No football team is perfect. Even clubs like PSG, Manchester City, and Barcelona, squads that can bankroll nearly any purchase they want (even when they're seemingly on the brink of insolvency), have their blind spots. Of course, when you can scoop up Erling Haaland or Robert Lewandowski on a whim, those blind spots matter less. Roma's blind spot was right-back for much of the past decade-plus, where they trotted out names as varied as Marco Motta and Maicon, to wildly different results.
However, now that Tiago Pinto and José Mourinho have solved that riddle with the daring duo of Rick Karsdorp and Zeki Celik, the club can shift their focus to their new bugaboo: defensive midfield. Following Daniele De Rossi's retirement in 2019, Bryan Cristante has been awkwardly cast as the club's last line of defense in midfield. While his long-range passing plays well in that role, his defensive deficiencies are difficult to mask. Far too many times, we've seen Cristante overrun (or overwhelmed) by quick, vertical attacks through the midfield, which frequently puts Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling, and Roger Ibañez in a bind.
Cristante certainly brings value to the pitch, but our dear old Bryan isn't exactly a bulwark back there. With the club ramping up their Champions League chase by signing Celik, Nemanja Matic, and Paulo Dybala, that leak threatens to sink the entire ship. Matic will plug that hole for a while, but the club needs a real, long-term solution at the position; a player who can help cover the gaps in the midfield and quickly transition between defense and attack.
We've seen a host of defensive midfielders linked to the Giallorossi over the past several months, including our old friend Leandro Paredes, free agents like Florian Grillitch, and, just this week, PSG's want-away Dutch defensive midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. Ginio would be a fine addition, but there is a better, younger, cheaper solution on the market: Arsenal's Lucas Torreira.
After arriving in Italy in 2014 from his native Uruguay, Torreira spent the first few years of his career bouncing back and forth between Pescara and Sampdoria, but the tide turned for Torreira in 2016. Getting his first taste of top-flight football, the then 21-year-old excelled with Sampdoria, making 35 starts and eclipsing the 3,000-minute mark for the Blucerchiati. He leveled up the following year, scoring four goals and providing one assist in 36 league appearances, paving the way for a €28 million move to Arsenal in the summer of 2018.
While he had a decent debut season with the Gunners, life in London hasn't been kind to Torriera, who spent the last two seasons on loan with Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina, respectively. However, despite his struggles at the Emirates, Torreira, and not Wijnaldum, is the man Mourinho should pursue.
Having won domestic titles in Holland, France, and England, as well as the ‘18-’19 Champions League with Liverpool, where he made the UCL Team of the Season, Wijnaldum has had a more impressive career—there's no doubt about that. But this is 2022, and Roma needs to pay for current production, not past achievements.
Six years younger and with bags of Serie A experience under his belt, Torreira is the more suitable mark for Mourinho and Pinto. But beyond such superficial matters, Torreira is the better statistical and tactical play for the Giallorossi.
Over the past year, Torreira betters his Duch counterpart in nearly every statistical category that matters to the position: progressive passing, long-passing, carries, progressive distance, balls into the final third, key passes, tackles attempted, tackles won, pressures applied, successful pressures—you get the picture.
Torreira played roughly 500 more minutes than Wijnaldum last season, and admittedly the comparisons flatten a bit when we consider per 90-minute figures, but, all things being equal, give me the younger player with Serie A experience, lower salary, and shorter contract, which could potentially drop his transfer price to roughly €10 million.
Mourinho can immediately drop Torreira into his starting lineup, and the club wouldn't miss a beat. None of this suggests that Wijnaldum would be a bad signing (far from it), but Torreira offers nearly everything Wijnaldum does at a lower cost and with far fewer miles on his legs. Torreira has the defensive acumen, close control, low center of gravity, and motor to thrive in Roma’s midfield in 2022 and beyond.