Things in modern football move so fast it's damn near impossible to absorb and digest all the comings and goings without doing your head in. In the past three months alone, Roma have transitioned from Claudio Ranieri's well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless attempt to save the season to the brief flirtations with Antonio Conte and even Jose Mourinho before ultimately settling on the up and coming Paulo Fonseca. And once spring gave way to summer, we were treated with a deluge of Mauro Icardi and Toby Alderweireld rumors, which only relented some 72 hours ago.
And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg—we didn't even mention the rumored Qatari takeover attempts. The past 90 days have been a maelstrom of rumors, innuendo and (for some unknown reason) Twitter beefs with a Turkish agent. Considering all of that, you'd be forgiven if you didn't realize the 2019-2020 season starts in less than a week.
Throughout all this madness we took a tongue in cheek approach to the new club mantra, Roma: Year Zero, yet another hollow phrase meant to quell criticism of yet another CTRL+ALT+DELETE in the capital. However, once the summer truly got underway that once meaningless turn of phrase soon became anything but. Rather than signing anything that moved like they did last summer, new Director of Sport Gianluca Petrachi took a more measured approach, singling out a handful of signings tailor made for Fonseca football, while doing the best he could to unload Monchi's dead weight.
For perhaps the first time in the American regime, Roma's market approach and the coach's philosophy seem to be walking hand-in-hand, and if they finally have the temerity to see this through, then this truly will be a new beginning. A Year Zero.
With all that in mind, let's jump right into our season preview series, starting with the men who score the goals, the attack.
The Man Leading the Line
If our weekend-long coverage didn't clue you in, Edin Dzeko's contract renewal was big news in the Romaverse. With his long-presumed move to Inter Milan resting on a Wanda and a prayer, Dzeko grew tired of waiting for Mauro Icardi to make up his mind, and in a moment of reflection, realized that Rome was his adopted home, making the renewal a rather easy affair, one that was practically negotiated via casual texting: two more years and roughly the same salary. Done and dusted.
While Fonseca's tactics will morph between defense and attack, his base formation will likely remain the 4-2-3-1, in which Edin Dzeko will be the lone striker. As we discussed earlier this spring, Fonseca Football™ is focused on quick-touch possession in which, in addition to scoring goals, the center forward will hold up play, while also making his own runs to the edge of the box when the wide forwards advance, creating a de facto strike-partnership.
No matter the scenario, Dzeko will be tasked with making well-timed runs into the 18 and/or providing service from the edge of the box or from withdrawn positions. It's not a paradigm shifting role, but it is one that suits Dzeko's passing and playmaking skills to a T. If Roma are to improve on last year's form, Dzeko simply must be more clinical in front of goal; with the focus on quick passing and possession, Dzeko may actually have more chances this season, but a 7% conversion rate just won't cut the mustard.
Annnd...that's really about it. Assuming Gregoire Defrel finds a new home, Dzeko is option A-Z at center forward. With less than a week before the opener against Genoa, we still have no idea what to make of Patrik Schick in this setup. On the surface his close control, sneaky agility and ability on the ball would make him well suited to the center-forward role under Fonseca, but the chance he makes a last-minute exit remains rather high, so he remains ever the engima.
During times when Dzeko needs a rest or picks up a knock, don't be shocked if Fonseca experiments with a false-nine approach, using Nicolo Zaniolo or even Lorenzo Pellegrini in the role Francesco Totti made famous over a decade ago.
The Wide Guys
Just as they did last season, Cengiz Ünder, Justin Kluivert, Diego Perotti and Zaniolo should duke it out for playing time alongside Dzeko, while the perpetually injured Javier Pastore and new comer Mirko Antonucci could steal some minutes here and there.
One of the hallmarks of Fonseca Football™ is the maniacal manner in which the full-backs storm forward, providing much of the width in the attacking third. That's not to say the wingers won't do work on the touchline, but with the width coming from Alessandro Florenzi and Leonardo Spinazzola, Roma's wide guys will be tasked with cutting in, compressing space and quickly shifting possession across the goal mouth, while alternating between pushing up and dropping back through the middle, opening up new channels of attack and keeping the opposition confused and disoriented.
It's an intricate attack and as we've seen this preseason, it's one that might bring the best out of Roma's wide players, particularly Ünder, who has looked every bit the budding star we saw two seasons ago. And while he hasn't featured much this summer due to injuries, Kluivert, due to his speed and agility, seems like he'll take to this approach like a duck to water.
If all goes according to plan and Roma's attack hits the ground running, the wide players could account for close to 20 goals and 20 assists among them.
We always try to get these previews put together before the actual season starts, but part of the risk in doing so is that we can't account for any 11th hour signings, but Roma's attack looks pretty well set, barring some sort of Schick for Michy Batshuayi indirect swap. With that in mind, the lion's share of the minutes should fall to Dzeko, Ünder, Perotti and Kluivert, with Pastore and Antonucci fighting for scraps, while Zaniolo could steal a few minutes as a false nine or second striker. There is also the possibility that Florenzi reprises his role as a winger should Roma recruit another right back in the next two weeks.
Best Case/Worst Case
As we just mentioned, Fonseca's tactics seem like they'll suit Roma's wide players quite well, as both Kluivert and Ünder possess the physical skills and temperament to thrive in such an up-tempo environment. If their transition to these tactics is as seamless as we all hope, it's not crazy to imagine Ünder putting up a double-double this season, invigorating Roma's somewhat sleepy attack from last season.
If, however, things don't go so swimmingly we could see a lot of aimless back and forth passing with everyone waiting for the next man to make the incisive move. Should this worst case scenario occur with any regularity, it will be the ultimate test of patience for Roma's administration—can they withstand the growing pains or will we be forced to start another Future Ex-Manager Power Poll series?
For my part, I think we're going to have to deal with a lot of transfer attention coming Únder and Kluivert's way; this could be a massive season for them both.
Who will be the MVP of Roma's attack this season?
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