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Anguissa, Zakaria, & Berge Among Defensive Midfield Options for Roma

With the transfer season winding down, we offer six solutions for Roma's defensive midfield issues.

Millwall v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jacques Feeney/Getty Images

In his pre-match press conference ahead of yesterday's victory over Fiorentina, it didn't take long for the conversation to steer towards the transfer market. After their purchases of Eldor Shomurodov and Tammy Abraham, a duo that could cost the Giallorossi €65 million when all is said and done, Roma stands as the fifth-busiest club on the European transfer market, in terms of money spent.

On the club's transfer plans and ambitions, Mourinho preached patience with his latest project:

I said that our transfer activity has been reactive, based on emerging needs. Because of that we haven’t signed a few players that were part of my initial vision, my analysis for what could be important to balance out the squad...However, when a club has reacted as fantastically as we have to the problems that the market have thrown up for us, I do not have any right to apply any sort of pressure.

While Mourinho is loathed to apply any public pressure on club GM Tiago Pinto, if you connect the dots between his press conferences and this team selections through Roma's first two competitive matches, there is one remaining need that has to be addressed: defensive midfield.

Roma has two ostensible defensive midfielders under contract—Amadou Diawara and Steven Nzonzi—but neither player seems like a viable solution for Mourinho during his first year at the helm. And with the club unable to pry Granit Xhaka from Arsenal, there remains a considerable hole in defensive midfield.

Mourinho wrapped up that section of his presser by admitting he's content working with what he has, but if Roma does pull off any last-minute transfers, you can bet your bottom dollar a defensive midfielder will be at the top of the list.

With that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the top candidates as well as a few lesser-known names that could contribute straight away.

Denis Zakaria

Switzerland v Spain - UEFA Euro 2020: Quarter-final Photo by Joosep Martinson - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Age: 24 | Club: Borussia Monchengladbach | Market Value: €30 Million

We discussed the 24-year-old midfielder a few weeks ago, but in sum, Zakaria is an intriguing prospect for Roma's midfield. Standing 6’3”, Zakaria brings exceptional size to the position and offers a unique blend of attacking and passing proficiency to go along with his stout defensive profile.

Over the past year, Zakaria has performed incredibly well in a variety of offensive and defensive areas, ranking in the 75th percentile or higher in a host of categories including passing completion (in all areas of the pitch), dribbles completed, dribblers tackled, interceptions and shot-creating actions, among others.

He's not the finished product just yet, but his physical gifts and his penchant for dribbling past defenders (while also not being dribbled past himself) could make him an idle disciple for José Mourinho, one who can, in time, actually contribute in all phases of midfield play.

Teun Koopmeiners

Europa League Play-offs”Training session AZ Alkmaar” Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

Age: 23 | Club: AZ Alkmaar | Market Value: €23

Another name we've featured throughout this summer, Teun Koopmeiners could resurface in Roma's late-summer pursuit of midfield reinforcements. A slightly more attack-tinged defensive midfielder, Koopmeiners is a passing and playmaking machine, racking up 27 goals and seven assists over the past two full Eredivisie seasons.

Koopmeiners may not be quite as skilled as Zakaria in terms of direct one-v-one defensive duels, but across Europe's five major leagues he still ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in tackles in the middle third, shots blocked, clearances, and, perhaps most importantly, successful pressures.

On top of all that, Koopmeiners is a gifted passer, ranking among Europe's best in terms of long passes, progressive passing distance, passes into the penalty area, crosses into the penalty area, and goal-creating actions.

In this light, he's not a wrecking ball on the order of an in-his-prime Daniele De Rossi, but he's a smart and intuitive defensive midfielder who just so happens to possess upper echelon passing and playmaking traits (for a defensive mid).

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

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Age: 25 | Club: Fulham | Market Value: €25 Million

A 25-year-old Cameroonian midfielder now stuck in the English Championship, Anguissa has a wealth of experience from his days with Marseille, Villareal, and now Fulham. While Anguissa won't offer much help on the scoreboard, he is every bit a defensive midfielder, landing among Europe's best midfielders in tackles (in all three sections of the pitch), % of dribblers tackled, pressures, and interceptions.

He's not the flashiest name on this list, but if you're looking for a guy to stimy opposing attacks before they break through to Roma's backline, look no further. And that may actually be selling him a bit short; with a better manager and supporting cast (like he'd find with Roma), he could easily become one of the better defensive midfielders on the continent.

Sander Berge

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Age: 23 | Club: Sheffield United | Market Value: €18 million

It wasn't that long ago that Sander Berge was one of the darlings of the European transfer market, and while his star may have dimmed a bit, he's still just 23-years-old and retains the same potential that made him so enticing when he was looking to leave Genk two years ago.

Standing a massive 6’4” in the air, Berge is more of a combination player (a bit of a number eight and a number six) than he is a pure defensive midfielder, but if dribbling and progression are your things, you'll love this massive Norwegian. Over the past year, Berge has been prolific with the ball at his feet, ranking in the 88th percentile or higher in dribbles completed and attempted, players dribbled past and nutmegs. He fared pretty well in progressive areas as well, ranking in the 75th percentile or higher in total carried distance, progressive carried distance, carries into the final third, and carries into the penalty area. He's also a decent crosser of the ball, to boot.

In a sense, he's Strootman light. He's not a one-man bulwark meant to shield the defense, but the kid can recycle possession and get the ball up the pitch with the best of them.

Thomas Delaney

Czech Republic v Denmark - UEFA Euro 2020: Quarter-final Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Age: 29 | Club: Dortmund | Market Value: €15 Million

Another Roma rumor mill repeat offender, what Thomas Delaney lacks in excitement, he more than makes up for with steady defensive play. Tackles, % of dribblers tackled, successful pressures, blocks, shots blocked, interceptions, clearances, fouls drawn, aerials won—you name it and Delaney ranks among the best defensive midfielders in Europe's major leagues.

Delaney won't move the needle, nor will he generate any viral social media content, but he's perhaps the most ready-made solution on this list. Drop him right in front of Roger Ibañez and Gianluca Mancini and enjoy the show. That combination could produce some ‘85 Bears level of suffocation.

Wilmar Barrios

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Age: 27 | Club: Zenit St. Petersburg | Market Value: €18 Million

While it may seem like we plucked this name out of left field, Barrios was briefly linked to Roma in 2019 while he was still with Boca Juniors. Cut from a similar cloth to Delaney, Barrios’ profile just screams defensive midfielder.

While he plays outside of a major league, Barrios offers a similar skillset to Delaney: he just knows how to mix it up in midfield, ranking among the best defensive midfielders across Europe in most major defensive categories. Barrios fared particularly well in blocks (both passes and shots), tackles, pressures, and even passes received and fouls drawn.

He may not be the most exciting addition, but Barrios is an active and effective defensive midfielder, one who can keep the ball moving upfield while also alleviating pressure on the defense.

Roma can certainly survive with some combination of Jordan Veretout, Bryan Cristante, Gonzalo Villar, and Amadou Diawara at the back of the midfield, but bringing in a pure defensive midfielder could ease a lot of José Mourinho's concerns. Roma may have failed in their pursuit of Granit Xhaka, but the names on this list are more than suitable second options.

Poll

Among these options, who would be the best fit for Roma?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Denis Zakaria
    (511 votes)
  • 19%
    Teun Koopmeiners
    (195 votes)
  • 10%
    Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa
    (104 votes)
  • 7%
    Sander Berge
    (76 votes)
  • 8%
    Thomas Delaney
    (89 votes)
  • 2%
    Wilmar Barrios
    (29 votes)
1004 votes total Vote Now