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Roma Season Preview: The Midfielders

Although it might not be complete just yet, Roma’s overhauled midfield is starting to look like one of the league’s best.

AS Roma Unveil New Signing Georginio Wijnaldum Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

When I wrote about Roma’s midfield as part of our 2021-2022 wrap-up, I titled the article “The Ecstasy and the Agony.” By giving the article that title, I was making an inane reference to something that made its cultural impact decades before I was born (as per usual), but I was also being completely truthful about the highs and the lows that that midfield provided Romanisti. 2021-2022 was a season where Lorenzo Pellegrini blossomed into one of the best midfielders in Italy, if not Europe; it was also a season where the Jordan Veretout - Bryan Cristante pairing went off the rails, becoming one of the weakest parts of Roma’s starting eleven.

With those weaknesses in mind, and because the Giallorossi had been trying to make a big midfield move last summer to no avail, it’s no surprise that as we approach the beginning of the 2022-2023 season, José Mourinho’s midfield options have been retooled and upgraded. Gone are the likes of Gonzalo Villar and Jordan Veretout; Amadou Diawara is gone from everything except Roma’s bottom line, and exciting new options in midfield like Georginio Wijnaldum and Nemanja Matić present the titillating possibility that Roma may actually be able to rotate and juggle multiple competitions effectively. Add in the potential rise of Edoardo Bove and the still-rumored hunt for Davide Frattesi, and a part of the squad that was equal parts agony and ecstasy last season just might be 100% ecstasy.

The Midfielders

  • Lorenzo Pellegrini
  • Georginio Wijnaldum
  • Bryan Cristante
  • Nemanja Matić
  • Edoardo Bove
  • Nicolo Zaniolo (technically listed as a midfielder)

Key Player: Lorenzo Pellegrini

Tottenham Hotspur v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The recent signing of Gini Wijnaldum may have added sheer star power to Roma’s midfield, but make no mistake, Lolo is still the key player in the middle of the pitch for the Giallorossi (and maybe period). Although his form cooled off in the second half of last season, Pellegrini’s nuclear-hot start showed us just how good the 26-year-old Italian international can be, and for Roma to succeed this season, José Mourinho will continue to need that level of play from his captain.

There’s reason to be hopeful about this happening, starting with Roma signing Nemanja Matić and Gini Wijnaldum. By bringing in players who really fit with Mourinho’s tactics, Pellegrini will feel more comfortable trusting the midfield pivot behind him as he acts as the link between midfield and attacking play; it’s a lot easier to trust Wijnaldum, Matić, and Cristante to have things under control than Veretout, Villar, and Cristante.

If things go well, I would go as far as to suggest that Pellegrini will be flirting with a 10-and-10 season right alongside Paulo Dybala; if Roma’s aspirations for a Europa League victory and a top-four finish are fulfilled, it will happen explicitly because of excellent play from the likes of Pellegrini.

Player Under Pressure: Bryan Cristante

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

While nobody on Roma’s squad is likely to be disappointed about signing players like Nemanja Matić and Gini Wijnaldum, there’s no doubt that those signings (and the potential Davide Frattesi signing that is still rumored to be in the works) are going to put more pressure on Bryan Cristante. Compared to the vast majority of Romanisti, I’m a Cristante apologist; he’s clearly one of the most beloved members of the locker room, every manager he’s worked with has made him a key part of their midfield rotation, and he’s shown a willingness to adapt his style of play depending on what his club requires of him.

This is a player who hit double-digit goals while at Atalanta, and while I, for one, would love to see that more attacking version of Cristante again, I think we should all appreciate that Cristante’s lack of goals with Roma isn’t likely because he lost the ability to score; instead, his role has shifted drastically, and playing with the likes of Veretout has made it seem like every fault in the midfield was his and his alone.

Still, at age 27, Cristante is reaching the peak of his career, and you can’t imagine that the Italy international will want to stick around Trigoria if he finds himself riding the pine for most of the next season. That makes the next few months crucial for both him and the club; if Mourinho can rotate Cristante into the starting eleven with regularity, and if Cristante shows that he deserves to be a part of the rotation, I would expect everyone’s favorite Canadian-Italian to stick with the Giallorossi for at least a while longer. If this summer’s signings put him in the dog house, though, then there’s every chance that he won’t be long for the Stadio Olimpico.

The X-Factor: Edoardo Bove

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Any of Roma’s new midfield signings could justifiably be called an X Factor for the club this season; if Matić and Wijnaldum can rediscover the best of their form under José Mourinho, it automatically pushes the Giallorossi into contention for a top-four finish, and who knows what else. Yet I’m going to tag Edoardo Bove as the biggest X Factor for the midfield this season simply because he has the potential to go from impact sub to next Roman star over the course of the 2022/2023 season.

I don’t say that lightly; of course, Roma’s midfield is packed with players who are stars in their own right, and it will take a whole lot of work for Bove to get consistent minutes, let alone a consistent part of the starting eleven. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why Tiago Pinto has rejected overtures from a wide variety of Serie A clubs for Bove’s services, and there’s a reason why every couple of weeks a rumor drops without fail stating that Bove is a key part of Mourinho’s long-term plans in the midfield.

What we’ve seen from Bove to date has been quite exciting; he’s looked like he’s belonged at the senior level from the first moment he stepped on a Serie A pitch. If he can take the next step this season and transition from exciting prospect to day-in, day-out Serie A midfielder, it will do wonders for Roma’s ability to go deep in multiple competitions while also helping to keep Roma’s wage bill manageable. No pressure, Edoardo, but also: we’re counting on you.

A Year From Now, We’ll Say...

Compared to last season, the Giallorossi’s midfield was not the weak spot in the squad. Once the hierarchy of Mourinho’s new-look midfield was established, there were few hitches other than injury concerns, and even when those concerns popped up, Edoardo Bove established himself as a future starter for the Giallorossi through smart and measured play. The only question heading into the ‘23-’24 season is how to split minutes, which is a great problem to have.