For as long as most of us can remember, there has been one constant in the Roma midfield; a certain bearded warrior in the center of the pitch. That man is, of course, Daniele De Rossi. However, with the clubs unceremonious ending of De Rossi’s Roma career, an era ended rather abruptly.
While the absence of De Rossi will be strange and take some time getting used to, make no mistake, Roma’s new look midfield is young and talented. The group includes the top three talents in our U23 countdown. While they all might not be household names around Europe, Gianluca Petrachi has assembled a nice group. A group with varying characteristics that will be the engine making Paulo Fonseca’s version of Roma go. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at Roma’s 2019-2020 midfield.
The Crown Prince
Roma Appearances: 72
Serie A Appearances: 101
Pellegrini is the next in the line of Romans to play an important role at his hometown club. This season he will be expected to take on an even larger role on a team in transition. There’s no question that Pellegrini has the goods to be the Giallorossi’s next Roman star. However, perhaps more important are the leadership skills that he possesses to go along with his physical gifts.
Roma will be in need of leadership in the center of the park with De Rossi gone and Pellegrini brings that to the table. This past summer at the U21 European Championships, Pellegrini was not only one of the Azzurrini’s best performers, but also took on a leadership role with Luigi Di Biagio’s side. He will ascend to the vice-captaincy this season now that Alessandro Florenzi has been given the captain’s arm band.
Last season, his second back in the capital, Pellegrini looked like he was ready to break out. His match winning performance, highlighted by a back heel goal, in the Derby della Capitale looked to be his coming out party. However, injuries took their toll as the season wore on, leaving us with only flashes of brilliance from Pellegrini.
Pellegrini is a versatile midfielder who can play either in the double pivot or higher up in a free flowing trequartista role. Where he plays likely depends on the trio of midfielders Fonseca employs on a given day. When Zaniolo is playing behind the striker, expect to see Pellegrini play deeper in the regista role. Other times, we could see him playing that creative role at trequartista.
Either way Pellegrini will play a major role in Roma’s midfield this season and for years to come. How much the #2 rated player on the CdT U23 countdown improves could have a big impact on Roma’s season. Pellergini is on the brink of stardom, this season could be a big one in seeing him reach that potential.
Roma Appearances: 36
Serie A Appearances: 27
By now, everyone knows the name of Nicolò Zaniolo. As we’ve mentioned recently in our U23 countdown, he went from a relatively unknown makeweight to overnight sensation. Zaniolo has all the makings of a future superstar receiving plaudits from Totti, Roberto Mancini, and plenty of others.
The kids can do it all: dribble, score goals, put assists on plates for his teammates, hold on to possession. The skill set is deep and he has the killer instinct to step up on the big stage. Just ask FC Porto about that. He even works hard to press and win back possession on the defensive end.
To get him on the field last season we saw Zaniolo employed all over the pitch. This season expect to see the young Tuscan mostly occupying the trequartista position where his goal-scoring and through ball abilities can be best utilized. As good as he was in spurts last season, Zaniolo faded badly toward the end of last season. He will need to find more consistency as he enters his sophomore Serie A campaign.
With his future settled with a contract extension, Zaniolo can now focus on just playing football. Roma haven’t had a prospect of this caliber roaming the Olimpico pitch since the beginning of De Rossi’s career. Fonseca and company will look to help him reach the potential that has drawn the interest of Tottenham, Juventus and Real Madrid. If this happens, expect a big season from Zaniolo, and Roma will have a superstar on its hands.
The Swiss Army Knife
Roma Appearances: 44
Serie A Appearances: 106
If you’ve followed Bryan Cristante’s career, you might find it hard to believe that he’s still just 24 years old. He arrived last season from Atalanta with big expectations, after being one of Serie A’s best midfielders under Gianpiero Gasperini. While he didn’t quite live up to those expectations in his first season at Roma, and may never have another season like his breakout campaign in Bergamo, Cristante wasn’t as bad as some made him out to be.
Last season, Cristante stepped into a role much different than what he was accustomed to in Gasperini’s system and filled a big hole for Roma. With De Rossi missing so much time, Cristante was forced to play in a much more defensive role, so, expecting a repeat of his nine goal Atalanta campaign was unreasonable.
However, despite some struggles, Cristante grew into the role and for a stretch and was arguably Roma’s best player. He finished the season with four goals and three assists. Meanwhile he stuffed the stat sheet in league play with 1.8 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, 1.3 clearances, 1.9 aerials won per match and a better than 82% passing percentage. Most remarkably, though, may be the fact that on an injury riddled side Cristante never missed a match through injury.
This season expect Cristante to again play most of his matches as the more defensive partner in the double pivot. So far this pre-season we’ve seen him partner Amadou Diawara and Pellegrini, two more creative players. Partnering these regista types rather than Steven Nzonzi should help take a bit of the pressure off him on the offensive end. Cristante will have to improve on last season’s 10 yellow cards and nearly two fouls per match though. Expect him to be a rotation player who gets plenty of matches between league and Europa League play.
Roma Appearances: 0
Serie A Appearances: 83
It’s no secret Diawara has long struck Roma’s fancy. However, it wasn’t until this summer, three years after he nearly arrived in the capital, that the Giallorossi were able to get their man. Now that he’s arrived, there’s plenty of excitement around the young Guinean potentially reaching stardom at the Stadio Olimpico. Rated third in our U23 rankings, Diawara comes to Roma with high hopes.
Diawara will be expected to handle the deep lying play-maker duties in Roma’s midfield duo. With the ability to pick out teammates all around the pitch, passing is his true weapon Although he found limited playing time during his Napoli tenure, his passing percentage has consistently hovered around the 90% mark, something the Giallorossi will use to open up opposing defenses.
Even though Diawara is known for his distribution, he’s no one trick pony. The kid can also hold his own on the defensive end. I won’t get too in depth here. However, you can read up more on his all around game in dallagente’s piece from his arrival in the capital. As for this season, expect Diawara to play an important role in the midfield rotation and log plenty of minutes.
The Ball Winner
Roma Appearances: 0
Serie A Appearances: 69
While his preseason has gotten off to a slow start, make no mistake, Jordan Veretout is expected to play a key role in Roma’s midfield this season. Veretout joins Diawara as the other new face in the center of the park for Roma. Just about in his prime at 26-years-old, Veretout feels like a senior citizen in Roma’s young, talented midfield.
The Frenchman has spent the last two season’s featuring heavily in Fiorentina’s midfield after spells in Ligue 1 and the Premier League. This season, Veretout will be expected to take on a box-to-box role in Fonseca’s high pressing system. The Frenchman is known for being a ball winner with a killer hook slide. However, don’t let that reputation fool you. He’s no lumbering defensive midfielder like his compatriot who was recently shipped off to Turkey.
Veretout’s much more in the mold of a former Roma midfielder with a killer Mohawk that matched his killer instinct. Some guy named Radja. While Veretout is expected to handle plenty of defensive duties in Roma’s midfield, he offers so much more. The Frenchman scored 13 goals in his two season’s wearing Viola. And as dallagente pointed out in his in-depth introduction of Veretout, he led the league in long passes last season. Oh yeah, he can also strike a killer dead ball. Expect Veretout’s wide range of abilities to be a key part of Roma’s midfield this season.
Roma Appearances: 17
Serie A Appearances: 83
While there is no denying Javier Pastore’s talent, injuries have wrecked havoc on his career. Brought in last summer to add creativity to a team in desperate need of it, Pastore just couldn’t overcome the injury bug. Many reports say that Roma would love nothing more than to unload the man that Monchi brought in from PSG for nearly €25 million and big wages. However, thanks to his price tag, age, and injury history a move is pure fantasy.
His preseason has gone the way that his first season did in the capital; riddled with injuries. While he is inevitably here to stay, the big question is: What can Roma get out of him? While there is no questioning his pure talent, it’s useless to Fonseca if he can’t stay fit.
If he can stay reasonably healthy perhaps Pastore can play some games in the trequartista role and unlock tight defenses. Maybe he can spell Zaniolo and Pellegrini in Europa League games. Who knows at this point. In his current incarnation, Roma will likely take whatever it can get from him and hope he can spend more time on the pitch than on the trainer’s table.