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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: 2018 Edition, Part II

Will anyone—can anyone—stop Juventus this season?

Juventus v Juventus U19 - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

If you missed part one of our discussion, which focused largely on Roma’s summer moves and what impact they’ll have on the coming season, you can catch it here. Today we widen our lens to focus on the league as a whole: Who has improved the most? Can anyone beat Juventus?

#1: Outside of Juventus, which one of Roma’s competitors improved the most this season?

Jimmy: I’m perpetually hesitant to worry about either Milan club, considering their Financial Fair Play issues and questionable locker room dynamics. Inter definitely improved the most so far, so they’re my answer, but Spalletti tends to shoot himself in the foot at some point in the season.

dallagente: You’d have to say Inter, right? Maybe Milan are close, too. But Inter making the CL and finding out they don’t have to sell Skriniar AND can pair him up with De Vrij, just that alone was a huge step. They’ve also solved their Candreva problem on the right by signing Politano.

Bren: Has to be Inter, which I feel like we’ve said many times over the past few years,but Spalletti takes a year or so to really get things moving, and they’re just so incredibly talented and have added some good pieces I feel like they’re going to be a legitimate threat this year, not to Juventus, but second place could be theirs to lose.

ssciavillo: It 100% has to be Inter. They’ve made some very good signings even without Modric arriving. They scare me a bit as we look to stay top 3.

tottiparty: Inter, without a doubt. They signed one of the best midfielders in the league, a quality center back, a tremendously talented striker and still hung on to their core pieces from last season. If they somehow get Modric, this isn’t even up for debate. They’re a scary prospect, especially if Spalletti can get them to gel like he did with Roma two seasons ago.

ASRCanes: Inter for sure. I love every move they made. Sold a ton of dead weight and retained all of their good players. Brought in Asamoah and DeVrij on bosmans, Vrsaljko is a world class RB, Politano is solid and now they just signed Keita Balde, and Lautaro has potential to be something special. Oh, and they got that Nainggolan guy on a pretty cheap deal as well. What a starting 11.

Sam: It is an annual tradition to fret about Inter and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on that. If they land Modric…

JonAS: Inter, in every department bar keeper. Lazio and Napoli stayed the same while Milan can brag with Higuain but still look meh in defence. Inter though has an INTER(get it?)ESTING mix of players and I’m curious how Spal will handle it.

AsRemus: Yeah, I fear history may repeat itself, as Inter look to have a very strong side with an Italian tactician at the helm who has everything at his disposal. Historically, the Inter v. Roma rivalry has not been kind to us… Pray Totti that it isn’t as it appears…

#2: Forget Ronaldo for one second, what was the best signing of the summer in all of Serie A?

Jimmy: I think Bryan Cristante may prove to be the best domestic transfer. He was dynamite last season with Atalanta, and although this preseason hasn’t made him look god-like, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes people forget about Nainggolan sooner rather than later.

dallagente: In terms of transfers from abroad? Justin Kluivert. In terms of transfers within Serie A, Milan signing Caldara and pairing him up with Romagnoli was a steal. The future of the Azzurri defence wears Rossoneri. I’d say Cristante pairing up with Pellegrini could be impressive too, but neither of them are assured as much gametime as the Milan duo.

Bren: You know, it still hasn’t really sunk in for me that Ronaldo is at Juve. Fuckin hell, that’s not fair, but for the purposes of fit and history, I’ll go with Nainggolan to Inter Milan. Radja had his best ever season under Spalletti two years ago, and I see no reason why he won’t flourish under Poobah again. It’ll be a short term impact given his age, but he’ll just add so much to that midfield.

ssciavillo: I have to go with dallagente on this one. If you’re talking about a signing from abroad then I think it could be Kluivert. He comes with a recognizable name thanks to his dad, and if he develops correctly, Justin will be a household name a world over just like Patrick before you know it. Domestically, I’d rate the Caldara signing just ahead of Cristante, but don’t sleep on Higuain to Milan or Radja reuniting with Spalletti at Inter either.

tottiparty: Some great ones mentioned here but I’ll still go with Radja to Inter. A player who still has 2-3 years to give going to play under a coach who turned him into one of the most fearsome midfielders in Europe... it’s a match made in heaven (or hell, if you’re a Roma fan). In terms of just transactions, Higuain + Caldara in exchange for Bonucci is tremendous business by Milan.

NicoT: Higuain to Milan will have the greatest impact on the team, after the Ronaldo transfer. Cutrone, at 10 goals, was the only player to break double digits for them in the league last year, and now they bring in Higuain on loan? That’s like replacing a BB gun with a Howitzer.

ASRCanes: DeVrij to Inter on a free. World class center back and he fucked up for Lazio and handed Inter Champions League football and himself on a platter. Without that deal and CL football, who knows where Inter are this summer.

Sam: That Keita kid going to Inter is a worrying development. Milan landing Higuain is also worrying.

JonAS: Radja to Inter. Stealing a big name from a direct opponent while throwing in two unwanted players in the deal. Shame on you, Monchi. Inter weakened Roma and immediately strengthened themselves. I’m also jealous about Cancelo to Juve and Badelj for free to Lazio.

AsRemus: Just saw a rumor that our old friend Gervinho is linked with Parma. Watch out Serie A! The prodigal son returns. But really, I’d say Radja to Inter. He was too much of a beast with Spalletti to think otherwise…

#3: Prediction time, give us the Top 5 teams at the end of the season

Jimmy: 1. Juventus 2. Roma 3. Inter 4. Napoli 5. Fiorentina 20. Lazio

dallagente: 1. Juventus 2. Roma 3. Milan 4. Lazio 5. Inter

Bren: Juventus, Inter, Roma, Napoli, Lazio...we definitely can’t underestimate Lazio, they’re still pretty daunting.

ssciavillo: 1. Juve 2. Roma (fingers crossed) 3. Inter 4. Napoli 5. Milan

tottiparty: Juve, Roma, Inter, Lazio, Napoli

NicoT: Juve, Inter, Napoli, Roma, Milan

ASRCanes: Juventus, Inter Milan, Napoli, AS Roma, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio

Sam: Juve, Inter, Napoli, Roma, Milan or Fiorentina

JonAS: Juve, Inter, Roma, Napoli, Milan

AsRemus: Inter, Juventus, Roma, Milan, Napoli

#4: Alright, despite what we just said above, give us a plausible scenario in which Juventus does not win their 8th straight Scudetto?

Jimmy: Dybala demands a transfer in the winter because he doesn’t want to live his life in Ronaldo’s shadow. Szczęsny is either a Roma sleeper agent or turns back into his Arsenal self, giving Juventus a surprisingly leaky defense. Pastore turns back the clock and looks like he did at Palermo, EDF finds a tactic that incorporates both Schick and Džeko resulting in a goal-happy Roma winning her fourth Scudetto against Parma.

dallagente: Allegri rants at a few more post-match journalists for no reason, Ronaldo tells Agnelli that the coach cannot be trusted because Dybala told him so. Allegri walks out mid-way through the season, Juve get a new coach but meanwhile all the top 5 or 6 teams take points off each other home and away, the points needed to win the title comes all the way down. Fiorentina exploit the lack of momentum at the top to leapfrog all teams ahead of them and clinch the title on the last day, through hat-trick hero Gerson.

Bren: I think you two are both right in that it will involve some sort of inner turmoil rather than an actual external threat. Ronaldo is a physical freak, so we can’t rely on an injury or a huge regression in play, but his presence marginalizing some of the other key components could put a dent in their machine, as could, as you said Jimmy, Woj slipping up. So, IF all that happens and some other club, one of Roma/Inter/Napoli, are really clicking and getting all the bounces, then I suppose anything could happen.

ssciavillo: With the addition of Ronaldo, and the return of Bonucci it’s hard to imagine Juve slipping up. I’d say Dybala would have to seriously underperform and deprive them of a reliable secondary goal scorer. In addition, Woj would have to make them really miss Buffon in goal. However, even if that happens in comes Perin. Maybe sprinkle in a couple key injuries before crucial Serie A matches or maybe they get caught looking ahead to the Champions League a few times and drop points. However, even if that happens the second best team, whoever that might be out of Roma, Napoli, Inter and less likely Milan, would have to play near perfectly all season long. That in itself is a tall task. Add in the fact that Roma, Napoli, and Inter will also be playing Champions League and it becomes an even taller task.

tottiparty: Juventus get caught up in trying to win the Champions League and their form in February-March takes a serious hit. Meanwhile, Roma drop out at the round of 16 but go on to have a scintillating spring making up an 8 point gap against the Turin giants. On matchday 36, Pastore puts in one of the all-time great performances against Juventus putting Roma at the top of the table for the first time all season. On the last day, Roma win 3-1, with goals from Pastore, Dzeko and Under. What? Oh, you said plausible.

NicoT: Calciopoli 2.0.

ASRCanes: Plausible scenario? There isn’t one. They are simply too talented and way too deep.

Sam: Juventus win less games than Napoli or Inter.

JonAS: During Sampdoria-Juventus, a suicide squad enters the Luigi Ferraris, holds the entire Juve team hostage and demands a 30 point deduction or they will blow up the stadium and crowd, making Roma the new legit champions. The day after, the squad announces in the press they are in fact assassins called The Old Knights of Rome, including Totti, Aldair, Cafu and Batistuta. They then fly off on their flame horses with divine wings into the sunset… Hey, it’s Italy, anything is possible.

AsRemus: Ronaldo ruptures his ACL.

#5: Who finishes the season as the top scorer?

Jimmy: Ronaldo barely pips Schick. Yeah.

dallagente: Gonzalo Higuain.

Bren: Ronaldo with...oh, 37 goals.

ssciavillo: Ronaldo but I expect Dzeko to mount more of a challenge this season.

tottiparty: Dzeko with 30

NicoT: Pallotta said recently that he thought Ronaldo might struggle in the Italian league. He won’t. He’s done just fine against Italian teams in the CL. Ronaldo by at least 10 goals.

ASRCanes: Mauro Icardi-Nara with 31.

Sam: I’ll go with Icardi as well 30.

JonAS: Icardi and Ronaldo, both 28. Oh and Defrel will bag at least 20 this season, just sayin’.

AsRemus: Going last sucks. Icardi (29).

#6: Last season, three players (Luis Alberto, Jose Callejon and Simone Verdi) cracked the double-double (goals and assists) in league play, will anyone repeat that feat this season?

Jimmy: Javier Pastore and Radja Nainggolan will repeat the feat, just because the universe seems to be working like that right now.

dallagente: I had no idea Verdi even did that, let’s see him do it again.

Bren: I’m still shocked at how rarely this happens, maybe its because Totti always seemed like a threat to do it, so it seemed more commonplace than it actually was. Certainly Callejon is a threat and Josip Ilicic and Ivan Perisic were awfully close last year, so I’ll start with those three, and depending on their roles, maybe Nainggolan and Sergej Milinkovic Savic, if he’s still there of course.

ssciavillo: I think Callejon can do it again depending on his role in a new system. SMS and Radja will be threats as well. I wouldn’t sleep on Ronaldo either. He did it a few times in Spain.

tottiparty: Ronaldo, Pastore, Perisic and someone completely new from the mid-table teams.

ASRCanes: There are three guys alone on Juve who could probably finish with that (Ronaldo, Dybala, Douglas Costa)

Sam: Some random Napoli player.

JonAS: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say SES. Ronaldo is too selfish to get to ten assists. Talentwise Coric and Kluivert can do it as well but both are perhaps a bit too young. And as always, Radja will be close thanks to Spalletti’s system. Pjanic perhaps. And Quagliarella is my joker.

AsRemus: Mertens (Napoli), Nainggolan (Inter), and Under (Roma).

#7: They don’t do MVPs as such in Serie A, but give us your top three MVP candidates for this season.

Jimmy: Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Javier Pastore (Roma), Gerson (Fiorentina). Okay, I’m kind of joking with that last one.

dallagente: Douglas Costa (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio).

Bren: Ronaldo (Juventus), Icardi (Inter MIlan) and Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)

ssciavillo: Ronaldo (Juventus), Icardi (Inter) and Dzeko (Roma)

tottiparty: Ronaldo (Juventus), Pastore (Roma), Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)

ASRCanes: Ronaldo (Juventus), Icardi (Inter Milan), Higuain (AC Milan)

Sam: Ronaldo, Dybala, Keita (only if he goes to Inter)

JonAS: Ronaldo (Juve), Cristante (Roma), Pjanic (Juve)

AsRemus: Dybala (Juve), Florenzi (Roma), Mertens (Napoli).

#8: And finally, is Serie A really back on the rise?

Jimmy: You’ll need to get back to me on this one. The only thing I’m sure of is that Serie A is going to either improve dramatically or fall apart at the seams in the near future - there’s no middle ground. Both Milan clubs and their, um, interesting financial situations don’t exactly inspire confidence. On the flip side of that, Roma and Napoli are taking big steps to get themselves into the top tier of European clubs. If both those projects can succeed, I think Serie A has a chance of becoming the behemoth it once was. I’ll be happy if in the long term there are four Champions League “big clubs” in the league, and I think Juventus, Roma, Napoli and one of the Milan clubs could fill that role.

dallagente: On the positive side - even if this might seem cynical - I don’t think it can sink much lower. Serie A was bailed out by the changes in the UEFA league coefficients, otherwise it would have been a wrap for France overtaking them. On the negative side, the TV deal lasts for a full three years from now and, in that time, other leagues ahead can widen the gap. Then there is the long-term direction of the Italian game. FIGC and national football in Italy is still very much focused on Big Data, and promoting players who can play to a system and modern “national playing style”. That rewards teams with a strong playing identity like Roma and Milan (and formerly Napoli), but it’s useless without the top senior talent to push the Serie A youth to the max, which relies on the spending power of Juventus. Only forces outside of football can align these conflicts of interest between league competitivity and league identity/growth. Outside forces like, for example (cough) Roma getting a privately-owned stadium....

Bren: I’d like to think so, and as exciting as Ronaldo to Juve was and is, he’s 33 not 26, so we haven’t yet reached the point where Italian clubs are consistently competing with Real Madrid, Barcelona, City, Bayern, PSG etc for top, in their prime players. No one is catching the Premiership, that’s a pipe dream, but if Roma and Napoli can get their stadium situations sorted, and both Milan sides can show some stability year over year, then we’re looking at five to six teams with legitimate resources and organizational stability, which would put them ahead of La Liga or the Bundesliga. So while they likely won’t have any one team that can trump a PSG or Bayern offer (for example), there aren’t many leagues that can boast five or six legitimate European contenders, five or six clubs with the potential to be among the most twenty valuable in the word. Italy won’t top the Premiership, but they can be the best of the rest, as it were.

ssciavillo: I think the signing of Ronaldo by Juve makes people notice Serie A again. If arguably the best player in the world wants to go play there then people will pay more attention. It would’ve helped if Modric followed suit and went to Inter after his strong world cup. However, one signing, even one of Ronaldo’s prestige, doesn’t heal the league in itself. Roma and Napoli need to get their stadiums to become more financially viable, especially on the continental level. That coupled with the two Milan sides fixing their finances and Serie A could then have five legitimate contenders in the league every year. This could make them one of the deeper leagues in Europe. In addition, I feel like more teams need to do a better job of promoting their own Italian homegrown players, rather than burying them on the depth charts behind mediocre foreigners. This will help build a better league and a better national team, in my opinion. So in short, even though the Ronaldo signing creates a buzz around Serie A that hasn’t been seen in awhile, the league and teams need to do more to truly bring Serie A back to prominence.

tottiparty: I think Serie A has been on the rise for a few years now and was one of the best leagues to watch last year. The likes of Roma, Napoli and even Lazio (ugh) might not have done enough to pip Juventus off the throne but have certainly brought a freshnes to the league that had gotten stale with the same old powers. The fight for the top four places is more intense than it has been in years and with the investments from the Milan teams, there’s 6 very good teams at the top of the table. Just below that rung, the recent successes of Atalanta, Sassuolo and even Torino in Europe is a testament to the quality of players, especially young players, who are coming into the league. The current transfer market does takes things up a notch as a player of the status of Ronaldo and possibly Modric hasn’t been in the league in a long while. Ultimately, it’ll come down to performances on the pitch, especially in Europe, which will continue to raise the profile of the league but I believe there is every reason to be optimistic.

NicoT: A lot of good points have already been made, so I’ll just say that I think dallagente hit the nail on the head. It was an exciting year for Italian football both in the league and in Europe, but that doesn’t mean the overall status of the league is rising. In fact, if bringing in players like Ronaldo and Modric becomes a trend, Italy could become like China or MLS. Paying big money for 32+ year old players will only decrease the status of the league in the long-term.

ASRCanes: I think the league is definitely back on the rise, with an emphasis on rise because it’s not there yet but is much better off than it was a year ago. The bigger issue is that Italian Football is at its lowest point possibly ever, and while I see the league making some strides forward towards a light at the end of a tunnel, the same cannot be said for the FIGC and national team/Italian players. Even the clubs are slacking in this regard when it comes to player development and lack of playing time for young Italian players. Juventus were the only ones able to get their shit together and field a B team in Serie C this upcoming year. If Italy can get back to fielding talented national sides like those of 2002 and 2006, it solves many of the problems with the league as well.

Sam: Yeah I think so. The Ronaldo factor cannot be undersold but also the Milans are incredibly important for the overall quality of the league. Touch wood Fiorentina can start playing some good football again and we should have a fun season. Mind you the bottom of the table teams need to do better this year.

JonAS: Not as long as Lazio is still here. Thank you, I’m gonna let myself out now.

AsRemus: A 4th grade student just told me he will throw away his Real Madrid Ronaldo jersey and buy a Juventus one. I think Ronaldo’s signing will bring a spotlight to Serie A, especially with the younger generation who over-glorify the Ronaldo/Messi rivalry. Does that mean Serie A is on the rise? Maybe marginally. ESPN’s acquisition of TV rights in the USA will also lend to the league’s recognition. If a Serie A team wins CL this year there could a solid argument that the league is on par with the Premier League and La Liga.

Well, that’s our roundtable for the 2018-2019 season preview, we hope you enjoyed it. These sorts of discussions were how CdT originally formed, so we like to revisit them throughout the season. Stay tuned.