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Roger Ibañez Did His Best to Make Roma’s Failed Defensive-Third Strategy Work

Roma paid dearly for holding the ball in their defensive third, but take nothing away from Ibanez’s results.

AS Roma v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to previewing Roma’s backline prospects last September. To make up for that, I looked at the Serie A teams who conceded the least possession and action in their defensive third this season, cross-referencing that with the league’s teams who conceded the least possession in general. That raised some interesting football questions that are beyond the scope of this article.

But the results we found certainly do have us asking (once again): How valuable is possession football, really?

Not to say that Roma weren’t anything other than a counter-attacking team in nature, but they certainly set out to see more of the ball in their defensive third than top-four teams Juventus and Milan. Meanwhile, Atalanta dominated the ball for most of the season yet came out second-best to new champions Inter Milan.

To cut a long story short and keep it focused on Roma: We compared how Roma’s backline players did in a pool of 619 player performances (some of them duplicate—since guys like Federico Chieso played games for both Fiorentina and Juventus in the 2020/21 league campaign) among the Top 10 defensively dominant Serie A teams this season. Those other nine teams were: Atalanta, Inter, Napoli, Lazio, Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina, Sassuolo, Verona and Spezia.

If we wanted to be even cleaner with our data and more insightful with our pool rankings, we probably could have set a 10 or 20-game minimum for all players, but that would have ruled out names like Smalling, Calafiori, and mid-season arrival Bryan Reynolds. So, a 619 player pool it is!

AS Roma v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Semi Final: Leg Two Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

We cut AC Milan’s player performances from our comparison pool because they weren’t ranking high as a team inside their own defensive half (nor their penalty area), suggesting they were heavily reliant on individual quality to keep the balance between a meager defense and a highly-effective Rossoneri attack. Let us know if you agree with that decision to cut Milan or not.

Personally, I give majors props to Ivan Juric at Verona and Vincenzo Italiano at Spezia for the quality and bravery of their teams’ play, let alone Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo ranking as the most possession-dominant team in the league with 68% of the ball!

But the counter-argument to that is simple: The picture of Serie A looks like direct football wins the day and gets you up the table right now (with the exception of Atalanta). Spezia, Verona, Sassuolo, and Roma may have had brave “projects”, but Juventus and Milan have the European football and prize money.

You decide which means more to you.

Best & Worst-Case Scenarios Revisited

AS Roma v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A

As I said previously, I took a dry approach to the best and worst-case scenarios for Roma’s backline players in 2020/21. Probably owed to the fact we were in the thick of transfer news, rumors, and the transfer window itself about to close back in September; which always brings out the fight-or-flight feeling to the surface for us football fans.

The Best-Case Scenario in September

The best case scenario is that Roma actually sign him Chris Smalling. At the time of writing, he’s still not a Roma player. Gianluca Mancini can get more comfortable in reading balls over the top, and he could do with a big helping hand from the club by having them find a right-back* to strike up some chemistry down Mancini’s side (*but NOT the Artist Formerly Known as Mattia De Sciglio). In his sophomore year, Mancini could really do with fine-tuning the aggression and cutting down the yellow cards. Even if there is something enjoyable about Mancini fouling players right in front of the referee’s face.

Elsewhere, Roger Ibañez is more measured in his aggression than Mancini, but he still risks a lot and it could cost him a few impact injuries before long. If he can maintain full fitness in 2020/21 then the sky’s the limit. Meanwhile, If Federico Fazio somehow rediscovers his 2017/18 form as the second coming of Franco Baresi, I’d get box office seats to watch it happen.

It would also be a dream for Spinnazzola to find 90 minutes in his legs; not just one good half and then a cadaver of a second half. If he builds better chemistry with the frontline, then we’re talking about the model wide player in Italian football today. Hopefully his counterpart Bruno Peres keeps finding the Kwan that he found in 2020 from the opposite flank.

If Peres can somehow find more confidence on the ball when closed down, we couldn’t ask for more. Elsewhere, Marash Kumbulla’s convoluted transfer deal would mean Roma have unofficially invested heavily into him already, so let’s just hope Kumbulla lives up to the billing. Really.

As for other names like Calafiori... All Ricky needs is some game time. And watch out for Bryan Cristante from defence, who could invoke the spirit of Yaya Toure at Barcelona, becoming a key part of a back three to lead Roma to trophies.

The Worst-Case Scenario in September

AS Roma v Genoa - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Then we flipped around our wild, idyllic predictions into the nightmare scenario for Roma’s would-be heroes:

Marash Kumbulla picks up a double quadriceps tear as he’s climbing off the exercise bike on his transfer-day medical. Being so tall ain’t easy.

Neither Juan Jesus, Davide Santon nor Rick Karsdorp find moves elsewhere, and Roma go into the new season avoiding the bigger elephant in the room: they failed to sign Chris Smalling, who makes his return to Maidstone United—the only club left in football that he can trust.

Later on mid-season, Gianluca Mancini collects a ten-game suspension for taking off his shirt and revealing a chest-wide tattoo of Marco Materazzi headbutting Zinedine Zidane. Meanwhile, Ibañez and Calafiori are sold off in January to balance Roma’s record FFP deficit. But Roma regrets the move when Kumbulla’s February comeback from injury goes wrong, tearing both ACLs in the space of a minute on his debut. Kumbulla is never seen in a Roma shirt again. All the while, Leonardo Spinazzola turns out to be Leonardo Spinazzola.

No one really ever knows whether that’s a good or bad thing, just that it comes in 45 minute batches. Bruno Peres loses the Kwan, while Federico Fazio is forced to fill in up front at striker (actually not a bad idea) because Dzeko is knackered and there’s no one else.

Bryan Cristante’s experiment as a backline player is a total failure, but only because it’s the one act that can provoke Amadou Diawara’s temperament into total blind rage. Diawara slams a bib on the ground one Tuesday at Trigoria, yelling “I get to be Yaya Toure!”, and the subsequent Cristante-Diawara training ground bust-up sees both players put on indefinite leave by the club.

That leaves Roma fielding a back three of Karsdorp, Santon and Juan Jesus while Kluivert and Perotti play wing back. JJ actually finds form, courage and exudes leadership in guiding Roma to 5th place. The remarkable turnabout in his career means Roma are eager to build around the Brazilian, but JJ leaves on a free transfer.

So how much of that came true by the end of this season? And how much of it turned out to be pie in the sky?

Player Reviews & Ratings: The Rearguard

With as many as 13 different Roma defenders to rank below, we’ll be brief with their individual highs and lows and a final grade out of 10 for each.

Chris Smalling

AS Roma v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Semi Final: Leg Two Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.49 (177th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.57 (187th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.79 (28th)
  • Clearance Rate: 5.20 (18th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 1.71 (86th)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.81 (27th)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: 69.6% (Joint 10th)

Season Summary

Roma DID sign Chris Smalling like I wanted but then got only just over twelve 90-minute length performances from 16 total league appearances.

Smalldini suffered repeat injuries the likes of which he’s never previously suffered in his career. He’s a top athlete with a proven record of keeping himself in shape. The common denominator here is Roma, who are a mid-table club when it comes to taking care of their players’ health. The fact you can even take a guy like Smalling and break him in the Eternal City just speaks to Roma’s poor standards.

To the surprise of no one, Roma has just fired club doctor Andrea Causarano at the close of this season—who’d been at the club since July 2017. Are we saying it’s exclusively Causarano’s fault? No. But changes have to keep being made until Roma can hold itself to a better standard.

Of what little Smalling did show on the pitch this season, he was a no-nonsense defender. He ranks in the top 10 league players for aerial duels won (tied with teammate Kumbulla) and Smalling ranked exceptionally high for clearances.

Outlook for Next Season

Smalling will first want to get his health back on track, and then he’ll want to make sure he’s still good for winning a tackle under pressure. In Fonseca’s setup, we saw Smalling steer towards cutting the ball out early rather than favor his own physical presence in any last-minute duels. He’ll most likely have to reverse that trend, now that he’s re-found his old Manchester United coach Mourinho in Rome.

Final Grade: 2 out of 10

Gianluca Mancini

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 1.14 (42nd)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.60 (178th)
  • Interception Rate: 2.24 (16th)
  • Clearance Rate: 3.38 (48th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 1.67 (94th)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.66 (34th)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: 64.6% (23rd)

Season Summary

We talked about Mancini’s need to increase his read of balls over the top, last September, and we’d say Gianluca had done well. He may be the second-worst winner of aerial duels in the Roma backline (ahead of only makeshift defender Bryan Cristante), but that holds Mancini to a very high standard as he’s the 23rd best in our player pool for that category.

He also excelled at intercepting balls and was rarely isolated or dribbled past over the course of the season, suggesting that Mancini did indeed strike up some kind of chemistry with right-back Rick Karsdorp to keep Roma on top of that side of the pitch.

One noticeable stat is that Gianluca Mancini, together with Kumbulla, is the least likely to clear the ball amongst Roma’s backline players. Some would say that’s an imbalanced ego or a lack of instinct for the danger Roma found themselves in this season, but I’d wager it’s more to do with the Giallorossi becoming increasingly reliant on Mancini’s movement and ability on the ball to get them back moving up the pitch.

On the discipline front, Mancini picked up 10 yellow cards in Serie A this season and missed two games through suspension. But those two games were at home against Spezia and Crotone—the kind you don’t mind putting in a yellow card in the previous game to wipe your disciplinary slate clean for the big matches. And Roma collected six out of six points in those games.

Nonetheless, Mancini was sent off (through a double booking) in Roma’s disaster loss to Spezia in the Coppa Italia. And that WAS costly.

Outlook for Next Season

Mancini is a baller, and there’s nothing glaringly wrong about his defensive performance either. He could go to the next level if Mourinho brings Roma back to zonal or man-marking instructions at the back, which would be a slight return to what Mancini was used to in his Atalanta days. Nonetheless, unlike what he’s seen at both Atalanta and Roma so far, how well will Mancini adjust if Mourinho starts asking him to play the ball less and clear it more?

It would be a waste of Mancini’s footballing talent.

Final Grade: 7 out of 10

Roger Ibañez

Roger Ibanez of As Roma looks on during the Serie A match... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 1.47 (23rd)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.64 (169th)
  • Interception Rate: 2.26 (14th)
  • Clearance Rate: 4.40 (26th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 2.33 (32nd)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.79 (28th)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: 66.3% (20th)

Season Summary

Here’s the thing: As much as I love and praise Gianluca Mancini’s game, Roger Ibañez is simply better. Especially as a defender, but his ability to drive the ball from coast to coast probably rivals Mancini’s footballing ability, too. Even if both are different styles of play.

But words don’t do justice to the sheer workload Ibañez puts in defensively. Sometimes you look at a match summary and you wonder how the hell he amasses the number he does.

I don’t like his penchant for diving and play-acting, especially not when it costs a turnover and a goal. But Ibañez could very well go down as one of Roma’s most cost-effective finds in a long time if he keeps going at this rate.

The best-case happened for our Brazilian dynamo this season: Roma didn’t sell him and he didn’t miss any games through impact injuries. Those muscle fatigue did lead to Ibañez sitting out 10 games, but that’s something different.

Outlook for Next Season

Just give us more of the good, and less of the bad. Ibañez belongs at the top of football and could be Mourinho’s new Lucio in defense.

Final Grade: 8 out of 10

Marash Kumbulla

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.53 (170th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.86 (131st)
  • Interception Rate: 0.99 (135th)
  • Clearance Rate: 3.51 (47th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 1.13 (172th)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.33 (91st)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: 69.6% (Joint 10th)

Season Summary

Max is Roma’s worst-rewarding gamble in a few years, and it’s painful to see Verona’s Mert Cetin rank higher in many categories in what looks like a player-exchange-plus-cash deal gone wrong for this season.

We’ve had plenty of criticism for veteran Pedro, but at the amount invested in Kumbulla’s talent, the youngster costs twice as much as Pedro on the annual bill and forces Roma to find a path of redemption for Kumbulla next season. But there is a way forward on the pitch.

Kumbulla was level with Smalling as one of the top 10 players in our league-wide pool for aerial duels won this season. He just has to recover some instinct for being in the right place and right time to block and cut out danger, which are areas where Kumbulla was well, well off the pace of his peers for 2020/21.

Outlook for Next Season

On his best day, Kumbulla reminds me of Demichelis’ glory years in a Bayern shirt. But Kumbulla is so far off from that right now; perhaps the move away from Verona’s well-built system came too soon. But that crossroads has been and gone, and Max will have to get in gear next season. Roma needs him to be a first-team player by the summer of 2022.

Final Grade: 3 out of 10

Federico Fazio

UC Sampdoria v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.49 (144th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.22 (237th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.11 (115th)
  • Clearance Rate: 7.11 (7th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 2.00 (53rd)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.89 (22nd)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: N/A

Season Summary

Fazio made only six league appearances and even scored a goal against Cagliari. In that small pocket of game time, Fazio showed himself to be non-nonsense and focused on both blocking and clearing the ball.

Il Comandante is also someone who doesn’t let himself get dribbled past, ranking as low as 237th in our league-wide pool when it comes to dribbles conceded. But you can read that however you want: Maybe teams just know they can take the long way around Fazio and leave him for dead, or maybe Fazio just didn’t put himself in those danger areas and left the work to others instead.

What’s certain is Fazio’s ability to come out on top in the defensive third is now gone, and his ability to make a difference in games (in the same manner he once used to) has near completely waned; even though there were moments in the Europa League group stage where Fazio was the ONLY one making the effort to drive the ball forward, pop up in the opponent’s box in open play and try to break those 0-0 deadlocks for Roma on Thursday nights.

Outlook for Next Season

With one year left on his contract, Roma has been trying to convince Fazio to take a move elsewhere for a while now. The transfer market beckons.

Final Grade: 5 out of 10

Juan Jesus

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 2.35 (8th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.59 (179th)
  • Interception Rate: 0.00
  • Clearance Rate: 2.94 (56th)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 1.76 (80th)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.00
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: N/A

Season Summary

Much-maligned Juan Jesus might be, but he sure as hell was focused on winning his tackles with what little game time he was given on the pitch.

He never started a game for Roma this season, instead coming off the bench five times. In those five cameos, Roma lost just once against Napoli in a 4-0 drubbing where JJ played 52 minutes of that match.

The other four appearances were all clean sheets for Roma, from big wins against Parma and Crotone to goalless draws against Sassuolo and Benevento. JJ’s performances were shockingly effective, especially in the tackle. But he’s never had a good read of the game and that was the death of his career.

Outlook for Next Season

He’s gone this summer, but not a bad final year’s service from JJ.

Final Grade: 6 out of 10

Bruno Peres

Football Serie A Roma-SS Lazio Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.57 (163rd)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.88 (124th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.70 (32nd)

Season Summary

Bruno Peres actually showed a very good defensive read of the game in his final season with Roma, but a mix of appearances on both flanks make it near-impossible to give any coherent narrative to the final chapter in Peres’ redemption story.

Outlook for Next Season

We have no idea. But like JJ, his contract has expired. Who knows where Bruno will venture to next. We’ll always remember him as Il Piede d’Oro.

Final Grade: 5 out of 10

Leonardo Spinazzola

Ajax v AS Roma - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Leg One Photo by Gerrit van Keulen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.13 (227th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.55 (190th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.31 (76th)

Season Summary

Defensively, Spinazzola was not very good. He’s actually even a waste of what could be a very good defender if Leo was more enthused by it. Don’t be misled by our final grade here, as it’s just not possible to sum up the importance of Spinazzola to Roma (his willingness to shoulder responsibility for Roma’s overall possession is second-to-none) by looking at his defensive performance alone. But that’s what we’re limited to here.

The other factor is that our worst-case scenario came true with Spinazzola. He missed a total of 17 games over the course of the season, which is more than Leo has ever gone over a single season in his entire career.

That being said, it was always a big ask to do a congested, three-game-a-week calendar for someone who’s recovery from serious, career-threatening injury problems in the past.

Outlook for Next Season

It’s all up in the air with Spinazzola. At 28-years-old, he needs to think about whether he really belongs marauding upfront or not.

Final Grade: 4 out of 10 (for his defensive contributions)

Riccardo Calafiori

AS Roma v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 4.29 (2nd)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 4.29 (1st)
  • Interception Rate: 1.43 (60th)

Season Summary

A snapshot of debutant’s blues.

Calafiori was determined to throw himself into tackles, coming out 2nd top in our league-wide player pool. That sounds impressive until you realize Calafiori’s actual tackle success rate was less than half, and no player in Serie A (at least not in our chosen player pool) was dribbled past in their own defensive third more than Calafiori was for Roma this season.

Riccardo doesn’t lack the will to defend, but it absolutely didn’t match up with effectiveness or results.

Outlook for Next Season

What can we say? This is what breaking into senior football from U-19 level often looks like. The will is there from Riccardo, though. Maybe he will do better at not getting himself isolated, nor run past, in the more cautiously defensive unit that Mourinho will be looking to build next season.

Final Grade: 2 out of 10.

Davide Santon

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.62 (157th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.77 (146th)
  • Interception Rate: 0,92 (140th)

Season Summary

Not good. Missed more games than anyone through injury (22) in a near-complete write-off of a season.

Outlook for Next Season

I’ve remained positive about Santon and talked up his determination not to get beaten by opponents whenever I can, and how he was really a center-half in another universe who missed his calling in this lifetime. But Santon still has a year left on his Roma contract and I don’t think anyone (besides maybe himself) is happy about that situation.

Final Grade: 1 out of 10

Rick Karsdorp

AS Roma v FC Crotone - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.78 (102nd)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 01.17 (177th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.17 (101st)

Season Summary

Like Spinazzola, Rick getting his individual season summed up in a defensive-third focus article really doesn’t do him justice. But just look at how infrequently he was dribbled past in our league-wide player pool, and the fact Rick nearly cracked the league top 100 when it came to winning tackles and cutting out passes in his own defensive third.

When you combine that with the rate of tackles won, and passes made, in every third of the pitch by Karsdorp (which is beyond the scope of this article) then Dutch Cafu is the first genuine locomotive train that Roma have enjoyed down that right flank in well over a decade.

But let’s not go overboard with “make-up” marks for Karsdorp’s redemption this season. He can still improve some more.

Outlook for Next Season

More of the same, Rick. Though will Dutch Cafu drive the ball more down your flank? Or the plan to leave that up to Zaniolo?

Final Grade: 5 out of 10

Bryan Cristante (As a Defender)

Spezia Calcio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.71 (112th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 0.75 (152nd)
  • Interception Rate: 1.42 (64th)
  • Clearance Rate: 3.18 (51st)
  • Blocked Balls Rate: 1.21 (80th)
  • Blocked Shots Rate: 0.38 (81st)
  • Aerial Duel Win Percentage: 57.8% (51st)

Season Summary

Cristante did not make our wildest dreams become reality this season. He was not the second coming of Yaya Toure when thrown in the thick of that rearguard action. In every category, Cristante comes out as average (though again—judging by a higher standard given we’re only looking at the league’s top 10 possession teams).

That’s definitely not bad, it’s just not bowl-you-over good either. It’s Cristante in a Roma shirt. There’s solid ground there nonetheless.

Outlook for Next Season

Cristante is 26 years old now, and his odds of landing one final primetime payday are disappearing unless he finds it in himself to specialize in some kind of headline-grabbing skill - like he once did at Atalanta. I’ve got to say though: His radar for long-range passing is beautiful, so maybe there’s the jackpot.

Final Grade: 5 out of 10 (We'll also consider Cristante in our forthcoming midfield review)

Bryan Reynolds

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats Per 90 vs. Top 10 Defensive Serie A Player Pool

  • Tackle Win Rate In Defensive Third: 0.32 (199th)
  • Dribbled-Past Rate In Defensive Third: 2.26 (11th)
  • Interception Rate: 1.61 (44th)

Season Summary

Reynolds showed signs of life when it came to cutting out the ball, and damn he looks fast when gliding up and down either flank. But, unlike Calafiori, Reynolds was shy when it came to getting stuck in to win the ball. And, unfortunately, like Calafiori, Reynolds was still often isolated and dribbled past all the same.

A lethal combo of ineffective defensive performance for a guy who only joined in January and couldn’t honestly be expected to make an impact on Roma’s season anyway.

Outlook for Next Season

He can look on the bright side and see he’s far from the only one yet to enjoy a full pre-season with Roma (Ibanez is in that same boat, it’s easy to forget). So there’s an opening there for Reynolds to put his cards on the table, but he has considerable ground to make up if he’s going to be a competitive player in Italy.

Final Grade: 1 out of 10

Final Thoughts on the Backline

Looking at it from a year-on-year perspective as a team, Roma’s defensive performance declined from Fonseca’s first season. They conceded more danger (xGA 50.33—7th-best defense in the league in this category for 20/21) than they did twelve months prior and conceded more goals too (55 goals against—9th-best defense in the league).

The nuanced version of that picture is that Roma’s plan (whether intentional or deliberately forced upon them by opponents) to reign supreme over the ball in their own defensive third simply was not effective. It did not win them enough games, it did not get them where they aimed to be in the table, and it even brought out some grades on likable, responsible Roma names here that deserved better for their overall effort given to the club.

Roma’s young reserves definitely have acres to bridge, especially if they’re seriously going to compete with the Giallorossi’s more experienced players. The exception to prove that “rule” is Roger Ibañez, who stands as the young phenom within Roma’s defense.