By mid-October Roma’s injury issues had exploded into a full-blown crisis. The wings were seemingly clipped and the midfield was decimated. Roma’s 2019/20 campaign was only 10 matches old, yet things were looking grim.
Making things worse, one of the Giallorossi’s busiest stretches loomed on the calendar. If things went poorly, Paulo Fonseca and his troops would be staring the abyss in the face. If Roma couldn’t navigate six matches in three weeks, then his first season in charge could’ve been over before it started. And with the number of players out injured nobody would’ve been shocked if Roma crashed and burned.
I mean, what were the Giallorossi to do? They had one healthy midfielder, Jordan Veretout, and none of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante, and Amadou Diawara were expected back before November. Petrachi kicked the tires on Jack Rodwell and Marcel Büchel, but neither was signed. Why? Because Fonseca had a better idea—one that nobody expected.
Enter Gianluca Mancini. Fonseca’s role of the dice—playing Mancini in a defensive midfield spot alongside Veretout—turned out to be a masterstroke, and likely saved Roma’s young season.
Mancini didn’t just plug the hole left by the injuries to Pellegrini, Diawara, and Cristante, the young Italian thrived in the role. His aggressive nature and passing ability were just what the doctor ordered in Fonseca’s preferred 4-2-3-1. The defender-by-trade’s impact had a trickle down effect on the rest of the squad as well.
With Mancini holding down the center of the park, Veretout was allowed to push higher up the pitch. Freed up from the holding midfield duties, the Frenchman worked tirelessly to press hard and keep opposing defenses on the back heel, while getting more involved in the attack. Veretout has a work rate that Roma hasn’t had since the departure of Radja Nainggolan.
With Pellegrini and Henrikh Mhkitaryan out injured, Roma was begging for a creative player to sit behind the striker, and Mancini’s move to the center of the park allowed Javier Pastore to fill the vacated trequatista position.
This is where Fonseca playing Mancini in mid had an even greater effect; it led to the revival of Pastore. Finally fit, Pastore has been able to play like the man Monchi thought he was getting last season. Pastore has been marvelous since taking over the trequartista position. All the credit in the world has to be give to him for finding his fitness, but, again, without the move of Mancini, Pastore’s rebirth may have never happened.
Lastly, the move seems to have gotten the most out of Zaniolo. Once thought to be best suited in the middle, the Italy international has looked like a natural out wide. Without the pressure of having to create for others in the hole, Zaniolo has used his freight train dribbling ability and deadly left foot to play some of the best football in his young career. In the six matches since the move, Zaniolo has scored four times.
Thanks to the performances of Mancini and his teammates, in the six matches since the move, Roma won three and lost one in Serie A. That success has the Giallorossi in the thick of the Champions League race. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Giallorossi were hard done by the refs and ended up controversially drawing one and losing one. There’s no telling what would’ve happened in those six matches without the personnel shift by Fonseca, but Roma would’ve been hard pressed to do better.
With Diawara and Pellegrini returning to fitness over the international break, it’s likely that Mancini returns to the heart of defense. However, the impact of Mancini’s six games as a midfielder can’t be understated. With Roma’s season teetering on the brink under the weight of the injury crisis, Fonseca’s move paid big dividends.
There’s still plenty of time left in the season, and there’s no telling where Roma will go from here, but as the team begins to emerge from the injury crisis Fonseca and Mancini must be applauded. If the Giallorossi manage to finish top four, this could be remembered as the move that set the stage for them to reach that objective.