Now that 2019 is finally here, we can put the 2018 reflections behind us and look forward. What have the first several months of the new Serie A season taught us about Roma? Are they turning things around or are we in store for another spring swoon? To answer those questions, and several more, I assembled the crew for another installment of our Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire.
1. Give us a four sentence summary of Roma’s first half? All good? All bad? Bit of a mixed bag?
Bren: Well, like most things, it’s a bit of a mixed bag; a muddy, leaky bag at that. There were a couple bright spots and mini winning streaks, but by and large Roma choked when it mattered most, tossing points out the window against smaller sides. Between the injuries, the squad rotation and their inability to produce in the final third, it’s a miracle they scrounged up 30 points. They definitely benefited from a weak league; it’s Juve, Napoli and then everyone else.
Dallagente: Monchi and EDF’s ideal to treat everyone like “equals” is clearly still not something Roma can afford to keep peddling right now. They tried to speed up the timetable on and the league table says they were wrong. That being said, it’s refreshing that the club hasn’t backed away from confronting those mistakes head on, instead of looking for the “miracle” overnight solution (aka firing the coach) like so many shortcuts to nowhere taken in the past. Roma is -9 down on this time last season, which is easily recoverable if they avoid another “dark” January period under EDF.
Jimmy Miotto: It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times, it was an age of Roman Champions League success, it was an age of Roman Serie A foolishness, it was the epoch of belief in young talent, it was the epoch of incredulity at Monchi’s missteps, it was the season of Champions League Dzeko, it was the season of Serie A Dzeko, it was the Zaniolo of hope, it was the Schick of despair, we had the stadium before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to Scudetto glory, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like any period in Roman history, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
JonAS: The good, the bad and the ugly, really. The amazing 9/9 in the Champions League. The 0-2 giveaway in Cagliari. The loss at home against SPAL. Honestly, there’s no club in the world that gives us such roller coaster rides as AS Roma, ladies and gents. Be proud of it…. in a weird kind of way. Ow and Jimmy, those are waaay more than four sentences, you cheater!
ssciavillo: Even though the first half of the season wasn’t as good as we’d hoped it’d be, it wasn’t all bad either. Advancing out of the group stage of the Champions League with the two games to spare was definitely the biggest success of the first half of the season. The Serie A season has been a bummer, but being just two points out of a Champions League spot means there’s plenty of hope for the second half. Additionally, the fact that some our young players, most notably, Zaniolo and Pellegrini, have begun to show their qualities is a win for the rest of the season.
Sam Straya: Well we won the derby and advanced in the Champions League, so that’s good. I wasn’t too surprised to see Roma struggle in the league following the summer firesales but unbelievably, thanks largely to league wide results, we still have a credible shot at creeping into fourth spot. With that said, our defence has been leaky, our attack anaemic and our midfield disjointed. Roma took quite the step back in 2018.
2. Can we safely assume that EDF is once again the man for Roma, or might the wheels fall off in 2019?
Bren: I’d like to say yes, but then that would mean Roma would have the same manager for three consecutive seasons, an event as rare as Halley’s Comet. I hesitate to say the Parma match cured all their ills simply because EDF has bounced back before only to falter a few weeks later. I still can’t figure this guy out, but given how close they are to fourth place, it’s hard for me to imagine him getting sacked unless they drop two or three in a row after the break.
Dallagente: There are encouraging signs in how EDF’s has man-managed Schick, Kluivert and SES this season, but my biggest gripe with EDF is how often his players act like there’s a forcefield from anywhere between 25 yards into the opponent’s goal. That’s the biggest contradiction for a coach who claims his ambition is to “hurt” opponents. The build up is solid, but players drop their head in that final third, and take the easy option to pass it out wide. The only exceptions are Lorenzo Pellegrini and Daniele De Rossi, and maybe Cristante is catching up. Other than that, EDF has offered some encouraging answers when pressed on the question of holding onto possession in midfield, showing he’s learning on the job and open to changing his ideas around the players he has. That’s the same learning curve Ancelotti made as a coach from back in his Parma-Juve days to now.
Jimmy: Well, EDF’s not going to get fired during the break, which would have been the perfect time to fire him (if you were so inclined). Add in the fact that Lazio and Milan look even more fragile than Roma at the moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that top-four finish we all wanted at the beginning of the season come to fruition anyways.
JonAS: It seems his job is safe once more, after three wins in four Serie A games. The loss in Juve was expected and Roma managed to keep it a narrow loss too. But Lazio, Milan, Sampdoria and Atalanta are all packed on a handkerchief in the standings, Torino and Fiorentina are not far away. Three weeks without a win and EDF’s head, as wonderful and magnificently bearded as it may be, is back on the block. That’s why this Serie A break comes at a bad time for EDF. But for the second half of the season he’ll have a fully fit Dzeko, Pastore, Dani and Pellegrini back so that’s a positive thing.
ssciavillo: I thought EdF would be on the chopping block a few times this season. However, having survived what appears to be the worst of times already, I think he’ll survive the season. A couple more wins coming out of the break then I think his job becomes even more secure. If Roma are able to finish top 4 and secure a Champions League place then I don’t see why he won’t be back next season either.
Sam Straya: I won’t go so far as to say EDF is the man for Roma, but he is the man for Roma right now. I still think he is a decent coach who has been sold some dud magic beans by the suits and cursed with injuries to key players. He should make it to the end of the 18/19 without too many dramas but I’m still not convinced he’ll be in charge for next season.
3. Which player surprised you the most (positively or negatively) in the first half and why?
Bren: Hmm, tough question. I suppose Nicolo Zaniolo is the obvious answer because he’s contributed so much at such a young age, but I’m going to go with Robin Olsen. Filling in for Alisson was always a monumental task, but I’m happy to say I was so, so, so wrong about this guy. He can’t hold a candle to the Brazilian Don Draper in terms of his ability on the ball, but Olsen can make all the textbook saves, has great reflexes and positioning, and uses his long arms and legs remarkably well. He’s not Alisson, but he’s as good or better as any keeper Roma has had outside of Alisson over the past decade. Easily.
Dallagente: For me it’s Lorenzo Pellegrini. I don’t know how to explain his form. His explanation this week was the move to trequartista “frees him up mentally” before a game starts, so I’ll take his word for it. He’s been offering so much more than that though. The game against Fiorentina where he started coming deep and helping out with possession from the back showed he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make his teammates look better. I agree with Olsen too, the keeper has kept a very calm head. Against Juve it was like Olsen’s saves inspired the team to get back in the game.
Jimmy Miotto: Lorenzo Pellegrini would definitely be my top choice. I expected Olsen to perform well (especially after some lessons at the Savorani Dojo), but for all the reasons Dallagente said, I’m surprised that LoPe has turned himself into one of the most crucial members of this side. Just look at how the game against Parma changed when he came in for Nicolo Zaniolo (who, as Bren noted, has been no slouch). Things just worked.
JonAS: Zaniolo is the only obvious answer as we all thought he’d spend a lot of time in our Primavera first. But he immediately showed himself on training and even in the CL and Serie A. Pellegrini and Olsen are two others who impressed me. I have to say I expected a bit more from Kluivert and Nzonzi as the new guys in town, while Fazio hasn’t been the same as last season. Lastly, Karsdorp still remains a mystery to me. Your prototype marauding right back suited for EDF’s system, but it looks like he’s back on his way to Feyenoord. Rick needs to find peace in his mind. Shame.
ssciavillo: I agree that Olsen is a good choice, but he already showed his qualities playing for Sweden at the World Cup. Normally, I’d go with Pellegrini, who has quickly become one of my favorite players to watch on the team. However, when picking the biggest surprised, I have to go with Zaniolo. I mean the kid was brought over with some hype considering the way he played for Inter Primavera’s side. But the key word there was primavera. We knew the kid had talent, but like Jon said, we thought he’d spend some time on Alberto De Rossi’s squad first. The fact that he’s come in and looked like he fit right in at this level has been very impressive.
Sam Straya: Honourable mentions to both Olsen and Zaniolo, but I think Lorenzo Pellegrini has made the biggest jump and has managed to address one of Roma’s biggest weaknesses with Pastore flopping. I have also been surprised that it has taken Cristante so long to look like the sort of player he was at Atalanta. Hopefully this provides Monchi and Jimmy a lesson on the perils of swapping experienced players for youth and expecting the same results, but you know leopards and spots and all that.
4. Regardless of your answer above, which player MUST improve if Roma stand a chance at the top 4?
Bren: If I can only choose one, it has to be Edin Dzeko. While it’s all well and good that 16 players have scored league goals for Roma this year, they need a consistent threat in the middle, a guy they can count on in a rainy evening in Bergamo or a taught 0-0 affair at the Olimpico. Dzeko gets paid to score goals, and if they have any shot at landing in the top four, he has to carry over this Champions League form to Serie A. It’s a two-way street because he needs better service, but Roma can’t survive if he’s not in double digits by the end of the year. Two goals from your #9 just won’t cut it.
Dallagente: Whichever player can offer Kolarov a rest (in a weird way that may be Perotti). And everyone in the midfield can improve their defending still. Roma is the most prolific team in Serie A at home, even if Bren is right about the individual scoring being low, but the team keeps conceeding goals. You can get by till the end of the season on unlocking games through set piece goals and counter attacks, but not if you keep conceeding at the other end.
Jimmy Miotto: Two things need to happen for Roma to get one of those Champions League spots. The first I’ll answer here, and the second belongs to question number five. With the current roster, one of Patrik Schick and Edin Dzeko needs to rediscover their striker’s boots in Serie A. Schick showed promise against Sassuolo, but as much as I want him to succeed, I’m not going to say we’re about to have a Shickaissance until he gets closer to the 5 goal mark for the season. As for Dzeko, Bren already mentioned that the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine from him won’t cut it for much longer in Serie A. It’s always fun when lots of players score, but to win titles, you need a powerhouse striker. Dzeko’s been that guy for Roma for a while now; will he be able to re-discover his form in the league, or will the Wayward Czech remind us why Roma shelled out 42 million big ones for his services?
JonAS: Every player. Roma is a team of about 25 guys, and we’ll need every single one of them. With the Coppa, CL knockouts and Serie A all going into sudden death soon, everyone, from Mirante to Schick needs to be on their guard and ready to perform on stage when needed. If you really need a name, I’d say Fazio. Manolas can’t hold the fort on his own and Federico right now is searching for his best form. Talentwise he’s still Roma’s best defender after Manolas. Jesus and Marcano won’t lead us to another CL semi final or fourth place in Serie A. Unless of course Monchi delivers us a star CB this Winter.
ssciavillo: I don’t think there is just one obvious choice. However, if I have to choose one player, I’d probably agree with bren and go with Dzeko. Recent injury issues aside, his goalscoring just hasn’t been there in league play. He needs to find some of that Champions League magic against Serie A competition. I know he’s getting older, but he clearly still possesses the ability to put the team on his back on his day. Maybe getting games off here and there would benefit him in the long run, if Schick can pick up the slack more consistently, like against Sassuolo then Dzeko will be fresher and perhaps more motivated when he does play.
Sam Straya: Rather than pick any one player I think our team needs to pull it’s finger out defensively. The midfield needs to do more to limit these counterattacks that are regularly carving us up and we need the back four to be more ruthless. I still think we have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to squeeze into the top four, but if we don’t stop conceding cheap goals I don’t think we’ll get there.
5. Which area, if any, should Monchi address during the transfer window?
Bren: I’d love a defensive midfielder like Wilmar Barrios from Boca, and I think Nicolas Burdisso should grease the Roma wheels whenever he can, but he might have bigger suitors for Barrios. Either way, with De Rossi’s injury lingering, the minutes are really piling up on Nzonzi, so some depth and future cover behind those two would be great. And centerback. They desperately need another center back.
Dallagente: Left-back and a defensive midfielder to take the heat off De Rossi’s knee recovering. Centre back would be nice, but it’s hard to find a centre back who’s got the mental, physical and ball playing skills all in one. Those kind of centre backs don’t get sold in January, and definitely not for cheap. Full backs are easier to find and the DM would just have to be good enough to come off the bench this season.
Jimmy Miotto: Centerback, centerback, centerback. I love Federico Fazio, but he’s showing signs of aging; Juan Jesus is a backup (and there’s nothing wrong with that); I have no idea where Ivan Marcano went off to; William Bianda is two years away from being two years away; and Kostas Manolas is a Mehdi Benatia-like player, who should be paired with a Leandro Castan-esque giant who can calm down the defense in times of trouble. Iago Maldana seems to be the likely solution in the transfer market, but if money were no object I’d love Nikola Milenkovic.
JonAS: The defence needs two men. Kolarov is once again playing everything on left back and he really needs someone who can challenge him for that starting spot. Jesus and Marcano can also play that position but we need a REAL one there, not just a bandaid. I feel Santon performs better as a vice-Florenzi. A centre back to partner Manolas is welcome as well (I read Alderweireld is ready to leave Tottenham). And if Schick leaves on loan, a goal poacher like Batshuayi or Piatek. My ideal Winter Mercato would be Piatek, Alderweireld and Emerson returning from Chelsea, but it’s gonna cost quite a bit. Oh well, just sell Ünder.
ssciavillo: I’d have to go with a center back to partner with Manolas. We were rumored recently to have interest in Daniele Rugani of Juve. I doubt that Juve would sell midseason, but a young, talented defender with plenty of Serie A experience would be an ideal fit. With the emergence of Bryan Cristante in the double pivot in midfield, I think center back becomes the biggest priority because a rotation of DDR, Cristante, and N’Zonzi should be enough to get the team through. However, that position would be my second choice. If Luca Pellegrini can show he’s ready enough to spell Kolarov against the minnows, like Chievo, then we can save our money at left back.
Sam Straya: I’m not a big January signing advocate, but it’s pretty clear we need at least one defensive reinforcement. I don’t know what the deal is with Marcano but he sure as hell hasn’t done what is says he can do on the box when we got him.
6. Finally, give us a prediction: Roma will finish the season ___________?
Bren: Bruised, bloodied, and barely in fourth place, but we’ll take it.
Dallagente: Unfortunately fourth and not third. It looks like I’ll lose my friendly bet with Asta pasta and h2, because Keita is a damn good signing for Inter.
Jimmy Miotto: Third. I’m patiently waiting for the wheels to fall off of Spalletti’s Inter Milan. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and judging by Radja Nainggolan’s antics, I feel like the safe bet is to say sooner.
ssciavillo: I think it’ll be fourth. Unfortunately, the nine point gap with Inter might be too much to overcome, even if Spalletti’s side has the winter swoon that his teams tend to have. But considering the up and down first half fourth would be decent enough. The first three games against Tornio, Atalanta, and Milan will go a long way in turning the race for fourth into a two team race with Lazio or potentially three if Milan get it together.
JonAS: I so desperately want to say fourth place, but I just don’t dare to make predictions at this time. Roma’s blowing hot ‘n cold, it can go either way. Flip a coin. Sampdoria won’t keep this tempo up and they depend a lot on Quags. Actually, Roma’s faith lies in the hands of Lazio and Milan. Do they continue to struggle in the league or improve greatly in 2019? If it’s the former then Roma will easily seal fourth place by round 35 or so. If it’s the latter, well, then it doesn’t look good for Eusebio’s men.
Sam Straya: Sorry guys, I don’t think we are going to get there. The only reason we have any chance at making the top four is because of the crappy performances of our direct rivals. Although there has been forward progress this month, I don’t think Milan and Lazio will keep dropping points at a rate that will let us overtake them. Roma need to show a dramatic improvement in 2019 to make Fourth place and I am yet to see enough that justifies that.
So there you have it. I hope you've enjoyed our year in review series, actual Roma action will resume when the ladies take on Sassuolo on January 6th while the men are on break until the 14th, when they kick off their Coppa Italia journey against Virtus Entella.