Seldom does Roma sign a player so seemingly tailor made for her needs and her financial abilities than Bruno Peres. In both form and function, Peres was everything this club was missing over the past few years. An athletic, aggressive and in his prime right back, one who would add a previously unseen wrinkle into the Giallorossi’s attack, giving them an extra row of teeth in effect. No longer would the wing play be solely dependent on Mohamed Salah, they now had a dynamic fullback who could both contribute to and originate attacks down the flank, working give and goes, overlapping and pumping in crosses towards Edin Dzeko. Here was a legit fullback, not a midfielder being forced into an awkward transition.
We were so amped by this signing, it was hard to conjure up the appropriate words back in August, but here was our initial take:
It’s hard to emphasize just what a huge move this is; Peres is without a doubt one of the best right backs in the game, and to grab him so late in the summer—after pursuing him for three years, during which time larger and larger clubs sought him out—for only €16 million is an absolute masterstroke.
Peres was, by most measures, the league’s best right back/wingback over the past couple seasons, and had drawn the attention of some massive clubs, everyone from City to PSG were hot for his signature, but Roma got him at a bargain rate. The best right back in the game was Roma’s for a few million more than they paid for Victor Ibarbo.
Roma was locked and loaded, primed to challenge for the Scudetto, right? So what happened?
To answer that question, we’ll divide and discuss the litany of factors at play in Peres’ relative decline; he’s still effective, but nowhere near his Torino level of play. First up in this dissection...
Truth be told, the first two months of Peres’ Roma tenure went off like gangbusters. Despite the fact that he was being jammed into the leftback spot, he hit the ground running, completing 85% of his passes and averaging nearly three dribbles per match. However, following a 2-1 victory over Inter in the fall, Peres missed three matches with a tear in his abductor muscle and has, if we’re being honest, struggled to regain that form and has dealt with a series of niggling little injuries since then. As Bush once sang, it’s the little things that kill. It’s hard to gain any traction when you’re dealing with muscular injuries simply because, without proper rest, they linger. It’s not the sole, nor the biggest, reason for his struggles but it can’t be ignored.
Now onto something out of his control completely.
While Peres was always a bit of a shape shifter at Torino, he was largely used as a right midfielder/wingback during his two years at Torino, where 80% of his starts occurred, this year has been a bit of a mess. Since making the switch to Roma, Peres has featured as a right back, left back and right midfielder. And while versatility is a welcomed character trait for a big money signing, you have to question if this inconsistency has contributed to his performance this season, particularly when you consider that right-back may be his best position for no other reason than it gives him ample space in which to attack/move forward. So, when you factor the tactical inconsistency in with the general acclimation to a new and larger team, you can sort of understand how this might curb his growth this season.
Lack of Aggression
This category necessarily follows what we just discussed, but when you compare Peres’ stats from the past two years, you’ll notice a distinct drop off in several areas. As far as the gross numbers are concerned, Peres’ defensive actions (blocks, interceptions and clearances) have already, in 600 fewer minutes, equaled or surpassed last season’s totals, while his goals and assists are in line with his 2015-2016 numbers: two goals and two assists this year compared to three and four, respectively, from last year, so it’s reasonable to expect he’ll match those before May.
However, it’s the drop off in the more aggressive categories that is really a cause for concern—both his tackles and dribbles have been more than halved this season compared to last. And while tackling statistics are subject to a host of factors outside of the player’s control, Peres has been woeful in this regard, winning only 33% of his 70 tackle attempts thus far, a far cry from his 50% success rate last season (stats are through week 28).
But Roma didn’t sign Peres to be a defensive dynamo, right? Peres was an aggressive and decisive figure on Torino’s right flank last season, averaging 3.1 dribbles per match, dusting defenders at a 67% clip. This season, that average has fallen down to 1.9, though he’s still winning about 61% of those attempts. So if you’ve had the inkling all season long that Peres hasn’t been grabbing the match by its balls, you weren’t off the mark. In a way it’s similar to what we saw with Juan Iturbe, you take the big dribbling fish out of the small pond and it’s tough to conjure up that same formula.
Granted, some of this may be down to tactics, but Peres’ wings have been clipped. Peak Peres is an aggressive player, one who uses space to pick up a head of steam, blowing past defenders before attacking the area himself or pumping in crosses to the center forward. While that Peres hasn’t been entirely absent this season, it hasn’t surfaced as much as the club has needed it to; the Torino Peres would make this Roma virtually unstoppable.
To drive these points home, we’ll look at two ends of the Peres spectrum, one in which he was active, involved and aggressive, working with and receiving help from teammates, while the other shows a more passive and detached Peres.
We’ll start with the aggressive Peres, Roma’s 3-1 victory over Chievo in December
I mean look at all those passes! Peres took an absurd 125 touches in this match, but the thing I want you to notice is the nature of the passes: forwards, backwards, inside, outside and crosses. Peres was Roma’s fulcrum in this match, working with Antonio Rüdiger, Kevin Strootman and Mohamed Salah to utterly dominate the right flank. Peres managed an incredible eight chances created in this match, five of which came off his 21 attempted crosses. This was an aggressive, determined and unleashed Peres; this is what we expected when Roma signed him over the summer.
This match also proved that Peres can be just as, if not more, decisive working with his teammates rather than simply bowling over defenders; he only pulled off two dribbles in this match, so it’s not as if he was simply burying his head and surging forward. Point being, this was a showcase for Peres, this was the guy Roma chased for three years, this was the guy they beat PSG to, a player who can do it all, beating you with the ball at his feet and working with his teammates to leave defenses confused and helpless.
Now, let’s look at a more passive and removed Peres from December’s derby against Lazio.
The difference is pretty apparent, right? Peres was nowhere in this match. Nowhere! These matches were only 10 days apart, but they might as well have taken place in different galaxies. From 125 touches, 21 crosses and eight chances created to a pitiful 31 touches, two crosses and zero chances created, Peres was a non-factor against Lazio. And yes, the comparative level of the opponents was a factor here, but that alone doesn’t account for a 75% drop in his touches or a 90% reduction in crosses. It is also worth noting that Peres was an out and out right winger in this match, as Spalletti went with a 4-1-4-1, presumably because Mohamed Salah wasn’t available, but again we see the impact formational changes has on Peres’ performance.
As always, these are purposefully selected examples meant to illustrate the extremes of his performances. No one is suggesting that Peres should take over 100 touches a game, but in order for him to be effective he needs wide open spaces in front of him as a right back, or more realistically, he needs to be the hub between the right side of defense, the right midfielder and the right winger, as he was with Rüdiger, Strootman and Salah in the first example. In this role, Peres he can move the ball in and out while advancing up the sideline providing service to the heart of the attack.
So Now What?
While Peres might seem ideally suited to be a nominal right back, the fact is he’s never done that, at least not in Italy; he’s always been a wingback if not an out and out midfielder, so Spalletti’s tactical shifts, while impacting his performance, aren’t really the crux of the issue. We’re nearly 1,500 words deep on this analysis, but the heart of the matter is this: there is no single root cause here, the dip in Peres’ performance this season is due to an aggregate effect of several small factors.
His hot start, which came when he was playing as a nominal fullback, was scuppered when he suffered an injury in mid-October, and he’s been playing catchup ever since, while simultaneously adapting subtle shifts in Roma’s tactics, and while none of those shifts are beyond his capabilities, they’ve hampered his performance nonetheless However, couple those factors together and it’s not surprising that Peres has been a bit passive; he’s still trying to find his place in this squad—is he the prime mover on the right, or should he defer to Salah? Should he press the issue on the flank, or pass it over to Strootman?
As I sum this up, it becomes more apparent that the tactical shifts are the bold reason among the litany of minor issues—it does behoove Spalletti to put his players in positions to succeed—but the amalgam of adjusting to a new club, new tactics and new teammates, while also dealing with a series of nagging injuries, are all culpable in his struggles this season.
The good news, I believe, is that these are easily remedied. The injuries should take care of themselves, and with a full year under his belt next season, Peres should have a clearer idea of his role and will hopefully begin asserting himself in Roma’s attack. If you’ll permit me a basketball analogy, Bruno Peres is the LaMarcus Aldridge to Mohamed Salah’s Kawhi Leonard. When the San Antonio Spurs signed Aldridge prior to last season, he was seen as an ideal addition to Leonard, a big, forceful All-Star who would take the pressure off of Leonard. However, much like Peres, he struggled finding his place initially, deferring too often to his teammates, and just when he seemed to find the groove, he was hit with a series of injuries, delaying his acclimation process.
Peres will figure this out, he’s too good not to, but the onus is on Spalletti to get the most of this asset. Bruno Peres was among the best at his position while at Torino, and now that he’s surrounded by a better supporting cast, he should take his game to the next level. He has the capabilities, Spalletti simply has to give him an environment in which he can succeed.
Anything less would be a disservice to the club and the player himself. Peres isn’t an enigma, he’s just been a victim of circumstance.