You don't need us to rehash all the reasons why the 2020-2021 Serie A season was so incredibly strange, but needless to say, it's been many years (if not decades) since global events affected calcio to such an extent. Thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, we not only saw the beautiful game played in front of empty, cavernous stadiums, but the compact schedule stemming from the delayed conclusion to the 2019-2020 season threw everything into chaos. With matches seemingly every other day and more muscle strains than we care to remember, the 2020-2021 season was unlike anything we've ever seen.
As a result, we couldn’t just leave it up to one person to recap all 53 Roma matches, so the CdT crew gathered together for a virtual sitdown; a Google Doc Serie A Summit, if you will.
Enjoy, and as always, please give us your answers below. And for even more season review engagement, listen to our accompanying podcast where Steven and Sean take a deeper dive into these questions and much more.
Finishing in 7th place was a bitter disappointment for Roma, in your estimation, what exactly held Roma back this year? Was it unavoidable? Did Roma underachieve or were we fooling ourselves into thinking they were a Champions League club?
dallagente: I was definitely fooling myself. I said Roma could finish between 4th and 7th depending on their summer transfer campaign. But they got the transfers I wanted in the bag, and yet still finished 7th. That being said, I predicted the most crucial transfer to Roma’s success would be Chris Smalling, who spent most of the season injured. So that’s one thing that went wrong, right there.
Bren: Well, I said 5th, so even my pessimism was a bit too optimistic! I hesitate to say it was unavoidable because they were in the top four for stretches this season and Fonseca did well enough balancing the league vs. Europe, so I think we just have to face facts and admit that this team isn’t/wasn’t that good. Look at all the teams above Roma, they’re either propelled by superstars or they have Gasperini—Roma has neither of those. Considering the oddly shaped roster, the litany of injuries, and the lack of a real super start goal-scorer and I think 7th/8th is a fair result.
ssciavillo: I had said that Roma would have a legit shot at the top 4. Clearly, my optimism was a bit too much this time around. The way Roma capitulated so early in the spring to fall out of the top four race was disappointing, to say the least. The roster had its limitations, but I don’t think a 7th place finish was unavoidable though. In the end, I think the busy schedule and plethora of injuries ultimately did the Giallorossi in; costing Fonseca his job and Roma a legit shot at Champions League football.
JonAS: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Somebody needs to move Trigoria from the ancient burial ground it’s built on. Also, I think no one expected Milan to be this good back in August while Napoli and Atalanta have now surpassed Roma in the hierarchy. This and losing 80% of your games vs the big guns and ta-daa, seventh place.
Jimmy Miotto: To quote Abe Simpson, “A little from column A, a little from column B.” Roma weren’t as good as their standing at the end of the first half of the season would indicate, but they also were better than their second half (at least if they were at full health). This is somewhat typical for a club going through an ownership change, but I’ll admit I was overly optimistic for this season. I’ll probably do it again this fall, so sue me.
Okay, despite that doom and gloom, give us a few things Roma fans should be pleased with this past season.
dallagente: I feel a lot of Roma players improved and matured their game on an individual level, but unfortunately couldn’t improve as teammates. The latter might be fixed with a new approach to next season (or it might not).
Bren: I look no further than Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdorp’s respective breakouts this season. Full-back has been the bane of Roma’s existence for ages and now we actually have two dependable ones!? That can’t be right, is it?
ssciavillo: I think it has to be the development of so many individual players. That right there gives us hope for better results next year and into future seasons.
JonAS: That’s it’s finally over. Okay, if I’m being less skeptical: the resurgence of Karsdorp, Spinazzola, the rise of Darboe, Borja not being a flop, Fuzato clean sheet, Mikhi’s impressive numbers. There are a lot of positive things if one looks closely. Very closely, with a magnifying glass and the eyes of Legolas from Lord of the Rings.
Jimmy Miotto: This was a season of growth for a lot of guys on the squad; I think Pellegrini has improved, as have Spinazzola and Karsdorp. The late-season explosion of Ebrima Darboe is also exciting, and the fact that Zaniolo is very close to returning to play has my hopes up as well.
From an individual perspective, who were some of the biggest surprises and disappointments this season?
dallagente: I won’t name the guy who came in on a free transfer and made a thousand errors on the ball, because honestly, I think he was asked to play an unfamiliar role at 33 years of age. But besides him, the biggest disappointments for me were Carles Perez, Marash Kumbulla, and Edin Dzeko for different reasons among all three.
Perez just completely inverted to playing for himself, which is not the Perez we first saw with intelligent final-third play when he first came to Rome. Kumbulla is looking like a botched signing so far, let’s be honest. And I expected Dzeko to react better in general.
The biggest positive surprises for me were Pau Lopez turning the corner mentally, and Rick Karsdorp. What a turnaround from Rick in Roma colours.
Bren: Yeah, I’ll have to agree with Kumbulla. I wasn’t an expert on him but everyone sang his praises all summer long, to the point where it really felt like Roma had snuck the transfer past the rest of the league. I wouldn’t say he was poor necessarily but I wasn’t left with the impression that he’s a star in the making. Center back is the one area in which Roma fans should have high standards given all the great talent we’ve seen over the past decade and he wasn’t up to that mark just yet.
For surprises, I’ll have to say the late-season cameo from Ebrima Darboe. I know I’m guilty of recency bias, but come on, who saw this coming? He looks like the type of player you can set your watch to, the kind of guy who will allow Mourinho to worry about everyone else because he’s a steady, low-maintenance kind of player. Roma needs more of those.
ssciavillo: I think the biggest pleasant surprise has to be Karsdorp. I mean the guy not only resurrected his career—earning a call up to the Dutch National Team in the process—but also shored up Roma’s perpetual right back issue. I also was pleased to see Leo Spinazzola’s resurgence, as well as, the promise shown by youngsters like Villar and Darboe. Even Mayoral and 2nd half of the season Pau Lopez were positives this season.
In terms of disappointments, Smalling has to be up there too just because he couldn’t stay on the field. Meanwhile, I agree with Perez, Kumbulla, and Dzeko being disappointing as well.
JonAS: Smalling was injured more often than not, ironically after a transfer saga that took the entire Summer. I expected more from Perez too, he’s so talented yet I can’t understand why he can’t break into this Roma side. Very frustrating.
Borja, although not being a clear starter most of the time, still put up impressive numbers and is even joint top scorer in the Europa League. And this season my love for Mancini has officially begun. Give him the armband ASAP. He always gives 100%.
Jimmy Miotto: Rick Karsdorp surprised me the most, and nobody else really compares. I thought he’d be gone this winter, and now he looks to have cemented a starting role as Roma’s right-back, barring the Second Coming of Alessandro Florenzi. Second place probably goes to Borja, who I thought might be an adequate backup to Edin Dzeko but certainly not a double-digit scorer.
I don’t think Kumbulla is a botched signing, but this wasn’t the season he became a superstar. That’s okay, he’s still super young (as is every other Roma center-back worth a damn save Chris Smalling). I was most disappointed by Carles Perez because I thought Zaniolo’s injury could have been his moment to really explode on the scene. That just didn’t happen.
Who was Roma’s MVP?
dallagente: I don’t want to understate the sheer workload that teammates put on guys like Gianluca Mancini, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Jordan Veretout. But for me, the guy who makes this teamwork is Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Bren: Yup, no argument here. You crack the club’s first double-double since Salah and you’ve got my vote. I’d give some love to Lorenzo Pellegrini and Leonardo Spinazzola as well, but Mkhitaryan was simply fantastic this season, even with his little lull in the spring.
ssciavillo: Like dalla said, you have to recognize the work done by players like Mancini, Spinazzola, Veretout, and I’d even throw in Pellegrini as part of my top 5. However, there’s no argument with Mkhitaryan. He was the straw that stirred Roma’s drink this season.
JonAS: Make that four votes for Mikhi. And a Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred.
Jimmy Miotto: I’ll have an Old Fashioned, but my vote goes to Henrikh Mkhitaryan too. I can only hope he sticks around once Jose Mourinho takes over.
Who was Roma’s best U-23 player?
dallagente: I’m going to say Gonzalo Villar. Though I could understand naming Ibanez for different reasons. The long and short of it is that this Roma side spent all season trying to bait opponents into pressing them in Roma’s half, to spring counters on the other end. Villar took a big share of responsibility in that strategy for a guy who’s only just turned 23. That should set him up well for the future when he finds more consistency over a full season.
Bren: I’m leaning towards Roger Ibañez. He was certainly prone to the occasional rash challenge and/or brain fart, but his peak is astronomical. He has virtually everything one needs from a modern center back and I’m curious to see what Mourinho will do with him.
ssciavillo: I’m a big fan of Ibañez and liked what he did this season outside of the errors. But, I think I’m going to have to go with Villar. He stepped up in a big way for most of the season after playing in Spain’s second division less than a year before the season kicked off.
JonAS: Tough pick because no one really impressed me as much as say Mancini, Mikhi or Veretout. I’ll go for Ibanez. I’m not a big fan of Villar. Yet.
Jimmy Miotto: Villar is my answer because Roger Ibanez made me want to destroy my TV sometimes with his boneheaded mistakes. The fact that Villar is considered a big part of Roma’s midfield rotation now is downright incredible considering where he came from before pulling on a Giallorossi shirt.
They didn’t make many moves this year, but which new signing had the biggest impact this year?
dallagente: It has to be Mayoral, surely? I know times have changed, and it’s easier to score goals in Serie A nowadays. But he’s racked up the highest goal tally in a debut season from any Roma striker since Vincenzo Montella in 1999/2000. Mayoral made 17 starts in the league, and Roma lost only 5 of those games where he started.
Mayoral scored all his league goals spread out over 7 league games during the season. In all but one of those 7 games, he scored the first goal of the match to break the 0-0 deadlock and put Roma ahead in the game. This is in a debut season where he said he found it difficult to adjust to how much individual man-marking there is in Italy. Give him another season to beef up and he might develop into one of those players where you feel like you start the game with a goal advantage before kick-off.
Bren: Yeah, no arguments from me again. At the beginning of the season, it sure felt like Pedro was going to be the missing piece but he obviously struggled for form and fitness as the season wore on, and rather than being the missing piece, he proved to be a nice complementary bench part, which is fine. I was and remain skeptical about Mayoral long-term prospects, but I’m not one to argue with results—the dude scored 17 goals. ‘Nuff said.
ssciavillo: Considering I already named Kumbulla a disappointment, was never really on board with the Pedro signing, and Reynolds and El Shaarawy didn’t play all that much, it has to be Mayoral. Seventeen goals are nothing to scoff at and his play was instrumental in Roma’s deep Europa League run. I’m curious to see if he has the ability to take his game to the next level.
JonAS: Mayoral of course, when you look at his stats, although Pedro scored a beauty in the derby, always a plus in my book. I have a soft spot for Kumbulla though. He still hasn’t shown his true worth, hopefully, next season. And SES has no excuses anymore, by September he had enough time to adjust back to Serie A. The Pharaoh needs to rise from his grave.
Jimmy Miotto: It’s Mayoral, and I’m not entirely sure why anyone is trying to offer a different answer here. Roma now has a 15 million euro option on a player who was one of the top goalscorers in the Europa League this past season. That’s a nice feeling.
In the fall, we asked you to identify your biggest concern for Roma in 2020. How did that work out? Were your concerns justified?
dallagente: Yes and no. I was worried our wide backs wouldn’t take on their opponents enough. That turned out to be true in the sense that Spinazzola was left with too much responsibility carrying the ball down the left flank, where no one else would. But if anything we were punished mid-season for becoming too gun-ho down the flanks, so my fears were half wrong.
Bren: Well, far be it from me to revel in someone else’s misfortune, but in the fall I cited Fonseca’s suitability for the job as my main concern. Suitability may not be the appropriate word, so let’s say contingent-based viability. Admittedly, that sounds exactly like the bullshit corporate buzz-speak that used to drive me crazy but Fonseca’s grip on the job was always tenuous at best and became perilous the moment the club changed hands last year.
In that light, my concerns were justified but Fonseca was nothing if not a victim of circumstance. He’ll rebound but the timing for him and Roma just wasn’t right.
ssciavillo: Unfortunately my concerns ended up being justified as Roma never did adequately replace what Nicoló Zaniolo brings to the bring. Roma sorely missed his power running on the counterattack. Here’s to hoping he’s back fully fit come August’s start of the season.
Jimmy Miotto: I was worried about replacing Kolarov and Zaniolo. Roma replaced Kolarov more than adequately with Spinazzola, but Zaniolo’s absence was the difference-maker for a side that needed more weekly offensive oomph than it could muster. I think Roma could have gotten into the top four with a full-strength Zaniolo in tow.
JonAS: I missed the survey but I think I would have said injuries and overall fitness. Now, hindsight is 20/20 of course but Roma were seriously hammered by bad luck concerning injuries. The first half and three injuries + subs vs ManU was probably the climax, I never saw anything like it.
A fit Zaniolo and Smalling would probably earn us 8-10 points more and maybe an EL final. Thing is, the players who were injured are mostly the important ones (see also: Veretout, Spinna). If for instance Jesus or Santon would be the victims, ok that would suck too but Roma (and Fonseca) would cope with it more easily. Take away Toloi, Ilicic, and Muriel three months from Atalanta and see how they would manage. Or Skriniar, Hakimi and Lukaka at Inter.
That said, our physical team needs to be looked at, this can’t be a coincidence.
We also asked you to identify the Roma player facing the most pressure this season. So, how did that player fare?
dallagente: All things considered, I’d say Lorenzo Pellegrini handled this season well. I love the fact that, a few days after he got crap from some extremist Roma fanatics for missing a match to attend the birth of his son, Pellegrini got in front of the post-match cameras at the very next match to thank his wife and family, saying he owes everything to them. In that sense, I see Pellegrini walking a similar path to De Rossi: He’ll be encouraging to fans but he won’t pander to them.
Bren: I said Fonseca for this one in the fall, and while there were stretches where he had Roma playing some fantastic football, they came up wanting. Some of these failings were beyond Fonseca’s control but he still faltered in some key areas, particularly Roma’s defensive record. So while I acknowledge and appreciate the circumstances he was facing, he’s not free from blame.
ssciavillo: Like bren, I also tabbed Fonseca, so I won’t go at length here. But, based on the fact he’s out of a job, clearly, he wasn’t able to get the job done.
Jimmy Miotto: Ditto; I said Fonseca, and unfortunately the pressure of Rome won out.
JonAS: Hmm, I would have mentioned ‘Zo Pellegrini back in September. And I think he did fairly ok. He’s far from a Totti or De Rossi but he still has time to grow in his role as capitano. He needs to be more vocal, more ferocious like Veretout or Mancini. A bulldog. A leader. Sometimes he’s too ‘nice’. But judging from his goal and assist tally, it looks like the pressure hasn’t had an effect on Lorenzo. Good, my young Padawan.
Roma was as high as third at varying points this year but dropped off rather dramatically in the late winter/early spring. Apart from that, what in your mind was the turning point of the season? Where/when/why did it all go wrong?
dallagente: I’m torn between the loss away to Juve, where it started to become clear opponents could read our tactics in the final third of the pitch ahead of time, and the Coppa loss to Spezia that fed into the coach falling out with the captain (at that time) Dzeko. I think the latter weighed heavier since Fonseca spent the rest of the season trying to get a performance out of Dzeko.
Bren: Those are both fine picks, but I’ll back mine up one week and say the 3-0 derby defeat. Prior to that, Roma had reeled off five wins in seven stretch, the only blemishes being a thrashing from Atalanta and a 2-2 draw against Inter, the latter of which was actually a late comeback from Roma. But after that derby defeat, the wheels started to come off as Roma started to drop points with more regularity, eventually reaching the April nadir where they dropped points in six straight matches.
ssciavillo: As much as the derby loss hurt, I have to say the loss to Spezia in the Coppa set us off the rails. That was the first result that Roma dropped to a “small club” all season. The Giallorossi were no longer guaranteed a win against those kinds of sides, which had kept them in the top four up to that point. And not only did Roma lose that match, the Giallorossi lost in embarrassing fashion and Fonseca had to deal with the Dzeko fallout.
Jimmy Miotto: The Spezia Coppa lost stung, and I agree with Steven: that was the beginning of the end for Roma’s season and Paulo Fonseca more specifically.
JonAS: I think we still got good results after that Spezia game like the ones vs Braga, Shakhtar at home, Udinese, and Fiorentina. The away loss in Parma really was painful and it was the first time we saw a vs a weaker team. They were no longer the dominant side against a top out of the top 6 and it started cracks in the wall. Parma was last placed for God’s sake. Afterward, they were also lucky in Shaktar and Ajax, winning both 1-2. After that Parma game, Roma dropped from fourth to sixth place and only won one Serie A match in their next seven (!) rounds, a slight 1-0 win against Bologna. That says enough. At that point, we could kiss CL goodbye.
Lastly, imagine you are Paulo Fonseca, what parting words of advice would you pass on to José Mourinho?
dallagente: Just change your number if you start getting text messages from Petrachi.
Bren: haha...that’s great! If I were Paulo Fonseca, I’d tell Mourinho to find a new training ground. The Trigoria meatgrinder has ruined many a Roma season.
ssciavillo: Get ready for the Roman media. It puts the pressure in Milano, Manchester, and London to shame.
Jimmy Miotto: Be very careful where you step in Trigoria; you don’t want to be another ACL tear victim.
cadela, corraaaa. Just Google Translate from Portuguese.
Leave it to Jonas to end it with that sage advice! You've heard our take, now give us your thoughts on Roma's 2020-2021 season!