If you've been following CdT for even a short amount of time, you're not doubt aware of how much I hate international breaks. I understand their purpose and I love the Azzurri, but they bring everything (and I mean ev-err-eee-thing) to a screeching halt: the matches, the rumor mills, the news cycle, and even social media seems to slow down during these intermittent breaks.
While it's good to step away from the league from time to time, if you're like me and you run a Roma site, these two weeks can be interminable. You never realize how fully your daily routine revolves around Roma until they're stripped away. And with no matches to preview or rumors to dissect, you sometimes have to get creative with your copy.
So I thought we'd run with the number seven. Some cultures find luck in the number seven, some people think it was Brad Pitt's best movie, some folks like 7-Up, and some people wanted to name their children after this particular integer. No matter how you feel about the number, seven matches is by no means a sufficient amount of time to judge Roma's progress this season, but some patterns and narratives have begun to emerge, so why not take a look?
With that in mind, here are seven things we've learned through Roma's first seven league matches.
#1: Roma's Number Seven is Coming Into His Own
Through six league matches, Lorenzo Pellegrini is emerging as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Roma's switch to Fonseca football. In 515 minutes of league play, Pellegrini has been Roma's prime creative force, averaging 3.3 key passes per match while contributing four assists, both of which rank second in the league. While he started the season off pairing with Bryan Cristante in the double pivot, Roma's attack really took off once Fonseca slotted him in as a trequartista, taking full-advantage of Pellegrini's quick wit and even quicker feet.
For a glimpse at what Pellegrini can do (and can be) under Fonseca's tutelage, look no further than his performances against Sassuolo and Bologna. Against the former, Pellegrini was masterful, setting up three goals in a 4-2 victory, while he kept the pressure on Bologna with six shots before setting up Edin Dzeko's last minute winner.
While he is currently waylaid by a broken foot, it's clear as day: a healthy and effective Lorenzo Pellegrini is critical to Roma's chances of success this season and beyond.
#2: Roma Will Operate at Extremes
Sure, we sort of expected this one coming into the season, but the first two and a half months have confirmed our suspicions; when you focus so much on attack, your defense can be vulnerable. Through seven league matches, Roma have been a party to 22 goals (goals scored + goals conceded), good for an average of 3.14 goals per match, the fifth highest mark in the league. In terms of over/unders, a Roma match has yielded more than 5.5 goals 29% of the time, tied with Napoli for the highest mark in the league. That's astounding, isn't it!? Why do we do this to ourselves every weekend?
Granted, these numbers should normalize somewhat when the sample size increases, but it does lend credence to the old axiom: when you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
#3: Roma's Defense Is Improving
If we broaden the scope to include all competitions, Roma has conceded one goal or less in five of their last six matches, including clean sheets against Lecce and Istanbul. Granted, neither of these sides are redefining the way we think of football, but Roma's defensive work stands in stark contrast to the beginning of the season when they conceded six goals through their first three league matches.
#4: Petrachi's Last Minute Loans Are Looking Good
While Roma's new Director of Sport didn't take a page out of Monchi's book by stuffing his roster full of new signings by the end of June, by and large he had his major deals wrapped up the middle of July, giving him ample time to hone in on the final pieces of the puzzle.
Without the gift of Champions League cash, Petrachi was forced to get creative, landing three experienced veterans in the final ten days of the transfer season. While some of us snickered when Roma landed the trio of Chris Smalling, Davide Zappacosta and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, each player suited Fonseca's tactics so well those cries of derision soon subsided.
While Zappacosta's Roma career is likely done thanks to an unfortunate ACL tear (he was a short-term loan), Smalling and Mkhitaryan have hit the ground running, shoring up the defense and providing a much needed wrinkle in attack, respectively.
If Roma had more money to spend, Petrachi may have looked elsewhere, but the ease with which these players have adapted to Serie A should bolster your faith in Petrachi's team-building capabilities.
#5: Pau Lopez Isn't Alisson, But...
He's not Robin Olsen either. While the giant Swede has performed admirably in place of the injured Alessio Cragno in Cagliari, his passive play and poor lateral movement were on full display in Roma's controversial draw against the Sardinians last weekend. While Lopez hasn't really hit his stride yet, you can see what's under the hood: Lopez's reflexes, positioning, aggression, and distribution all seem tailor made for Fonseca's high-tempo attack. And if you find yourself questioning his shot-stopping ability, go back and watch the early season derby.
All future Roma keepers will pale in comparison to Alisson (and even Wojciech Szczesny to an extent), but Lopez has the makings of an above average keeper and perhaps even more.
#6: All the Small(ing) Things
Let's shine the light back on Chris Smalling for a moment. Of all those last day signings, his was probably the most controversial. Zappacosta was younger and had prior Serie A experience, while Mkhitaryan was once the golden boy of European football, so you could make a case for them rather easily, but Smalling, while a battle hardened veteran, had seemingly lost the faith of his own fan base, who seemed all too happy to see the back of him. On the surface, it seemed like Roma lost the plot.
But, here we are, some two months later and Smalling has become an unquestioned starter, winning aerials, covering lots of ground, breaking up attacks and hitting on over 90% of his passes.
Smalling is signed through the end of the season, but if he keeps this up Roma might have to put in a call to Manchester come June.
#7: They Look Good
It’s a trivial matter, sure, but I take a bit of pride in seeing a Roma manager decked out in a fine suit rather than looking like a P.E. teacher the day before spring break. Between the stunning third kits and Paulo Fonseca's top-notch suit game, you'd be hard pressed to find a better looking team than Roma.
I have no idea where Roma will be seven or seventeen games from now, but the first handful of matches have been incredibly encouraging. There are some wrinkles to iron out for sure, but Roma is far more balanced (both mentally and physically) than we imagined in August.
If Roma can find a bit more consistency in attack and have the good fortune of playing with more competent referees, things should pick up real soon.