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Ragged Roma Midfeld Must Push Forward

Losing both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini from his Giallorossi side means that Paulo Fonseca will have to get creative, to say the least

AS Roma v Istanbul Basaksehir F.K.: Group J - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Seeing a Roma injury report these days makes me feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up to Sonny & Cher’s I’ve Got You Babe in a snow-filled Punxsutawney. There’s nothing I can seem to do about my (and Roma’s) situation, with player after player falling to the wayside and onto the injury table.

The two most recent Roma players to catch the injury bug that seems to pervade Trigoria are Lorenzo Pellegrini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Pellegrini fractured his toe in Roma’s most recent match against Lecce; he had already been struggling with plantar fasciitis, but this fracture is now set to keep him out of Roma’s starting eleven through Thanksgiving at the earliest. Thankfully, the surgery on Pellegrini was successful, but any injury requiring surgery means the club should treat that player with kid gloves as he heals.

We wrote yesterday about who might be Pellegrini’s replacement, with Javier Pastore and the aforementioned Mkhitaryan seeming to be the obvious choices. However, the Armenian attacking midfielder is now also making visits to Villa Stuart, with Roma estimating that he will return to training in three weeks. This means that Javier Pastore may get another chance with Roma, but if I were a betting man I wouldn’t expect him to play for that long without getting an injury himself.

Instead, my money is now on Nicolo Zaniolo taking up the central attacking midfielder position in Fonseca’s lineup. I don’t think this should be Zaniolo’s position long-term, for a variety of reasons. First, his ball movement leaves a bit to be desired if he’s to be played as an out-and-out playmaker. Second, throwing Zaniolo in at CAM could lead to a Nainggolan 2.0 situation, where the Italian becomes the focal point of Roma’s midfield to his personal benefit and the team’s long-term detriment. Third, he’s just better suited to play as a winger right now, and considering Diego Perotti’s injury situation and continued battle against Father Time, he’ll be able to get plenty of minutes on the wings now and in the future.

Despite all of that, the midfielders left in the senior squad are Bryan Cristante, Jordan Veretout, Amadou Diawara, and academy product Alessio Riccardi. This makes it seem all but inevitable that Zaniolo will slot in at CAM in the short-term, barring a change of position for Mirko Antonucci or a sudden explosion by Riccardi. The other solution may be a tactical change on the part of Paulo Fonseca, but I’m not convinced this will be feasible given that this is a short-to-medium term problem at the worst. Three weeks may seem like forever right now until Mkhitaryan is back on the field, but twenty-one days isn’t really enough time to overhaul a tactical plan and set it into action with a depleted squad.

As frustrating as it is to be a Romanisti with all these injury struggles, it must be a thousand times more frustrating for the players picking up the injuries, the players who must try to garner wins with a depleted squad, and a manager who must now work with even fewer options. Just because Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cengiz Ünder, Diego Perotti and Davide Zappacosta are all on the sidelines doesn’t change the expectations for the Giallorossi, and Serie A won’t give the club a couple extra points on the table because of all these injuries.

On the bright side, Bill Murray eventually gets out of his Groundhog Day loop. I’m hoping Roma will find true love, become a better person, find the true meaning of Christmas, or just get better medical staff, sooner rather than later. I’m getting real tired of listening to Sonny & Cher.