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Federico Fazio: One of Roma’s Leading Men for 2017-18

Il Comandante ran Roma’s defence on his way to a debut World Cup with Argentina.

AS Roma v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Could Federico Fazio be Walter Sabatini (or maybe Franco Baldini’s) best signing for Roma? It was a muted suggestion at the tailend of 2016-17 - a season spent as a crucial piece of Spalletti’s “3+1” defensive backline. Despite this, Fazio had a couple of gripes to get off his chest last summer.

“I’m starting to doubt if they’ll ever call me,” Fazio lamented, “my one regret is never having played a World Cup for Argentina. After ten years at the top level I’m starting to get more known, but I started in the Segunda division and never passed through an important club in Argentina. Maybe at the beginning, people didn’t get a chance to know me.”

12 months later, Fazio has finally found that elusive call-up to Argentina’s World Cup campaign in Russia. (Maybe it was him dropping hints that he might play for Ventura’s Italy that forced their hand? Then again, maybe not.)

It’s reward for a 2017-18 season where the Argentinian wall has reminded us what he’s capable of on the ball as much as off it. We won’t even mention the early season doubts of whether he could seriously figure in a 4-man, high-line defence. If there’s a polaroid capturing the paradoxical nature of EdF’s first season, Fazio’s performances are probably it.

As far as defending goes, we’ve seen everything we expected to see from Il Comandante this season. We saw the usual flaw of Federico coming out second-best when exposed to a 50-100m sprint to any ball. It happened several times in Roma’s shaky winter spell, where the left-sided duo of Fazio and Kolarov begun to look like a lane for opponents to exploit. There was a reminder that Fazio, for his limitations as an athlete, needs protection from his midfield men. There’s only so much you can do for yourself when your Football Manager pace rating must be at something like a 4. (Is it a 4? I haven’t played FM in a while.)

On the flipside, from a stand-still position or close quarters defending, Fazio is in his element. He’s risen to it consistently over the course of this season in cutting out passes or robbing his opponent of the ball, time and again. He doesn’t just satisfy himself there as he always immediately looks to set Roma back on the attacking foot.

“The strongest opponent I’ve never faced in my career? I’d say Messi,” he summed up a year ago. Once again, 12 months later, that’s another self-fulfilling statement put right. But the real surprise of this season, and that Barca game, is the initiative Fazio injected into Roma’s attack and general game management.

There are the touches on the ball in possession to evade the opposition’s pressing, winning time and space to ping the ball forward. There’s the disruptive influence Fazio offers in cutting out the opposition’s runs off the ball, just ever-so-slightly leaving his body in the path of runs from diminutive ball-carriers like Ivan Rakitic or Sergi Roberto, to ruin their day. He’s willing to remind anyone, early in the game, there’s always a six-foot-five block of mass for you to run into when not paying attention to your surroundings. Good luck with the icepack on your head the day after. You’ve been Fazio’d.

All of this topped off with the occasional rampage runs through midfield with the ball, down the byline deep in the opposition half, or pulling out the pass that topped AS Roma’s website poll as assist of the year.

Admittedly even today, I still haven’t gotten over the initial thought “does he know what he’s doing?” when I see Fazio make runs forward. Each time, he snuffs the doubt. He’s won continental titles - there’s an assuredness about him that should be expected among Roma’s senior leaders in the dressing room.

Can he do it all by himself? No - no one will ever say that about his individual margins as a player. But Arrigo Sacchi made a Ballon D’Or winner out of Franco Baresi, in a similar high-line defence back in the Milan sides of the 80s, for barely more than this.

Fazio ranks as the third-highest defender in Serie A among Italy’s newspapers over this season, behind only the performances of Inter’s Milan Skriniar and Juventus’ Medhi Benatia. On Squawka, a non-Italian source, Fazio ranks only behind Skriniar among Italy’s top-of-the-table teams (though Francesco Acerbi beats them both to the number 1 spot in a Sassuolo team with inevitably more defending to do on any given matchday).

He also made WhoScored’s Serie A Team of the Season.

Final Grade: I don’t know how to grade players. I don’t even know Fazio’s pace rating on FM.

High Point: December 16th against Cagliari - Roma look like coming unstuck at home against the smaller sides once again, until Fazio pops up with a winner in the 94th minute of the game.