After all these years covering our beloved Roma, you'd think I'd learn not to have expectations at the dawn of a new season. Outside of Juventus winning every single year because of the disproportionate advantages they have in so many areas, there aren't many definites in Serie A these days. You know there will be some officiating controversies, a couple rain-outs and several inexcusable and deplorable displays by certain ultra groups across the league. Considering all that, it's somewhat of a fool's errand to predict how the season will unfold, particularly when dealing with a club as chaotic as Roma.
Despite that foreboding, we can still get a general sense for how Roma will fare in any given season...sort of. Given the pace with which they change managers, leadership and the players on the pitch, we've sort of seen both ends of the instant change spectrum—immediate successes and frustrating failures.
All of which makes it exceedingly difficult to set and manage expectations for Roma in any given August. Fresh off their Champions League semifinal run during the 2017-2018 season, armed with a baker's dozen new signings and some corporate knowledge of Eusebio Di Francesco's tactics, Roma seemed poised to interject themselves in the battle for second place in Serie A...then, well, we all know what happened.
In that sense expectations are like the proverbial asshole-opinion adage—everyone's got one and they all stink. However, based on their performance over the past several seasons, we can safely assume 5th or 6th is Roma's absolute nadir.
But, my friends, I'm here to tell you that Roma will exceed those expectations this year, and for three very simple reasons.
Reason #1: Corporate Synergy
Roma are no stranger to change, but what's different about this latest house cleaning is the manner in which Roma has charted a new course. In prior regime changes, seldom did we see the men in the suits and the men on the sidelines working in conjunction to actually implement a new strategic vision for AS Roma.
I have no earthly idea what Monchi was up to last summer but it reminded me a bit of when my father would give me his credit card so I could stock up my dorm room prior to fall semester. And while I would get all the agreed upon essentials (towels, toothpaste, a cheap lamp, a metric ton of mac and cheese) without him looking over my shoulder, I'd splurge on some luxury items (fancy haircare products, cases of beer that didn't have the words “Natural” or “Ice” on them and stacks of blank CDS (yes, I'm that old)).
In purchasing over a dozen players last summer, several of whom Roma are struggling to jettison as we speak now, Monchi's quantity over quality approach was a colossal disaster. In isolation some of his purchases made sense, but in their actual context—in terms of price, tactical fit, team chemistry etc—Monchi's splurge had little apparent rhyme or reason.
While Gianluca Petrachi hasn't hit for the cycle this summer, his handful of purchases—Pau Lopez, Gianluca Mancini, Leonardo Spinazzola, Amadou Diawara and Jordan Veretout—all seem to be ideal fits for Fonseca Football. Lopez with his agility and quick distribution, Mancini with his ball playing, Spinazzola with his balanced play and the possession/passing/ball winning of Diawara and Vererout make all of Petrachi's purchases sensible fits for his manager's tactical predilections.
Imagine that...and speaking of tactics.
Reason #2: Fonseca Will Play to Roma's Strengths in Attack
This one necessarily follows our first point, and while some may fret about Roma's defensive prospects this year, I think we're all on the same page; Fonseca's attack should purr like a finely tuned muscle car once everyone settles in. With Fonseca's focus on possession, compression of space, multiple passing outlets, constantly shifting the focus of attack between the front four, and having wide forwards and midfielders bobbing up and down in the attacking third like a whack-a-mole, Roma's incumbent stock of forwards and midfielders could explode under Fonseca's guidance.
Indeed, if we look at his Shakhtar Donetsk teams from the past few seasons, Fonseca's attacking talent put up some gawdy numbers. Last season alone, Junior Moraes, a center forward, was particularly potent, scoring 19 goals while dishing out 7 assists in league play. Equally impressive was the work of Shakhtar's supporting players, notably Taison, Marlos and Viktor Kovalenko, who accounted for 19 goals and 15 assists between the three of them.
Granted there are some talent disparities between the two leagues, but if Fonseca can pull out proportionate performances from Cengiz Ünder, Lorenzo Pellegrini/Nicolo Zaniolo, Edin Dzeko and Justin Kluivert (when the time comes) then Roma could have one of the most dangerous attacks in the league, if not one of its most potent. You have to particularly like Ünder's chances of replicating and exceeding Marlos’ role in Fonseca's Shakhtar teams—the Brazilian scored 27 goals and contributed 11 assists in league play over the past two seasons.
Reason #3: Pau Lopez
This one is sort of self-explanatory. Roma's new Spanish keeper, Pau Lopez, may not be the second coming of Alisson Becker but in what little he's best tested this summer, he's looked sharper, more intuitive and more aggressive than Robin Olsen, who, truth be told, wasn't that bad early in his Roma tenure, but definitely showed regression as the season wore on before ultimately being replaced by Antonio Mirante.
Of course, Roma will benefit greatly if the likes of Ünder, Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert (among others) can take the next step forward in their career, but in terms a single player-for-player replacement likely to impact Roma's bottom line, swapping out the inconsistent and uncertain Olsen for the quick and clever Lopez is perhaps the single most dramatic and beneficial personnel change we'll see in this new season. If he can show the same highlight worthy saves he did during his La Liga career and up the sense of urgency from his predecessor, Roma will be better on his presence alone, but if he really is one of the game's bright young keepers, he could make an even greater mark this season.
As we said at the outset, it's damn-near impossible to predict what Roma will do in any given minute let alone any given season, but thanks to a more restrained and pragmatic approach, this summer's changes don't seem quite as haphazard as least years. By outfitting Fonseca's squad with players who possess the key attributes to make his tactics successful, Roma are already a step ahead of where they were at any point under Monchi.
Make no mistake, we're still banking on some young players moving along their developmental path a bit quicker and hoping that Lopez can blossom under Roma's tutelage, but something about this incarnation of Roma makes more sense than last summer's.
And hey, who knows, maybe that's all Roma need for Year Zero to be a rousing success...common sense.