As Roma fans we have an unhealthy attachment to the club’s youth players. Whether it’s due to the sheer excitement of something new, or simply because Roma can seldom outspend any of the truly large clubs, the standing, performance and maturation of the club’s youth products weighs heavily on our collective consciousness, to say nothing of the league table. Investing in and reaping rewards from young, cost controlled players is good business no matter the sport, but it seems to carry an extra burden with Roma.
As we’ve done every year for the past three summers, we rank the top ten U-23 prospects (a term we’re wrestling with for next year) in the Roma system, and more often than not the ones that jump out at you are the goal scorers and the fancy dribblers—your Mattia Destros, Juan Iturbes, Ezequiel Ponces etc—but the kids who play in the center of the park are no less important, and it’s been quite a while since Roma’s nursery has spawned a kid quite like Lovely Leandro Paredes.
What Paredes lacks in brute strength and jaw dropping athleticism he more than makes up for in skill, composure and precision, not to mention those dreamy eyes. The problem for Paredes, and really any midfielder working their way to the Olimpico, has simply been one of logistics—it’s awfully hard to crack a midfield rotation dominated by Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman.
However, with Seydou Keita, William Vainqueur and Miralem Pjanic all exiting the equation this past summer, and with little other than Gerson standing in his way, Paredes became the de facto fourth midfielder, though his minutes and role were far from assured much less defined. Paredes was either woefully miscast as a pure attacking midfielder or a stringently defined defensive midfielder, when the truth is he’s a little of both. Although he’ll never be the final link in attack, Paredes has proven capable of springing forwards into attacking space, while at the same time making last man tackles and clearances—he’s a bit of everything, a little Pirlo, a little De Rossi, and he’s becoming damn good at it.
With the recent spate of injuries and suspensions plaguing Roma’s midfield, Paredes has been gifted more playing time, logging 433 minutes in his last five appearances for the Giallorossi, including back-to-back full 90s, where he played in the double pivot alongside De Rossi, a role to which he seems perfectly suited. In this position, Paredes is free to dictate and distribute from a deeper role, teaming up with De Rossi to steady the match or finding diagonal passing seams on his own, springing the likes of Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy into attacking space, an area in which he was particularly masterful against Juve on Sunday.
Paredes took a team high 80 touches on Mother’s Day, completing 91% of his passes, 12 of which were to Diego Perotti alone.
While they weren’t necessarily “from deep”, Paredes passes to Perotti were on point, finding his countryman out wide where he was able to drive the ball to the byline, stretching the Juventus defense in the process. While this is pretty text book stuff, Juventus were powerless to stop this connection on Sunday, but it was more than just his linking up with Perotti that was impressive, Paredes was clinical all over the pitch.
In Roma’s defensive third he was a perfect seven-for-seven, in the middle third he missed only three times, and in the attacking third he hit on 17 of 19 passes:
As you can see, Paredes picked apart Juve’s vaunted back line in the final third, launching two balls from beyond the center-stripe, and pushing the play out wide to El Shaarawy and Perotti from 25 to 30 yards out. Whether he was withdrawn or in the thick of the action, Lovely Leo was spraying the ball all over the park, making mincemeat out of Juve’s defense.
However, lest you think Paredes contributions were limited to offense, take a look at some of the dirty work he did on the back end. Paredes was five-for-seven on tackles, including a perfect two-for-two in Roma’s 18 yard box, while also clearing five balls in Roma’s defensive third, three of which were in the 18 yard box. Paredes also blocked two shots in the defensive third, and was generally perfect in his defensive duties, committing no errors that lead to shots or scoring chances for Juventus.
What we’re witnessing is the resurgence of the Paredes we saw last season at Empoli. and the maturation of a deep-seated, defensively adept playmaker, one who Roma can slot into their lineup for the next dozen years or so, give or take. And sure, it took him a few more months than we had hoped to settle in, but at only 22-years-old Paredes is fast becoming an object of envy for many continental heavyweights, putting Roma in an extremely advantageous position.
Midfield has long been this club’s strength, and adding the blossoming Paredes to the rejuvenated Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan at his absolute apex, and hopefully the equally ascending Lorenzo Pellegrini should ensure a smooth transition as we roll into AS Roma 3.0 under Monchi.
So, for the love of god, Roma, please don’t sell him!