After the club's failed pursuit of Arsenal defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka over the summer, Roma had no choice but to pivot to other options. While the transfer press immediately linked the Giallorossi to players like Thomas Delaney and Mikel Damsgaard, among others, the rumor mill soon settled on one name: Denis Zakaria. The 24-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder brings an intriguing mix of size, strength, speed, and dribbling prowess to go along with his defensive acumen and could set Roma’s midfield up for long-term success.
There's just one problem, though. With his contract set to expire in June, BMG are becoming increasingly motivated sellers and given his strong start to the season, the Roma transfer that felt like a formality is now anything but, as clubs like Barcelona and Arsenal are quickly being linked to the Swiss midfielder.
Should Zakaria price himself out of Roma's range, reports across Europe, including El Nacional, are now linking the Giallorossi to Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos. The 25-year-old Spaniard started his professional career with Real Betis before making a €16 million move to Madrid in the summer of 2017. After making 55 appearances for Los Blancos, Ceballos spent the past two seasons on loan with Arsenal. While Ceballos technically returned to Madrid last June, he's been shelved the entire season after tearing ligaments in his left ankle while playing for Spain at last summer's Olympics, though he at least picked up a silver medal in the process.
With no space for him at the Bernabeau, Madrid is reportedly keen on moving Ceballos, who they value at a reported €20 million; a price that has scared off his former club Real Betis, who were reportedly interested in a reunion. While Ceballos isn't a defensive midfielder in the strictest sense (he's more of a box-to-box guy), he's been an active and effective disrupter throughout his career, ranking in the 80th percentile or higher in several defensive categories over the past year according to Football Reference, including tackles won and dribbles tackled.
Beyond that, Ceballos is an incredibly gifted midfielder with a deft touch, keen vision, and an aggressive style—his attacking ranks are far more impressive than his defensive numbers, which are still pretty solid—so he would likely contribute across the board for Roma's midfield, lightening the load on players like Bryan Cristante, Jordan Veretout, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, among others.
Outside of the hefty €20 million price tag, Roma's biggest concern is undoubtedly the status of Ceballos’ injured left ankle, which has kept him on the sidelines for nearly four months now. Reportedly on the mend, Ceballos is expected to return to action in mid-November, potentially giving him a handful of matches with Madrid to impress potential suitors. While he was relatively healthy during his days with Betis and Madrid, injuries plagued Ceballos throughout his two-year tenure with Arsenal, missing 16 matches with a variety of ankle and calf issues, so there is plenty of reason for Roma to remain cautious.
While Ceballos wouldn't entirely solve Roma's defensive midfield issues, if healthy, he profiles as a versatile jack of all trades player capable of contributing in all phases of the game. And at only 23-years-old, Ceballos could be a key piece in Roma's Mourinho Makeover.
Zakaria may be Roma's preferred option, but if he becomes cost-prohibitive for GM Tiago Pinto, Ceballos wouldn't be a bad consolation prize—if healthy.