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Season Preview: The Defense

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Can Roma’s stout defense repeat another successful year?

AS Roma v UC Sampdoria - TIM Cup
You shall not pass!
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

It’s August and it would appear Monchi and Co. are finished toying with Roma’s defensive roster. As usual, Roma’s back line has been more like a conveyor belt, rushing players out as quickly as they came in. Just look at the names we’ve seen come and go since Pallotta took over: Marquinhos, Alessio Romagnoli, Medhi Benatia, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Davide Astori, José Holebas, Vasilis Torosidis, Maicon, and Lucas Digne. Yet, despite all these departures, Roma’s defense has been good, quite good in fact, proof that the replacements for these fine players have gone on to make instant impacts. Last season, Roma conceded only 38 goals. With the recent departures of Captain-Jack-Mário Rui, Thomas-Made-of-Glass-Vermaelen, and Antonio-We’ll-Miss-You-Rüdiger, we turn our hopes to the new names in this year’s Defensive Preview:

The New Right-Back: Rick Karsdorp

Age: 22

Nationality: Dutch

Manchester United FC v Feyenoord - UEFA Europa League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Strootman really needed a buddy, so Monchi went out and bought Mexes this tattooed dude to keep him some company. At €19 million, Karsdorp comes at a price, yet his speed and tenacity make him a promising player. The former Feyenoord right-back will be fighting for a starting spot against Bruno Peres who is coming off a lackluster year. However, given his performances in preseason, Peres is playing as if his life is at stake, making blistering runs, slippery dribbles, and decisive passes. Karsdorp will have to prove himself after his injury layoff.

At this point it difficult to say what effect the Dutchman will have. Even more puzzling is the possibility that he’ll have to also compete against Florenzi for pitch time. Yet, depth is a luxury we Roma fans haven’t had in some time, so perhaps the mere presence of Karsdorp will help bring healthy competition for the right-back slot.

The New Left-Back: Aleksandar Kolarov

Age: 31

Nationality: Serbian

International Champions Cup 2017 - Tottenham Hotspur v AS Roma Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A former Goat Lover, you say? Blasphemy! Oh, he’s pledged allegiance to the Giallorossi? I guess he can stay...

Kolarov, a name that has been linked with Roma for eons, brings Roma experience in the backline. This move just reeks of the Maicon move years ago. Tall, tough, and with a wicked left-foot, the veteran is poised to have a successful year for the winning side of Rome. Furthermore, his Serie A and Champions League experience will undoubtedly aid his mentorship of Emerson Palmieri. At €5, this is a low-cost, high-reward situation. With three competitions to play for, Roma will need all the depth they can get, and Kolarov brings a versatility that will be useful down the road.

The New Left-Center-Back: Hector Moreno

Age: 29

Nationality: Mexican

International Champions Cup 2017 - Tottenham Hotspur v AS Roma Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Señor Moreno is coming off a stellar season with Eredevisie champions, PSV Eindhoven. Like Kolarov, and Juan Jesus (kind of), the Mexican gives Roma versatility in the back line with the ability to shift into the left-back position if need be. Although not the tallest player, Moreno has an eye for set pieces, tallying seven goals for PSV last campaign. Additionally, he has established himself as a starter for the Mexican national team who are all but sure heading to the World Cup next summer.

Since joining Roma, Moreno hasn’t shown us too much to get excited about. His positioning during the several friendlies he’s played has been suspect. However, every player needs time to adapt, and if Hector can continue his form from last season there is no reason to believe that he can’t challenge for a starting spot beside either Fazio or Manolas.

The Rocks: Fazio and Manolas

Juventus FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

So much relies on Manolas and Fazio this year. For Roma to challenge Juve for the Scudetto, their collaboration must be fluid and consistent. With Manolas’s speed and Fazio’s physicality, Roma has a solid centerback duo. However, a part of me worries about Fazio in EDF’s four-man defensive system. In a three-man backline Fazio was able to play the zone, pushing up, winning headers, always secure because of the two other CBs behind him. That said, preseason performances indicate that Fazio is still in form and ready to command once again.

An uncertainty shrouds our Greek friend, Manolas. His U-turn collapse at Zenit and his demeanor during preseason friendlies has been offsetting. Despite his pledge to stay, and the club’s statements that he won’t be transferred, there appears to be some sort of rift. Conjecture aside, Manolas is one of the best and quickest centerbacks in Serie A. Having him healthy and committed this season is a must.

The Wildcards: Juan Jesus & Bruno Peres

Brazil v North Korea: Group G - 2010 FIFA World Cup Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

As mentioned earlier, Bruno Peres is currently fighting for a starting spot. After a dismal year, he seems set on silencing his doubters. His preseason form has looked commendable, but he’ll have to be consistent. In his defense, I think he and ol’ baldy didn’t see eye to eye. I recall one match last season when Spalletti was screaming at him from the touchline, berating him to move, to run, to look like he gave a damn. Well, perhaps EDF will ignite the Brazilian’s flame...

As for Peres’s Brazilian counterpart, Juan Jesus began last campaign atrociously, yet somehow turned it around. Trust me, there was no Roma player I ridiculed more than poor JJ, but c’mon, he was truly horrible in the early matches. Yet, he found his own, especially in Spalletti’s three-man backline. With Kolarov, Moreno, and a healthy Emerson, EDF won’t ever have to use JJ as left-back, and for that we can all rest easy. Jesus ain’t no left-back, but the real question is whether he’ll be a backup or somehow prove himself as a starter. Let’s assume the former.

The Injured Reserves: Emerson & Florenzi

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Whether Florenzi should be in this article remains uncertain. Personally, I hope EDF is able to push Flo up the field a bit more, but who knows? There is also the fact that he is coming off back to back ACL tears. Yet, when he comes back EDF will have him at his disposal. Right-back, midfield, on the wing, Flo will play his part.

On the left side of the treatment table, Emerson Palmieri is coming off a career season. His attacking ability will surely be the sparkle under EDF’s glasses. One imagines that Emerson, once fit, will return as a must start. However, if Kolarov proves his worth, Emerson may dread his injury, especially during a World Cup year. If he can come back and stay healthy, Emerson could complement Kolarov. Speed, pace, and flair or strength, vigor, and precision. He could also prove to be a smart substitution in trailing games.

The Goner: Leandro Castán

International Champions Cup 2017 - AS Roma v Paris Saint-Germain
Gone boys...

Man, one has to feel for Castán. Once Roma’s uncovered diamond, the Brazilian suffered an unfortunate brain condition, which would cast (no pun intended) him aside. Anyone who remembers the Brazilian’s glory days at Roma must feel like I do. Castán was a joy to watch, such a surprise. But I think we will all have to face the fact that he’ll never recover that form. There is just no place for this guy at Roma at the moment... we already have three left-footed centerbacks! Has that ever happened in Roma’s history? In any case, I wish him the best and hope he shines wherever he goes.

Conclusion

This is the first season in a long time where Roma is stacked in defense. And not only stacked, but stacked with versatile players who can fill other positions. Last year, Roma’s woes were directly related to a lack of depth, so it could be said that management has learned from prior mistakes. However, a lot is riding on EDF’s tactics. It appears the former Roma player coaches his team to win the ball back in the offensive half, a gamble which puts the defense under pressure if failed. Moving forward, the team, that is everyone from keeper to striker, will have to work as a cohesive unit for the defense to work. Furthermore, Fazio needs to repeat his breakout season and Manolas needs to keep his head. The talent is there, but it will all come down to the tactics. Can EDF build a wall?