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Mid-Season Review: Fonseca’s Roma Shows Promising Signs

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With a five-point improvement from this time last season, Roma Year 0 certainly seems to be coming along nicely.

Ac Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Time has really flown by in Paulo Fonseca and Roma’s first season together, and by most accounts Roma has found a decent amount of success. Compared to this point in the 2018-2019 season, Roma is five points ahead with 35 points on the board. Roma is currently in fifth place in the league, one rung ahead of where the club was at this point last year. In addition, it certainly feels like this group has the potential to end up placing in the top four of Serie A, essentially a necessity given the players Roma want to retain and sign this summer. Let’s take a look at the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens of the season to date.

The Highs: Roma’s Defensive Corps

AS Roma v Brescia Fc - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At the start of this season, would you have expected Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini to be one of Serie A’s best defensive pairings? Don’t lie; you definitely didn’t expect that. Yet the Italian and the Brit have created a Hadrian’s Wall in Paulo Fonseca’s defense, and although injury and problems in the fullback positions have meant that Roma’s defense has not been much better than expected on the whole, we can say with certainty that these two have been among Roma’s best players of the season.

The best indicator of how successful this pairing has been can be seen in the transfer rumors that have surrounded Smalling since he started showing his good form - that is, essentially since the start of the season. The chances of Manchester United and Roma fighting over who could keep the 30-year-old England international were slim, but that’s the timeline we’re in now. Hopefully Roma can maintain Smalling’s services into the extended future, because as Federico Fazio succumbs to Father Time, the pairing of Smalling with Mancini can be an essential element of Roma’s 2020 story.

The Lows: Continued Injury Struggles

AS Roma vs Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Claudio Pasquazi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When I was young, my first-generation Italian-American dad wanted me to learn Italian, and so he enticed me to learn his first language in a way that was a perfect emblem of the particular era of my childhood: he bought me an educational VHS series. The adventures of the bizarrely-colored alien Muzzy and his friends helped me learn the building blocks of Italian - numbers, letters, shapes, basic objects, and so on. Out of all of those (now-woefully-outdated) videotapes, the lessons I still remember the best focused on numbers. The alien Muzzy was being thrown in jail for eating parking meters (bear with me here), and as the policemen walked through the jail, they counted the doors of each cell one by one, helping me learn the Italian words for the numbers between 1 and 20. Muzzy is eventually placed in cell diciannove.

Why am I telling you this? Because since the start of the American ownership of Roma, there have been diciannove ACL tears. You knew this was going to be the low point of the season to date, because of course it’s the low, because this is Roma and this is the way life goes. Roma still hasn’t figured out how to exorcise the ACL Demon from Trigoria and the Olimpico, and now it’s taken the seasons of Devid Bouah, Davide Zappacosta, and (most importantly) Nicolo Zaniolo. Particularly with Zaniolo, who is unquestionably the superstar of this Roma side, it’s infuriating to see these injuries recur over and over again.

How does Roma solve this? It’s certainly not Paulo Fonseca’s fault, just like it wasn’t Claudio Ranieri’s fault when ACLs tore, and just like it wasn’t Eusebio Di Francesco’s fault, or Luciano Spalletti’s fault, and so on and so on and so on. It probably also isn’t Roma’s medical team at fault here, because that medical team has been overhauled countless times since the Pallotta takeover. Until the Roma hierarchy can pinpoint the real issue causing all these ACL tears, Romanisti are going to be worried on a week in, week out basis over who will be the next player to tear that cruciate ligament.

Let’s just hope we don’t get to venti any time soon.

The In-Betweens: Working Out the Kinks In Attack

AS Roma v CSKA Moscow - UEFA Champions League Group G Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/NurPhoto via Getty Images

So far this season, Roma has scored 34 goals in Serie A, making them the fifth-most potent attack in the league. That’s fine, considering that Roma is in fifth place right now, but it’s not at the level of attacking power many Romanisti have grown used to in recent years. Particularly given the recent loss of Nicolo Zaniolo, 2020 will need to be a year where Roma’s surviving attacking options bring more potency to their game. Cengiz Ünder has essentially been missing in action so far this season, and Edin Dźeko has had a good-but-not-great season. Those two players, along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Justin Kluivert, and others, will need to step up in Zaniolo’s absence. It’s as simple as that.

I’m no tactical mastermind, so I won’t pretend to know how Paulo Fonseca will work to make Roma’s attack work more smoothly in the new year. Bringing in Matteo Politano seemed like a logical move for the Portuguese tactician, but that move appears dead in the water. Nevertheless, expect a move by Gianluca Petrachi on the attacking front before this month draws to a close, and hope that Roma’s attacking corps can find more consistency and potency in the second half of the season.

Final Thoughts

Parma Calcio v AS Roma - Coppa Italia Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Fifth place isn’t where Roma wants to be when the season ends, but all signs point to the Giallorossi continuing to climb up the table in the second half of the 2019-2020 season. Paulo Fonseca has shown that he has the flexibility to work well as a manager despite injury concerns, and despite the loss of Nicolo Zaniolo, the outlook for the rest of Roma’s season looks relatively bright. If Roma ends up in the Champions League next season, it will largely be due to Fonseca’s ability to roll with the punches as a manager. Let’s hope that that top four finish is duly achieved, for our sake, for Fonseca’s sake, for the players’ sake, and for the Friedkin buyout’s sake. If it isn’t, God only knows what will happen this summer.