If our annual U23 prospect list didn't clue you in, let me just come right out and say it: we love countdown lists here at CdT. But now is not the time to weigh and measure Roma's kids, instead we're running down the top 10 performers on the senior squad for all of 2018. The list, split into two posts, encapsulates the second half of the 2017-2018 season as well as the first half of the current season.
So, without further delay, numbers ten through six.
#10: Alessandro Florenzi
2018 saw Alessandro Florenzi take on Daniele De Rossi’s former role of capitano futuro, and with the summer sales of Kevin Strootman and Nainggolan, Florenzi also became one of the most important and senior voices in the Roma clubhouse. His versatility on the pitch may sometimes be to his own detriment (I still see him as more of a midfielder than a right-back, but in 2018 that’s been a moot point), but Florenzi has put in quite a few good performances in Roma’s defense. Because of his history further up the pitch, Alessandro has been quite good in the role of attacking full-back that Eusebio Di Francesco craves.
There’s certainly still room for Florenzi to grow, particularly on the defensive side of his assignments, but the combination of a contract extension and his new role as second-most-senior Roman means that Alessandro will have the time to work out the kinks. Here’s to a great 2018 for Alessandro, and to another year of growth to come.
#9: Cengiz Ünder
Cengiz Ünder came into the 2018-2019 season as our #1 U-23 Prospect, but at this point it seems almost unfair to call him a prospect. He’s only 21, true, but starting in February 2018, Cengiz produced just as much, if not more, than most of Roma’s mature attackers. Ünder provided 8 goals and 2 assists during the tail end of the 2017-2018 season, and his 2018-2019 season hasn’t been too shabby either, with 6 goals to date in all competitions.
Ünder's calling cards are his simply incredible pace and dribbling, and although his decision-making and footballing IQ leaves something to be desired, it’s hard to complain about what Ünder already brings to the table. Watch this space, though; many who follow the Giallorossi are already resigned to the idea that Ünder will be making a big-money move to replace Arjen Robben at Bayern Munich. I personally hope that he can stay around the Capitoline club a little bit longer, but if January is the end of the Cengiz Ünder Experience, thanks for the ride.
#8: Lorenzo Pellegrini
Unlike some of the veteran players like De Rossi and Dzeko whose biggest contributions came during the first half of the calendar year, Pellegrini has contributed more and more as the year as worn on. Pellegrini arrived back in Rome last season after two years at Sassuolo where he cut his teeth in Serie A. Based on his play under EDF in Emilia-Romagna, we knew Pellegrini had some game. However, his first season in the spotlight of the Italian Capital brought mixed results (3 goals and 5 assists in all competitions).
That all changed this October when Pellegrini took the next step in his development on the biggest of stages for a Roman: The Derby della Capitale. Since then when Pellegrini has been decisive in the Roma attack playing as a trequartista. With the greater attacking freedom afforded by the position Pellegrini routinely delivers the killer ball to teammates and unlocks defenses (5 assists this campaign) . In addition he has chipped in a few timely goals (2). Expect to see Pellegrini even higher on this list in 2019.
#7: Stephan El Shaarawy
El Shaarawy, like a lot of the names on this list, suffered bouts of inconsistency during 2018 (hey, it’s almost like this team has a problem!) but on the balance of things, the past 12 months have been productive ones for SES. With nine goals and five assists in all comps last season, El Shaarawy was one of the club’s most dynamic attacking threats, and his five league goals thus far still pace the club even though he hasn’t played in over a month.
At 26-years-old, El Shaarawy is what he is, a streaky and combustible scorer, but as we’ve seen multiple times during his tenure, Roma can turn those hot streaks into points on the table, and hey, he’s not the world beater many thought he’d be six years ago, but every team needs lightning in a bottle. El Shaarawy was, and remains, Roma’s B-12 shot.
#6: Federico Fazio
When Federico Fazio first joined up with the Giallorossi, not much was expected of him. His time with Tottenham Hotspur was ho-hum, and most viewed him to be a serviceable backup centerback at most. Although his form has certainly declined post-World Cup, Fazio has proved many of the doubters wrong with quite the solid 2018.
The Argentine giant is still at his best when defending in close quarters, and he provides a calming presence in defense to balance out Kostas Manolas’ wilder side. Diminutive players can be derailed by his ability to be in the right place at the right time, and even normally-sized human beings look like one of the Seven Dwarves next to the man. I certainly wouldn’t want to fight Federico for the ball. His form as of late may not be equal to his excellent 2017-2018 season, but Fazio is certainly a great asset for Roma to have in its pocket. Even if he becomes a backup over time, what a backup to have.
We'll have the top half of the countdown shortly, but care to venture a guess who tops the list?