Yesterday, in the first installment of our annual summer roundtable preview series, we tackled a range of topics, including Inter Milan as arguably the league’s most improved team, Monza's surprisingly good summer, the chances of Fiorentina sneaking into the top-four, and whether or not Tammy Abraham has what it takes to claim the scoring title. While those were all intriguing questions, today, we're narrowing the focus a bit and focusing on the team closest to our hearts: Roma.
After a summer transfer market that can only be described as euphoric, expectations in the City of Seven Hills are sky high, with many fans dreaming of the Giallorossi hoisting the Scudetto for the first time in over 20 years. With shiny new toys like Paulo Dybala and Georginio Wijnaldum already delighting fans at the Stadio Olimpico, those visions may not be as far-fetched as they seem, but as we all know, nothing in Roma is ever easy.
To assess the state of the Giallorossi ahead of the new season, the CdT crew assembled to debate Roma's title chances and much more. Enjoy, and as always, please share your thoughts below.
There’s no point in burying the lede: Is this it? Is this the year Roma finally wins their fourth Scudetto?
JonAS: *%&! talking about an entrance. I think we should stow away the weed and face reality. We are firmly a top 4 contender now, and that should be our priority. Both Milan clubs and Juve still have the advantage. Which doesn’t mean we can’t beat them face to face in a duel. I believe Mourinho can finally exercise the ‘loser mentality’ we had vs big teams. But in a competition of 38 rounds? Difficult. This isn’t a bad thing; the more pressure we put on Mourinho and co, the bigger our disappointment will be in the end if it fails. Take it one step at a time, and we’ll talk Scudetto again in April.
ssciavillo: There’s no way that I’d go out and say that Roma are by any means among the favorites to win this year’s Scudetto. Remember, despite the UECL trophy, this team finished 6th behind Lazio last season. I agree that, at minimum, the Milan clubs are a step above and possibly Juve as well, depending on the rest of the mercato. However, Roma’s roster looks much improved overall, Mourinho has begun to crack away at the defeatist mentality that we’ve had for too long, and the league looks to be about as wide open as last season, which all add to the optimism surrounding the club.
There are definitely some parallels to Fabio Capello’s second season when Roma won its last Scudetto. If things break right for Roma out of the gate during a fairly soft opening month schedule (minus the Juve match), then maybe the squad can build some momentum and hang around through the winter. If that happens, then I’ll start to believe that a title is possible this quickly in the Friedkin era.
Bren: I’ll never stow away the weed, Jonas. But if not now, when? Tiago Pinto has done a masterful job improving the squad this summer, and really, I’m not sure what else he could have done given Roma’s resources. He made several shrewd purchases, taking advantage of the free-agent market and other clubs’ redundant assets. Roma doesn’t yet have the wherewithal to spend 70M on true top-shelf talent, so unless the club finds a magical new revenue stream, this may be as good as it gets for the Giallorossi.
So, I’ll say it again: If not now, when? It’ll be a Cinderella story, and many things will have to fall in their favor, but I think it’s entirely doable.
Jimmy Miotto: This is the first season in a long time where I wouldn’t be utterly shocked if Roma won the Scudetto. Do I think it’s the most likely occurrence? No. But I believe it can happen now, which is such a lovely feeling. I would definitely agree that I’m getting strong Capello vibes from second-season José, but again... we have a ways to go before I start popping the champagne (or prosecco, or whatever we’ll be drinking at CdT headquarters when the fourth Scudetto finally happens).
BSanti: This year? Not happening. Next year though? I like our chances.
If so, what must go right for that to happen?
ssciavillo: I hinted at part of it in my last answer: start strong and build up that point total early. The schedule is fairly favorable in terms of ⅘ matches to start the season against weaker opponents and no grueling back-to-back-to-backs against other big clubs like last season. That means the team needs more wins against direct competition. Also, health will be important. Guys like Paulo Dybala and Chris Smalling, who are so vital, will have to stay healthy throughout despite some injury issues in their past. Of course, it often comes down to luck, though, because you can’t control how other teams will perform.
JonAS: Yeah, avoiding injuries to guys like Smalling, Tammy and Pellegrini will be vital. We have a very interesting schedule in Serie A indeed, so Roma could find itself comfortably in the top 4 by New Year. Then it’s money time, and Mourinho will need to rotate smart and keep the key players fresh until May. Like I said before if Roma is still in the race by March-April, then we can talk about a possible Scudetto push. A lot depends on how our European campaign will unfold. Will Mourinho ignore Serie A for Europa League glory? Or will he put CL qualification before anything else?
Bren: Simple. Protect Dybala at all costs. He’s the new straw that stirs the drink. Without a healthy La Joya, Roma’s title chances, slim though they might be, are effectively nil. Going along with that, we’d need another 15 to 20 goals from Tammy in the league, maybe 10 or so from Belotti, and for Wijnaldum and Matic to play like they’re 28-years-old again.
Pinto can increase these odds with another defender and an additional midfielder before the window closes, but either way, Roma needs a clean bill of health all season long. And, of course, for some teams above them to have a down year, but that goes without saying.
Jimmy: Yup, Roma’s Scudetto hopes go through Paulo Dybala and Nicolò Zaniolo, plain and simple. Players need to stay healthy, players need to avoid red cards, and the referees need to give Zaniolo a break.
BSanto: Roma needs to capitalize on a soft schedule to start and hit the ground running when the season resumes following the World Cup. A drop in form by their title rivals and the Scudetto should be there for the taking for Roma.
What, if anything, is the squad currently lacking that may prevent them from finishing on top of the table?
ssciavillo: I think with a three-man backline being employed, then one more quality center back– preferably a left-footer who’s not mistake-prone–would be a big boost. Right now, if Roma has two center backs injured, suspended, or a combination, then a full back likely fills in. Not an ideal scenario long-term.
JonAS: We still don’t have that top DM like Kante, Kimmich, or Casemiro. Yes, Matic is 34, and I bet he will do the job in Serie A. However, if we’re talking about that final piece of the puzzle that turns us from contenders to favorites, then maybe we should have gone all-in for a guy like Zakaria or Xhaka. I see Wijnaldum more as an ‘8’, no 6. At Liverpool, he also had Fabinho doing the dirty work next to him.
Bren: I don’t know why (well, I do), but I think Marcel Sabitzer would put this team over the top. I’ve become completely obsessed with imagining how Mourinho could deploy him. The dude can play, like, eight positions.
Outside of that, I fear the hard hitters in our midfield, GW, and Matic, are a bit long in the tooth as you suggest, Jonas. They’ll hold for now, but those niggling little muscle issues will surely pop up come winter. I’m not as concerned as many in the Romaverse with our CB depth, mostly because I think Kumbulla was impressive down the stretch and seems poised to continue that growth. I suppose we could also add depth at wings to the list, but that can be solved if Mourinho would just trust El Shaarawy.
Jimmy: One more midfielder is definitely a necessity, and although I don’t buy the desperate need for another center-back, I think one would certainly be helpful if Roma are anticipating a Scudetto push and a run for the Europa League title. My heart still wants a Davide Frattesi signing at all costs, but I know that Marcel Sabitzer is Bren’s white whale, so if that signing happened, I’d be on board too.
BSanti: Has to be that true DM that we’ve spoken at length about. I’ve warmed up to the idea of Matic in that role since he’s arrived, but I think a younger and more dynamic profile in that position could have truly taken Roma over the top along with the other additions to the team.
While it’s not official just yet, Andrea Belotti is–depending on your POV–an incredibly intriguing or puzzling addition. What are the best and worst case scenarios for Belotti during his first year with the club?
ssciavillo: I was rooting for this move before Tammy came last season, so I’m thrilled that he can now be the “vice Tammy”. This is a coup. In the best case, Belotti provides a spark off the bench, limits the drop-off when Tammy is rested, and even plays some matches in tandem with the Englishman. In the end, he scores 10+ Serie A goals and 15+ in all comps. Worst case, he’s hampered by injury like last season and ends up scoring less than 10 goals.
JonAS: I’m a BBF. Big Belotti Fan. I have desperately wanted him to join Roma since 2012 or so. The best case is he’s scoring goals at almost every chance he gets when replacing Tammy, easily reaching the 15-goal mark in all competitions. He knows Tammy is clearly no1, but Mourinho wants him badly, so I don’t think he’ll waste a lot of time on the bench. He’s motivated as hell, and our fans will love his grinta. Don’t forget the amazing chemistry with Dybala too. The worst case is… injuries. Tadaaa! One ACL injury could blow it all up so let’s hope the ancestors of the burial ground at Trigoria are nice to him.
Bren: Damn, Jonas. We don’t use the A-word in here! I have this crazy feeling that both Belotti and Tammy could crack double-digit goals (Tammy obviously will), but you know what I mean: There will be plenty of minutes to go around, and Belotti being fed by Pellegrini and Dybala could easily push The Rooster past 12 league goals–he was pretty efficient last year, so it's not that far-fetched.
The worst case? He’s a handsomely paid backup striker who gets nearly €3 million for, like, seven goals. And even if that does come to pass, I have faith he’d rebound in the second year, particularly if Abraham departs. I have zero problems with this move. ZERO.
Jimmy: I’m cautious about expecting Belotti to find success at a bigger club; the difference between scoring for a Torino or a Palermo and scoring for a Roma is massive, even if you’re only looking at just how much smaller clubs are willing to park the bus. Still, I think the best-case scenario for Belotti is what everyone else is describing — he becomes Roma’s most successful backup striker since Vincenzo Montella, hits double digits in all competitions, and takes a bit of the burden off of Tammy Abraham, Paulo Dybala, and Nicolò Zaniolo when they need rest. The worst case is always injuries, which... knock on wood, but Mourinho’s Roma has largely avoided some of the frustrating injuries that pervaded Roma during the Pallotta Era. So I’m optimistic on the whole.
BSanti: Best case scenario is that he performs at a high enough level that we as a fanbase feel comfortable with the idea of Belotti being the main guy if/when Tammy returns to England. Worst case? We’re here a year from now, calling the experiment Shomurodov 2.0.
Now that Mourinho has the depth and top-shelf talent he requested last year, what must The Special One do differently in 2022?
ssciavillo: Who am I to tell Mourinho what to do? But if anything, I would suggest utilizing the added depth to give some players a little more rest during a jam-packed schedule, especially Tammy, Pellegrini, and Karsdorp, who were run ragged last season.
JonAS: Hey man, we are the CDT crew, dammit, our opinion counts and must be heard! But you’re right; José is working with this team each and every day and will know what to do. He’s been in this business for more than 20 years. Maybe this time, he needs to rotate more instead of running Abraham and Karsdorp into the ground. But with Belotti and Celik now at our disposal, that won’t be a problem. I guess we’ll see a different Mourinho this year, one who’s not afraid to swap 5-6 players between matches.
Bren: We need more punch in the attack, but that’ll obviously solve itself with the additions of Dybala and Belotti. I worry that Mourinho’s intermittent “anti-football” could tire the club out while also sapping them of motivation. Tammy, Dybala, Belotti, Pellegrini, Zaniolo. These fellas like to run, so I hope Mourinho isn’t quick to take the ball away from them by parking the bus or ceding possession after establishing a lead—but that definitely wasn't the case in last weekend's friendly, so I may be worrying over nothing.
Jimmy: I agree that players like Abraham, Pellegrini, Karsdorp, and Dybala will need rest throughout the season, and finally having real depth will allow for them to play when it matters and rest when it doesn’t. I think Mourinho will continue to split his focus between the European cup and Serie A; the silver star would be nice, but winning EL after winning the inaugural UECL would be a statement.
BSanti: Rotation seems to be the consensus here, so let’s get crazy and say more spicy press conferences. Not saying Mourinho has gone soft by any means, but who doesn’t love a good soundbite?
Depth is a wonderful thing, but give us one or two positional battles Roma fans should monitor as the season progresses.
ssciavillo: I’m looking at RWB and CM. I think Roma finally has two strong options at RB with the addition of Celik. It’ll be interesting to see if Karsdorp remains the undisputed #1, Celik overtakes him, or they get a fairly even split based on the strengths and weaknesses of certain opponents. In the midfield, I’m looking at Cristante and Matic. I think Wijnaldum and Cristante are probably the number one pairing at this point, but Cristante has many detractors among the fanbase. I’ll be curious to see how much playing time one of Mourinho’s old favorites, Matic, can take away from one of his new favorites, Cristante.
JonAS: I’ll pick the other side of the field: LWB/LB. Mourinho unleashed Zalewski last season while Vina was relegated to the bench. But now that Spinazzola is back, what will Mourinho’s choice be? After all, this is the first time José has Leonardo available in a loooong time. Perhaps it’s too risky to start Spinazzola in the first 3 to 4 games of the season, but I reckon Mourinho is eager to use him asap. And if Vina stays, maybe he can turn into some kind of LCB? And who starts in a 4-2-3-1? Looking forward to how this situation evolves.
Bren: Good shouts, both of you. I think the LWB debate is kind of settled by default. Spinazzola isn’t quite 100% yet (as far as we know), so I think Zalewski will see a lot of minutes early in the season while Spinazzala ramps up. But I’m really intrigued about who will win out on the other side: Karsdorp or Celik? There isn’t a lot that separates those two on the pitch, so Karsdorp will need to sleep with one eye open, so to speak.
Jimmy: I’m very interested to see who becomes the default starter in the “second striker” role behind Abraham. Dybala and Zaniolo are both otherworldly talents who have had struggles with injuries and below-standard form — will one of them catch fire and seal their starter’s spot early? Will Mourinho shift his tactics to let them both play? How do you keep two superstars happy? These are good problems for Roma to have, but you have to think about that problem early so it doesn’t become a crisis later.
BSanti: I’m curious to see how the midfield rotation shakes out, assuming Mourinho utilizes Dybala in an attacking midfielder role behind Tammy instead of being the second striker. With Gini Wijnaldum on board as well, could we see a scenario in which Pellegrini is relegated to the bench in the biggest of matches? Kidding, sort of…
Which player stands to lose the most playing time thanks to that increased depth?
JonAS: I have a feeling Karsdorp will lose the battle with Celik. The slightest mistake will make Mourinho turn to the Turk, while last season Ricky hardly had competition at right back. Tough situation for Slick Rick but better for Roma. Another ‘victim’ is Cristante, who will also see a lot fewer minutes now that Matic and Wijnaldum arrived, both asked specifically by José. Luckily for Bryan, he can also play CB when called upon.
ssciavillo: I agree that it’ll be Karsdorp too. Celik will give Mourinho options, something he didn’t have at RWB last season. So, through no fault of Rick’s and likely to his benefit in the long run, his minutes will take a dip.
Bren: Just to be different, I’ll say Cristante. I love his passing and his ability to move the ball up the pitch, but, depending on how rigid Mourinho wants his midfield to be, his lack of defensive grit could cost him minutes to either GW or Matic or an as-yet-to-be acquired midfielder. That’s not to say he won’t play, but if Mourinho goes for a forward-heavy formation that then requires more defensively-capable midfielders, he may be the odd man out.
Jimmy: Gotta go with Bryan here, simply because GW, Matic, and Frattesi/Sabitzer will all need minutes. He’s going to be a part of the midfield rotation for sure, but he won’t be a permanent fixture of the starting eleven anymore; add in the potential for Edoardo Bove to shine this season, and there are definitely reasons for Roma’s Canadian-Italian to be a little pressed about a minutes decline this season.
BSanti: I hinted at it above, but it could very well be Pellegrini. Abraham and Zaniolo up top, Dybala in behind, with Wijnaldum and Cristante/Matic in a pivot; see what I’m getting at here? As Roma’s captain and on the strength of last season, Pellegrini is a sure-fire starter at the moment. But that may change should his form falter for an extended period.
Can Tammy possibly top his debut season with the club? If not, what’s the bare minimum we should expect?
ssciavillo: I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can and will top last season’s production (17 league goals and 27 in all comps). Tammy had to acclimate to a new league, language, and city last season. That acclimation period is long behind him, and he’s now surrounded by even more talented players that should be feeding him to set up some juicy chances. Spinazzola, Dybala, Belotti, and Wijnaldum are being added to Pellegrini and Zaniolo, with Mkhitaryan being the only real creative loss. Massive upgrades for a top striker to play off of. Throw in a little more good luck with the woodwork, and Tammy could be in the Golden Boot race.
JonAS: I have literally nothing more to add to ssciavillo’s perfect answer. Nice one, chap. Over to you, Bren.
Bren: Agreed, great answers, Steven. I think the key to Tammy topping last season’s performance rests in the health/fitness of Dybala (and Pellegrini) and the chemistry he strikes up with them. And I think that adding Belotti will actually help Tammy. There were plenty of matches last year where Tammy was laboring after taking a hit to his ankle—always a concern for lanky players like him—so having a capable complement to replace him should ensure he’s fitter than last season.
I think the floor for Abraham, in terms of league goals, is probably in the 12-15 range, but he’s certainly capable of going for 20+ if everything falls in place.
Jimmy: Yup. Props to Steve; he’s on the money.
BSanti: As long as the dreaded goal post doesn’t rear its ugly head again, Tammy is a lock to top last season.
No one expected Nicola Zalewski to burst on the scene last year (at least not so soon). Is there another U-23 prospect that could make some noise with the first team this year?
JonAS: A lot of possible answers. Volpato? No, wait, Keramitsis. After a grave Mancini injury in February 2023, Keramitsis steps up and becomes the next Manolas. Then he’ll score a header in the 4-0 derby win in March and will be sold to Liverpool in July 2023 for €35 million (sorry, couldn’t resist).
ssciavillo: I think Volpato has tons of talent, but his way is blocked by a loaded Roma attack. Therefore, I’m going with Edoardo Bove. Unless Mourinho regularly plays Pellegrini deep in mid (which I don’t think he will), then the MF rotation consists of Cristante, Matic, and Wijnaldum. So, excluding Roma making a move for another MF, then there should be some time for Bove to make an impact.
Bren: Man, Jonas. You gotta stop tempting fate like that! Bove is a great answer, too (and probably the most likely), but I’ll take that same logic and apply it to Faticanti. He’s the youngest kid on our U-23 countdown, but he was a mainstay for the Primavera last season, so he’s proven nearly everything he can at that level. It would take some disappointing performances and injuries from the names ahead of him on the org chart, but it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where he gets a look in the spring.
Jimmy: It’s gonna be Bove this season—I think Volpato’s breakout season in Rome is likely to be 23/24, and there’s a far clearer path to minutes for Bove than for Volpato. Still, I’m loving how there are so many exciting young prospects in and around the senior squad right now, and I’m adoring that Mourinho seems eager to give a bunch of them chances.
BSanti: Bove—he’s primed to take that next step.
Give us Roma’s top five scorers with goal predictions.
JonAS: All competitions combined:
Abraham (29) - Dybala (18) - Belotti (15) - Pellegrini (12) - Zaniolo (9)
ssciavillo: All comps:
Abraham (32)- Dybala (16)- Belotti (15)- Pellegrini (10)- Zaniolo (10)
Bren: Oh, we’re going all comps!?
Abraham (35)-Dybala (22)-Belotti (17)-Zaniolo (12)-Pellegrini (10)
Jimmy: I guess we’re going all comps! Abraham (33) - Dybala (20) - Zaniolo (17) - Pellegrini (10) - Belotti (10)
BSanti: Abraham (39) - Dybala (25) - Zaniolo (20) - Pellegrini (8) - Belotti (8)
Regardless of what you said at the beginning, where will Roma really finish this season?
ssciavillo: I’m saying top 3 finish and a return to the UCL for 2023-24.
JonAS: They simply have to end in the top 4 after all the hard work of Pinto and the Friedkins. Anything else is a failure. I predict an easy road to fourth place, but the difference with the top 3 will be very small; max 2 points separates us from Milan in third.
Bren: If not now, when? Fuck it; they’re winning it all. Someone get the Colosseum ready.
Jimmy: I’ll have what Bren’s having. (My guess is second place, but I’d love to be wrong.)
BSanti: I’m sticking with third. But the Scudetto is certainly on the horizon.
We've had our say, and now it's your turn. Can Tammy top last season's performance? Is the midfield strong enough? Will Roma take the title?