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Roma Offered Plenty of Hope and Loads of Frustration in 2019-2020

Roma failed to hit their marks this year, but there were several positive developments that provide hope for the future.

Sevilla FC v AS Roma - UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Pool via Getty Images

For Roma, the 2019-2020 season started in rather unremarkable fashion. For the eighth time in as many seasons, the Giallorossi welcomed a new coach into the fold. Paulo Fonseca wasn't the club's top choice, but for the first time in ages it seemed like the coach and the director of sport were on the same page. Snatched from Torino under cloudy circumstances, Gianluca Petrachi outfitted Fonseca's squad with several pieces tailor made for his brand of football.

Expectations weren't outlandish, but the club's more pragmatic approach to the transfer market gave the impression that Roma's latest re-branding (Year Zero) would be given a long leash.

With four wins in their first seven matches (all comps), it seemed like Roma's faith in Fonseca was paying off. But then things got...not quite ugly, but Roma were struggling to put on a pretty face, dropping points in six of their next nine matches through late October. But then things got truly ugly: Roma never won more than three matches in a row from November through July, span that also included dropped points in nine of fifteen matches.

But then came the restart. Sure, Roma were a bit chaotic to start off but they finished the season on a high note, ripping off an eight-match unbeaten streak.

2019-2020 was an extremely unique but at the same time an extremely Roma season. In our final round table of the post-season, we surveyed the big topics from this season.

1. Well, let’s start with the same exact question as last August, part of which has already been answered, but whatevs: did Roma get it right with Paulo Fonseca and Gianluca Petrachi? Why or why not?

AS Roma new coach Paulo Fonseca and AS Roma sport director... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: I’ll kick things off by being Mr. Burns: Petrachi working on a “shoestring budget” is a myth. Roma spent 85 million euros on Petrachi’s signings last summer, with a further 50 million in deferred fees hitting the club this summer. That’s 12 million less than the so-called “reckless” in 2018. Petrachi-Fonseca failed to deliver on their end-of-season goal, a top 4 league finish. The difference is Fonseca can get his point of view across clearly. To players, to the media, to everyone. That’s the main reason Fonseca isn’t fired.

ssciavillo: I like a lot of the moves that Roma made on the market both last summer and over the winter. However, it seems like Baldini had a lot to do with the loans from English sides, so Petrachi can’t get all the credit. Part of me would’ve loved to see if Petrachi could’ve gotten more moves similar to Perez, Ibañez and Villar done if he were still around. That being said, his abrasive personality clearly wasn’t a good fit for the club.

On the other hand, I think the club got it right with Fonseca. Sure, he didn’t achieve a top 4 finish which is disappointing, but the end of the season was very encouraging. He showed a tactical flexibility to make his team play up to its potential and got great results. He also seems to have the right personality to handle the pressures of the capital. Let’s hope another season of being acclimated to the league will serve him and Roma well moving forward.

JonAS: Well, since Petrachi isn’t here anymore, that’s a painful no. Kudos to Fonseca for switching to a 3-4-2-1 and giving us one of Roma’s best string of results in a loooong time. But I’m scared he’ll take away the magic and return to a 4-2-3-1. Which could once again falter and blow up in his face. Honestly, the jury is still out on Fonseca unless he wins the EL, then give the man a lifelong contract and rename our stadium Fonseca Field.

Jimmy: Yes with Fonseca, no with Petrachi. Part of that is obvious because Petrachi is no longer Roma’s DS, but I’d push back against the idea that fifth place with Europa League still in the balance is a letdown from what we should have expected this year. Pallotta has never been very good at managing expectations, and all in all, a lot of Roma’s young players continued to develop this season while Fonseca showed himself to be a coach who can adapt and rise to the occasion. Is that the guaranteed Champions League spot that Roma and Pallotta both hoped for and financially needed? No, but I blame Pallotta for that a whole lot more than I blame Fonseca.

Bren: I think they got it right with both, but apparently Petrachi and Pallotta are like two positively charged ions. There were a few times this season when I found myself doubting if Fonseca really had what it takes to take this team to the next level, but he’s certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. He’s well liked, incredibly intelligent and not afraid to make the necessary changes when things aren’t going right—you can’t ask for much more than that. Give him a better financial footing and see what he can do.

2. Give us three things that went right for Roma this season and three things that went terribly wrong.

AS Roma v SPAL - Serie A Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

dallagente: You know honestly, I’m going to say Zaniolo. When Roma were up against it in their own half, he was the release valve willing to dribble the team out of pressure. And Dzeko got even better. Anything else that could go right takes more than one season to do it. What went wrong: Covid-19, impact injuries, and the team lacks physical strength. We get pushed around a little too much to be honest.

ssciavillo: The biggest thing that went wrong were the coinciding injuries of Zaniolo and Diawara when the bottom really fell out early in 2020. Covid-19 halting the sale also was bad and it seems to have affected the club both on the field and in the front office. Last, I’d say the stunted growth of both Ünder and Kluivert was sad to see. Neither player took the next step in their development like we would’ve hoped under an attack minded coach like Fonseca.

On the flip side, there were some positives. First off, I thought overall the new signings fit very well. Smalling and Mkhitaryan were hits as loan moves. Mancini looks like a solid player moving forward. Veretout and Diawara proves to be great in the midfield. Meanwhile, Ibañez, Perez, and Villar look like real finds. Second, I liked the switch to a 3-4-2-1. It may or may not be a permanent move for next season but Fonseca showed great tactical flexibility. Last, the return of Zaniolo was certainly a highlight in the midst of Roma’s strong finish to the domestic season.

dallagente: That’s very true about Under and Kluivert.

JonAS: Smalling, Mikhi and Zaniolo. Pastore, Jesus and Pau Lopez.

Jimmy: The three definite “wins” for Roma were the Zaniolo’s continued development; the loans from England panning out and then some; Fonseca showing his mettle when things started looking bleak. The three “losses” were the stagnation of Roma’s non-Zaniolo wingers (Under and Kluivert, to name names); Javier Pastore being a confirmed bust in Rome; and the continued struggle against the injury bug at Trigoria.

Bren: Three positives: 1) Smalling, 2) Mkhitaryan and 3) Winter transfers. We’ve talked enough about how well Smalling and Micki adapted and thrived under Fonseca, but I’m afraid we sold the winter purchases (Perez, Villar and Ibañez) short. Those are three rotational pieces already and all three have above average starter potential.

Three negatives: 1) The Petrachi row: how did they even let it get to that? Surely there was a way to avoid such a public and bitter rift between a DS and an owner. 2) Signing Pau Lopez: I believe my opinion on this well known by now, but he ain’t worth what he’s making. And 3) Loaning Florenzi to Valencia: Roma definitely missed his leadership and tactically speaking, he would have fit right in with Fonseca’s new formation.

3. Who was Roma’s best new signing this season?

Chris Smalling (R) of AS Roma is challenged by Simone Zaza... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: Because Mkhitaryan and Diawara were unavailable for long spells, it’s Chris Smalling for me.

ssciavillo: I have to agree. I like a lot of the signings as mentioned above but Smalling was the most important throughout the season.

JonAS: Smalling. Truly a Benatia-like piece of business. He can be our leader of the defense for the next 3-4 years and we can aim for the… oh wait. Shit.

Jimmy: Chris Smalling, no question. Shame he’s probably gone for good.

Bren: Just to be different I’ll say Jordan Veretout. Boundless energy and everything he does on the pitch makes everything else easier for his teammates.

4. You can change one transaction from the summer, either a player they should have signed or one they shouldn’t have: who would it be?

Amiens SC v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1 Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

dallagente: Don’t sign Spinazzola. I was excited about him when we did, but it’s looking like he doesn’t have 90 minutes in him.

ssciavillo: I’m going to disagree because I think Spinazzola really fits the 3-4-2-1 if Roma sticks with it. I didn’t dislike too many moves last summer, so I’ll go with Kalinic even though he improved a bit later in the season.

JonAS: Pau Lopez. With that money saved we could have already sealed Smalling by January while the difference between Lopez-Mirante in the standings would be minimal.

Jimmy: I would’ve swindled Inter yet again for Sebastiano Esposito instead of bringing in Kalinic on loan. Esposito is probably not going to break through to the starting eleven at Inter, and Roma still have an aching need for a future Dzeko replacement. It’s probably too late for that deal now, but it would’ve been cool to have Zaniolo and Esposito up front for a while.

Bren: Damnit if I didn’t really want Icardi in a Roma shirt. I’m not sure I ever really bought into the rumors, but I was letting myself dream for a bit. Building from the ground up is good and everything, but eventually you need to break the bank—I would have done that for Icardi without batting an eye.

5. Who was Roma’s Most Valuable Player this season and why?

Hellas Verona v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

dallagente: Edin Dzeko. He’s now on a par with Totti’s performances at the same age. And I said “at the same age” before anyone gets wild, not that they’re the same talent. If you believe Whoscored then Dzeko got the double-double, other sites reckon he only got 7 assists. Just the 7 assists, then. A lot of it is down to the team playing through the middle more, but at the same time Dzeko just gets more complete as a footballer.

ssciavillo: I’m going to agree and go with Dzeko. The team really relies on him and his goalscoring. Plus, he just makes so much happen with his hold-up play. I’d also like to give shouts to Smalling and Veretout. That trio were heavily relied on and had a lot of great moments.

JonAS: I’m going to go for Veretout. I get a very ‘Radja feeling’ about him and he’s fast becoming one of my favorites on the team, more than a Pellegrini, Dzeko or Mancini. Finally some dynamite back in our midfield after Radja and Daniele left. He’s cool, rarely injured, can convert a penalty and probably has three lungs. I can see him staying at Roma well into his 30s like Perrotta.

Jimmy: Have to agree with Dalla and Steven and say Dzeko. I wanted Roma to sign a long-term replacement for him, it’s true, but there’s a reason a long-term replacement is so crucial; he’s important enough to the side that when Father Time inevitably defeats him, Roma will truly be up a creek without a paddle. He scores goals by any means necessary, and you always need a guy like that in your side.

Bren: I would have said Mkhitaryan or Zaniolo if they were healthy all season, but I can’t argue with Dzeko. Roma rely too much on him for a reason; he’s still really good.

6. You can’t repeat your answer from #5: Which player has you most excited for the future?

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

dallagente: Until a week ago I would have said Amadou Diawara but… you know what? It’s Gonzalo Villar in my world right now. His distribution stats are machine-like. And Villar has managed to make himself decisive in Roma’s goals or big-goal chances in almost every match he’s played, something which I’d like to see a lot more from Diawara. C’mon Amadou, even Pirlo got up the pitch to smack them on goal every once in a while.

ssciavillo: I know this may be the easy answer but I’m sticking with Zaniolo. The Kid is just so exciting. Some of the runs that he made when he came back just speak to his talent and potential as a player. No disrespect to Tonali and others, but I strongly believe he’s the biggest Italian talent of his generation.

JonAS: We already know Zaniolo is a stud. However, I’m surprised by Ibanez’s ’ sudden rise to fame lately. Good, young CBs are gold mines and hot prospects on the market. Hard to find, even harder to nurture and train. Roma might have a winning lottery ticket in its hands. Who knows, with Mancini-Ibanez Roma can be set until 2030.

Jimmy: Zaniolo is the easy answer, but it’s also the right answer. The Kid’s ceiling is Ballon d’Or winner, and with all due respect to Roger Ibanez, Amadou Diawara, and Gonzalo Villar, nobody else in the side can say that. Add to that that he can probably play just about anywhere in midfield or attack, and it’s obvious that Zaniolo is probably the most talented player to play in the Olimpico since the namesake of this website. He’s not at that talent level, but barring a young Antonio Cassano or Daniele De Rossi, I can’t think of anyone who had his potential in a Roma kit.

Bren: Yeah, I can’t get cute here either. Zaniolo is the best prospect to land in Rome since the two Romans. He’s got the size, strength, explosivity and courage to be the best in the league.

7. Do you expect Fonseca’s tactical change to become permanent? If so, what must the club do to ensure that’s a successful transition?

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

dallagente: What 3-4-2-1 did was remove a ton of player decisions from the back 6. With less to decide, those players became single-minded in passing the ball forward earlier before opponents could double-mark Dzeko, Roma were more aggressive and then started to believe in themselves. No one can really predict that happening ahead of time, it’s one of those things where you take a gamble and the touch paper gets lit at the right time, right place. But it could have just as easily not worked. If you’re going to stick with a five-man midfield, the wide players need to be really confident that they can keep going. But we don’t have that. Even Juve’s B team just defended the middle and dared us to play out wide, showing a lack of respect for what’s meant to be our strengths in that formation. Unless we get stronger wide players on the mercato this summer (and right now, we’re broke), I can see Fonseca using Roma’s renewed belief to move onto playing 4 at the back again. Because 4 at the back gives the team’s attack a lot more options.

ssciavillo: I could see it going either way but I do think the 3-4-2-1 does fit the personnel we have pretty well. Both Mancini and Ibañez came through Atalanta where Gasperini employs a three man D. Meanwhile, Spinazzola and Peres are much better suited for the wing back role than fullback. They were practically reborn after the formation change. Moving forward, with two players behind Dzeko it allows us to utilize some combination of Mkhitaryan, Pellegrini, Zaniolo, and Perez without sticking them out wide. I agree with dallagente that they will need more wingbacks if they stick to this system. Maybe Calafiori can deputize on the left. Could Florenzi or Karadorp back from loan be on option on the right? It could be worth a look in preseason to save funds specifically for a vice-Dzeko and another CB or two (hopefully Smalling and/or Vertonghen).

JonAS: It has to be. C’mon, this can’t be coincidence right? Just look at the results, the mentality, the joy of playing ever since it started. When Roma were 1-0 down, they never panicked in the 3-4-2-1. Plus, we weren’t outplayed by Inter at home and were close to winning the damn thing. Roma doesn’t have fullbacks, only wingbacks so the 3-4-2-1 is perfect. Florenzi’s back and suits this formation as well. Get Vertonghen as Smalling’s replacement, keep Fazio and Kolarov at the back. Central mid looks ok (Diawara, Veretout, Villar, Cristante) and throw all our money on some serious competition for Dzeko.

Jimmy: I remember reading that Fonseca didn’t love the tactical switch, but I think the sheer amount of winning that’s happened under it might force his hand. I’m not worried about Zaniolo fitting into any formation for the reason I explained above, but the 3-4-2-1 lets Mkhitaryan and Pellegrini keep playing regularly. Pellegrini gets a lot of flak on here, but it’s obvious management views him as a major part of Roma’s future. That means he needs to play, and a 3-4-2-1 is probably going to guarantee that a whole lot more than the back four did.

Bren: Yeah, he said that he still prefers his old system, so I’m not willing to completely rewrite history yet. In an ideal world, he’d have the personnel to flex between the two systems as needed, but that would require a lot of patience from Roma’s out and out wingers who were cast out like lepers once Fonseca switched to the 3-4-2-1. If, however, he does keep that system in tact, we’ll likely need one more wingback at the very least to replace Zappacosta.

8. Envision 2020-2021 going down two paths: 1) a successful sale of the club, or 2) Pallotta remains. How extreme are those outcomes on the pitch?

Premiere Of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s “All The Money In The World” - Red Carpet Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

{Please note: These responses were submitted prior to the Friedkin acquisition last week}

dallagente: It depends who we sell to. It’s a tough time on all fronts right now, and no new owner has the silver bullet unless they’re too wealthy for the UEFA to regulate. Italian clubs don’t know when they’ll be able to offer season tickets again, which is a big source of revenue delayed. Sky have yet to pay THIS season’s final third of the TV money to clubs. Clubs are offering club-store vouchers as a way to “refund” season-ticket holders for the lost games in 2020. Only Milan have offered to refund fans with cash. If the stadium goes ahead, the club has to agree to be liable for over 170m in further costs to the city of Rome. This club is completely bleeding bills and expenses right now.

ssciavillo: I think a sale should help mitigate the key players lost to sales which will help the outcomes on the pitch. But I don’t expect Friedkin or anyone else to come in and spend massive amounts of money in the current climate. That being said I would hope that a new owner would be less inclined to sell key players like Zaniolo, which should mean better on the field results. As dallagente pointed out though, a sale won’t fix everything. At least not right away.

Jimmy: I think a sale will result in no key players being sold this offseason, bar maybe Pau Lopez for the right price. Add in the fact that anyone with a new toy is going to want to show it off, and I wouldn’t be surprised by quite a bit of investment on the part of new ownership to push Roma back into top-2 contention. Zaniolo’s continued development will help a lot with that quest, and with the right signings, American Roma 2.0 might make some serious noise next year. I don’t want to contemplate Pallotta staying at the wheel too much, because it seriously bums me out. The guy needs to go.

Bren: Well, considering everything Dallagente laid out, a sale would (I hope) at least stop the bleeding for one summer, but without that, I fear the absolute worst if Pallotta is still in charge.

JonAS: Pallotta stays and there will be another firesale in Roma (Under, Kluivert, Zaniolo, Pau, Pellegrini, Dzeko among others are not safe) because no CL. Expect another dull season fighting for fourth spot and being eliminated from the Coppa by Torino or Sampdoria.

A successful sale would mean Roma can lose the dead weight (Jesus, Pastore, Fazio) and keeping all pillars of the team at the same time. And why not, aim for Messi, Lewandowski and Mbappe. As the great Busta Rhymes once said: We gettin’ Arab monaaaay.

9. This season was famously dubbed as Roma: Year Zero so fast forward a year from now, what are we saying about Roma: Year One?

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

dallagente: When you willingly give up the right to wear ⚡ lightning kits ⚡ does it even matter? Cue Rae Sremmurd’s “This Could Be Us”.

ssciavillo: Roma keep the core of the team together and Fonseca carries the current momentum through a shorter than usual summer in his second season. This translates to more consistency in Roma: Year One.

Jimmy: “This probably isn’t the last time Nicolo Zaniolo is going to win Serie A MVP.”

Bren: You know, moving the team to Vegas wasn’t as crazy as Bren made it sound. The jet lag on the opponent’s legs is an enormous advantage.

In all seriousness, I think if this sale goes through without a hitch, a year from now we’ll be looking at a fourth-place club. Small but steady progress.

JonAS: Fifth place once again. Damn. ‘We need mo’ Arab monaaaay’

10. Finally, what was your favorite moment of the 2019-2020 season?

SPAL v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Mario Carlini - Iguana Press/Getty Images

dallagente: I’m going to go esoteric on this one. Manuela Coluccini’s long-range goal just minutes into her comeback from an ACL injury. And Amadou Diawara’s roll-swivel-and-pass move all in one motion away to Lecce to feed Kluivert in the box. Yeah, I’m unnecessary like that.

ssciavillo: I have to say Zaniolo’s first goal back from the ACL tear. It gave us hope after a rough few months. Of course, that could be surpassed if Roma ride their current momentum deep into the Europa League.

Jimmy: Zaniolo’s slalom run after returning from the ACL tear is the top for me. I love that kind of run on the field, it’s just something incredibly special. I want to see more of that every week, if possible. No pressure, Nicolo.

Bren: I don’t know why, but I just loved that Mkhitaryan to Kluivert goal against Gent. It was such a beautifully timed run/pass combo. I’ve watched it so many times.

JonAS: August 24, 2019. When I thought Roma would have a shot at a top 4 finish.

You've heard our say, but what did you make of this season overall? Are Roma heading in the right direction? Will Fonseca survive the change in ownership?