in the wash, so I thought I’d assemble some of the crew and take a quick snapshot of where we’ve been and what the next four months hold for the Giallorossi.
1. We’re 20 matches in and, by most measures, Roma has been a resounding success, so who was your man of the first half of the season and why?
Bren: The quick answer is Edin Dzeko, he certainly was the talk of the league in the fall and seemed primed for a huge season, but he’s come crashing back to earth, so I’ll go with the man who probably deserved it all along, Juan Je...I mean, Radja Nainggolan. While I gave him grief for not being a real #10, he’s made the role his own, bringing other skills to the table that we might not otherwise have. It’ll be a tenuous summer with Chelsea flirting with him, but he’s been Roma’s best all around player for nearly two years now.
Remus: The Faz… ehhhhh! The dude has been a monster in the back. Sure I could have said Dzeko, Manolas, or Nainggolan, but Federico Fazio has been enormous (figuratively and literally). No one expected him to do much which is why his form comes as such a surprise. He has started every game since September 15th. He has especially looked solid in the past six matches. Can you imagine what our defensive would look without him?
ASRCanes: Fazio for sure, with Radja being a close second. Remus hit all of the Fazio points on the head. As for Ninja, the guy has basically carried the club since the beginning of December through our toughest patch of fixtures this season. He’s been great in the midfield and finally figured out how to not shoot the ball into orbit every damn time.
Sam: Like Bren if this was two weeks ago I would have said Dzeko, but his lack of form and confidence for the last month is very disappointing. Manolas has been terrific this season and has shown tremendous improvement since his transfer from Greece.
JonAS: Radja of course, the embodiment of the Roman wolf and fighting spirit. Granted, a lot of guys impressed during the first half, like Dzeko, Fazio and even Woj, but it’s time that Radja deserves the praise, thanks to his crucial goals and attitude. Please never leave Rome, Radja.
2. Biggest disappointment thus far?
Bren: It’s hard to pick one out in terms of player performance simply because the team has played so well (for the most part), but the inconsistency shown by Diego Perotti has been a bit troubling, especially since he’s the club’s nominal playmaker, and going along with that, the manner in which Spalletti has used Stephan El Shaarawy has been a bit of a bummer, too. He’s like Dzeko in the sense that he needs to build up confidence and momentum to be effective, and Spalletti hasn’t really given him a consistent role for much of the season.
Remus: Rrruan Jesus. But I guess that comes as no shock. So, I’ll piss everyone off and say Paredes. His style of play appears to slow for this Roma team. Sure, he is consistent, but he is not the player we need him to be at the moment. He opts for the safe pass rather than the decisive one. I’m not saying he can’t be the player everyone wants him to be, but so far he’s been a disappointment. But to be fair, trying to fill Pjanic’s void was never going to be easy…
ASRCanes: I would say Thomas Vermaelen, but his year of red cards and injuries and injuring teammates does not come as a shock to me; I never wanted him here. So I’ll go with Gerson then. Granted he hasn’t had much pitch time to impress, and that may come down to TGIP, but when ownership spends 18mil on a player and sends him a number 10 kit to hold up, there are expectations that he is ready to contribute in a minor role at the least. I am by no means writing him off, but every penny counts and this club needs to be getting more out of a 18mil signing.
Sam: The injury to Florenzi. Tactically it stunted our ability to vary our delivery into the final third and it has meant Spalletti has had to keep tired players on the field instead of bringing in a reliable sub for the last quarter of matches.
JonAS: Gonna go with another Belgian here: Vermaelen. Only the fact that he has played a handful of minutes and hasn’t contributed shit to Roma’s succes until now... He has a history with injuries, but I so firmly believed that he could be a hit in Italy thanks to his tactical awareness. And as a former Arsenal and Ajax captain. A dream par with Manolas in my book, or with Manolas, and Rüdiger in a 3-4-3…Luckily Fazio turned out into a stud, and Rüdiger returned faster than we hoped. Other disappointments: Gerson and Rui.
3. Give us one tactical change Luciano Spalletti must make in the second half of the season.
Bren: Well, I just sort of tipped my hand didn’t I? El Shaarawy is, Mohamed Salah aside, the most athletic attacker on this club; his speed and agility can break open a match, but he simply hasn’t been given a consistent shot at it. And yes, part of this is his fault for not making the most of his chances, but he had that run late in the fall where he was finding his form only to be benched again in favor of Perotti. I simply don’t understand the rationale here, particularly as Dzeko’s struggles start to mount--will Spalletti opt for last year’s strikerless frontline with SES, Perotti and Salah again?
Remus: If Dzeko’s game against Udinese is of any indication Spalletti will need to have a plan B for the center-forward position. Right now, Totti is our only other striker, and if Perotti is injured we have no false 9. Perhaps this is more of a transfer market dilemma than a tactical dilemma, yet if no reinforcements come, Luciano will have to come up with something. Maybe he moves SES from the wing to the center. Although he is not a natural striker, his pace, dribbling, and shooting could allow him to acclimate to the position.
ASRCanes: The attack seems to have fallen off the map a bit. Salah has missed time, Dzeko hasn’t been bad but hasn’t been great either, and I still don’t get TGIP’s management of SES. I think the big change needs to be more Totti for the next month, and in a starting role. Once Salah and even Florenzi return, TGIP will have the wingers and options that he needs to be more flexible, but for now, this team needs another goal scoring and creative threat on the pitch outside of Dzeko.
Sam: I want to see more players streaming into the area when we are hunting for a goal. We look our best when we have off the ball movement and I’m worried that has started to stagnate as we forever go out to the wings and try and beat the full backs. I think both Perotti and SES can be more involved in this rather than just waiting for the full backs to push up and provide a pass for them.
JonAS: More Totti, that’s all I ask for Mister. And maybe do a sub a bit faster instead of waiting too damn long. And if Dzeko once again falters, return the trio of Salah-Perotti-SES.
4. While a new signing looks less likely, name one reasonable addition Roma can add before month’s end.
Bren: I still stand by my Riccardo Saponara fabricated rumor--it just makes so much sense tactically, personally and financially--but that doesn’t seem likely. In the absence of that move, I’ll keep ringing the bell for Cyril Thereau; we saw what he did over the weekend, he’s not flashy, but he’s versatile and effective and would give Roma a new wrinkle off the bench. As far as ones that have actually appeared in the papers, the Moutinho move would be a nice depth choice.
Remus: David Pizarro! Just kidding. But really, I am unsure if any signing will happen. The rational side of my brain tells me that Feghouli is the player we want, but I don’t think he’s coming. Jese Rodriguez is said to be unsettled at PSG. I am sure a loan option for him could work. But personally, I think we need two reinforcements. One in the midfield and one up top.
ASRCanes: I’m still holding onto slim hope of Gregoire Defrel or a similar player who can play both out wide and as a striker. I’d also like to see if Pellegrini or Politano could be brought back in. Fuckin’ Sassuolo, they basically have nothing to play for. Safety is almost guaranteed at this point and they won’t make Europe again. Just give us all of your players already!
Sam: I’d love to see us land Joao Moutinho. His ability to control a match and send forward dangerous through balls seems a perfect fit for Spalletti’s Roma and we sure as hell could do with some midfield depth. At the very least he is a reliable Matteo Brighi role player who can help us kill off a match in the final ten minutes.
JonAS: Lacazette. The French Aguero. Deadly forward and has been banging in goals left and right since 2013. His team.currently is not in a top 3 position in the Ligue 1, Lyon may even miss out on the CL next season. This is our chance to lure him to Rome. Defrel or Muriel are also welcome, thanks to their Serie A experience, but are more low profile. I want a serious acquisition this time, James.
5. What sort of role do you envision for Leandro Paredes and Gerson throughout the spring?
Bren: Gerson will continue to watch from the stands, perhaps getting some run in the Coppa Italia, but I just don’t see how or where else he’ll fit in throughout the spring; it has indeed been a wasted season for him. As far as Paredes is concerned, I think he’ll be the first man off the bench, giving a rest to Kevin Strootman or Daniele De Rossi as needed.
Remus: Agreed. Gerson should have been loaned long ago. Looks as though he’ll watch from the bench most games, getting a cameo here or there. As for Paredes, he’ll serve a rotational player when suspensions or injuries happen. If really needs to fight for a place on this team because Strooty-DDR-Nainggolan have cemented their places in the midfield.
ASRCanes: Gerson needs to be loaned out ASAP. I know that his Dad may throw a fit then, but the kid needs some consistent minutes. As for Paredes, I see him getting tons of minutes once the EL fixtures start popping up again.
Sam: Yeah I also don’t see Gerson getting much time on the park. I think Leo is doing well right now tagging in with either DDR or Strootman but it is too early to be relying on him as an automatic starter at this stage. I’d like to see him try and ping in a few long range shots, he has a cannon of a shot on him.
JonAS: Same as first half. Paredes will see quite some game time, Gerson only when it’s Coppa or there’s nothing left to play for (or you know, Juventus at the Olimpico). A short loan to Empoli or Bologna would be do wonders for the lad. Paredes however needs to stay, as one of the first guys that come off the bench.
6. In your wildest dreams, how does the remainder of this season play out?
Bren: Juventus drops at least one match while drawing another one or two, Roma keeps winning AND beats Juventus, setting up a dead heat in the final two to three weeks
Remus: The poor man’s treble: EL, Coppa, and the League. You said, “wildest.”
ASRCanes: Roma get eliminated by Villareal in the first round of the EL and CdT goes into full meltdown mode, only for the club to maximize the lack of midweek fixtures and keep going strong in Serie A. Juve push for the CL and stumble in Serie A, with it all leading up to Roma winning the Juve fixture and taking a 4 point lead into the final two weeks, enough that even pessimistic/realistic me would consider the title a lock. We demolish Lazio in the Coppa semis and then Totti chips Buffon in a shootout win for the Coppa title.
Sam: Dzeko gets back into his groove and we go on a run scoring 3-4 goals a game. Juve start drawing matches they normally win and Lazio implode. And then we smash Juventus at home and set the stage for Totti to lift up the S word. I only care about Europa if we get to play Man United and tear them to pieces.
JonAS: On my appartment, I get seduced by Jennifer Lawrence while watching Roma host Juve at the Olimpico. We leave the laptop, go to bed and do funky things, when I suddenly hear Totti score a screamer against Buffon. It’s the second screamer of the night…. If you know what I mean… Sorry, I took ‘wildest’ quite literally, didn’t I? Anyway, Roma win and overtake Juve at no1 where they remain until the end of the season.
7. Okay, bring us back to earth, what actually happens?
Bren: Juventus cruises to their sixth straight, thanks in part to their game in hand with Crotone, beating out Roma for the Scudetto by, let's say, seven points, while Roma hangs onto second by three to four points over Napoli. So, pretty much par for the course over the past five years.
Remus: Roma drops points against a minnow and misses out on the scudetto by… hmmm… let’s say one point to be dramatic. Napoli goes on a torrid run, overlapping Juventus and Roma to win on the final match day. Wait am I on Earth?
ASRCanes: Roma get eliminated by Villarreal in the first round of the EL and CdT goes into full meltdown mode. The players to get depressed and shit the bed in Serie A the following two weeks. Juve take a 9 point lead in the title race and cruise in from there, and Roma fans start looking forward to at least a Coppa Italia crown. However, we face Lazio in the semi-finals and lose the tie. They hold a funeral in the streets for AC Roma. A solid season of finishing second, but no trophies. You said Earth, and this is Roma; we can’t have nice things!
Sam: Juve don’t lose another match and go on to post another points record. Roma keeps up for a while but then loses to Napoli, goes into meltdown and ends up in 3rd. We’ll make the semis of the Coppa but get soundly beaten by Villarreal in the Europa.
JonAS: See answer 6 but without the Jennifer Lawrence part.