Normally, these positional reviews are chunked into four groups with all the defenders finding themselves on the same report card. However, with active transfer markets in both the summer and January, there were just too many faces to fit into one post, so we're breaking down just the fullbacks after covering the six centerbacks yesterday.
Heading into the season, there were plenty of question marks and concerns at fullback, especially at right back. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since it’s been an ongoing dilemma for the club for some time now.
With starting at left-back, Aleksandar Kolarov not getting any younger, Roma brought in Leonardo Spinazzola as a deputy. In the process, the club sacrificed one of its brightest prospects, Luca Pellegrini, in a financially motivated move.
Of course, Alessandro Florenzi was a divisive figure playing out of position at right back. But Roma tried to remedy that with the arrival of veteran Davide Zappacosta on loan from Chelsea, who replaced the disappointing Rick Karsdorp. Meanwhile, Davide Santon, once thought to be excess goods, would see his fair share of time as well.
If that wasn’t enough, January saw the return to the capital of Bruno Peres. The same Bruno Peres who had been exiled to Brazil’s Serie B. And to the shock of Romanisti everywhere, he actually became a key member of the starting XI down the stretch. Oh, and we even got a glimpse of one of Roma’s top prospects in Riccardo Calafiori.
Got all that? OK, good. So, let’s hand out the final grades to Roma’s fullbacks for 2019-20.
Appearances: 32 (Serie A)| Goals: 7 |Key Passes Per Game: 1.8| Accurate Long Balls Per Game: 2.8
The 34-year-old Kolarov just keeps producing for the Giallorossi. He may be a step slower than when he first arrived in the Italian Capital. and his tracking back leaves something to be desired at this point in his career, but you’d be hard pressed to find a left-back with the ball playing and goal-scoring ability of Kolarov.
Kolarov’s free-kick ability is also one of the best in the league, which exponentially adds to his value at this point in his career. He led all Serie A defenders with seven goals and his four assists trailed only Atalanta’s Rafael Toloi (6). On top of that, Kolarov very nearly could’ve cracked double-digit goals when you consider his four posts hit.
The late season shift to a three man back-line saw Kolaov shift to a left-sided defender rather than a wing-back. He had his moments where his defending could’ve been better but it looks likes a move that could extend his career if Fonseca sticks to that system.
His occasional defensive lapses bring down his overall grade, but Kolarov’s offensive contributions from the back continue to make him an important member of the squad.
Final Grade: B+
Prediction for Next Year: Kolaorv will continue to be an important member of the squad, but Fonseca should manage his minutes a bit more. If Roma reverts back to a four man defense then Kolarov should split the left-back role with Spinazzola. If Fonseca decides to continue with the back three then he’ll probably split time between left center-back and left wing-back.
Appearances: 14 (Serie A)| Successful Long Ball Per Game: 3.2| Blocks: 1 | Passes Per Game: 41.4
Florenzi’s career trajectory has been one of the most frustrating in recent Roma history. From highly regarded youngster to make-shift right-back, Florenzi was the ultimate team player when he sacrificed personal success to help fill a gaping hole for the club. Inexplicably played out of position year after year, Zappacosta’s arrival should’ve allowed Florenzi to move back up the pitch.
Yet, with Zappa injured Florenzi was again mostly stuck in the right-back rotation. As has been an issue throughout his time in the back, Florenzi’s defending and crossing left a lot to be desired. Fonseca wasn’t a fan and often favored Santon and Spinazzola over him, limiting his playing time.
With the Euros looming (pre-Covid), Florenzi decided to take an out to get more playing time at Valencia. We won’t call his half season as captain a complete failure, but he was again a below average player as a defender.
Final Grade: D+
Prediction for Next Year: His attacking ability makes you wonder if he could be a fit in the 3-4-2-1 as a wing back where his defensive liabilities could be masked a bit. However, it’s most likely that his time at Roma is finished. Fiorentina and Atalanta have been named the most likely destinations.
Appearances: 24 (Serie A)| Clearances Per Game: 1.5| Successful Crosses Per Game: 0.7| Key Passes Per Game: 0.9
Is there anyone who benefited more from the shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation than Spinazzola? The 27-year-old Italian was one of Roma’s most disappointing players in the first half of the season, splitting time between both left and right-back and was nearly off-loaded to Inter for Matteo Politano in January. At that time, Spinazzola looked like a complete bust considering his large price tag in the swap deal for Luca Pellergini.
But then the post-lockdown formation switch happened and Spinazzola looked like a man reborn. Always more of a wing-back than a full-back throughout his career, the Italian was a natural fit after the switch, becoming one of Roma’s better performers down the stretch.
With the extra defensive cover, Spinazzola used his blistering pace to get up and down the wing with ease making him a much more productive player on the ball. His successful dribbles increased and key passes nearly double from 0.93 to 1.95 after the switch. He’s still prone to the odd gaffe (see the penalty conceded to Inter), but depending on what tactics Fonseca uses next season Spinazzola could be an asset for Roma as a wing-back.
Final Grade: B-
Prediction for Next Year: Fonseca’s choice of tactics may affect Spinazzola more than anyone else in the squad. In a 3-4-2-1 he is the preferred option at left wing-back. in the 4-2-3-1 he probably splits the left-back role with Kolarov.
Appearances: 9 (appearances)| Significant Injuries: 1|
You have to feel for Zappacosta. Brought in on loan from Chelsea to solve Roma’s right-back issues, the Italian tore his ACL just minutes into his Roma debut. Thus he missed almost the entire season, making his return post lockdown. Even then Zappacosta wasn’t at his best and was surpassed on the depth chart by Bruno Peres.
The missed time and Peres’ emergence limited Zappacosta to just nine appearances and only three starts. If it weren’t for the injury, his season (and Peres’) likely transpire very differently. It’s hard to truly judge Zappacosta considering the circumstances, so take his grade with a grain of salt.
Final Grade: C-
Prediction for Next Year: Returned to Chelsea after the loan expiration, he’ll likely ended up back on the Italian peninsula somewhere. If Roma are in search of a second right-back, he could be a cost effective option if Chelsea would loan him out again.
Appearances: 16|Goals: 2 |Successful Long Balls Per Game: 1.4 | Successful Crosses Per Game: 0.9
Peres’ return to Roma in an important role was the ‘I bet you didn’t see that coming’ moment of the 2019-20 season. After an unsuccessful loan spell in Brazil’s second division, Peres somehow won over Fonseca upon his return to the capital in January. An opportunity that was afforded thanks to Zappacosta’s injury and Florenzi’s loan to Valencia.
Peres was adequate as a full-back in Roma’s four man back line, but really saw an improvement upon the switch to a wing-back role. Much like Spinazzola, Peres’ best seasons in his career came as a wing-back and Roma reaped the benefits.
Peres was far from perfect defensively (just see the Sevilla match), but contributed plenty down Roma’s right flank. His two goal performance against SPAL being the highlight of his season.
Final Grade: C+
Prediction for Next Year: Peres’ situation is an interesting one. Fonseca seems to like him, but it’s hard to imagine Roma would go into the season with him as the first choice at right-back considering his full history in the capital. I put it at 50/50 that he’s back with Roma, as he could be off-loaded if Roma can find a better option.
Appearances: 15 (Serie A) | Tackles Per Game: 0.7| Interceptions Per Game: 0.7| Passing Percentage: 90.8%
Santon is never going to be the star player that many thought he could be when he came up at Inter. However, after being a throw in as part of the Nainggolan deal, Santon provided Roma with a second decent campaign providing extra cover along the back.
Not one to light up the stat sheet, Santon provided better defensive cover than players like Florenzi and Spinazzola in the first half of the season. His playing time was close to zero with the emergence of Peres and only played 34 minutes after the lockdown.
All things considered, Santon did what you expect of a player in his role.
Final Grade: C
Prediction for Next Year: Santon likely returns in a similar role where he can provide extra cover at fullback without being relied on too heavily.
Appearances: 1| Penalties Draw: 1| Wonder Goals Disallowed: 1 |
Earlier we mentioned Roma off-loading one of its brightest prospects in Luca Pellegrini last summer. Pellegrini may have been expendable because the Giallorossi have another highly regarded left-back prospect in Calafiori. The 18-year-old Italian made his Roma debut on the last match day and showed glimpses of his vast potential.
He won’t receive a grade after just 60 minutes on the pitch, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. He looks to have a bright future.
Final Grade: Incomplete
Prediction for Next Year: There’s talk that some big clubs are after his signature, but Roma would be wise to keep him around after sacrificing Pellegrini just one year ago. There’s a chance he sticks around to deputize for Spinazzola in a 3-4-2-1 if Kolarov is going to play more LCB than wing-back. However, a loan to a newly promoted side could be best for his development to have him ready for the post-Kolarov era.