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With AFCON Looming, Roma Needs an Ndicka Replacement

We explore some of the latest rumors as Tiago Pinto attempts to strengthen Roma’s backline, including a pair of former Juventus defenders.

AS Roma v SSC Napoli - Serie A TIM Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

As we’ve discussed plenty on Across the Romaverse in recent weeks, Roma’s biggest need on the winter mercato will be center-back. With the Africa Cup of Nations looming in just a few weeks' time and Evan Ndicka set to join the Ivory Coast at his nation’s continental tournament, the Giallorossi will lose one of their most reliable players from the first half of the season. And with Chris Smalling still yet to return to full training and Max Kumbulla just returning to full participation from ACL surgery, José Mourinho will be left with just two “healthy” center backs: Gianluca Mancini and Diego Llorente.

Healthy in quotes because Mancini isn’t even truly healthy at the moment as he grits through an ankle issue for the good of his side. His grinta drew the praise of the Curve Sud during Saturday’s big win over Napoli.

With all that in mind, Roma will be in the market for at least one center-back and possibly a second to fill out Mourinho’s roster for the second half of the season. It’ll be five months chock full of fixtures, as the Giallorossi look to challenge for a Champions League place in the league and make another run at a Europa League crown. And with Ndicka potentially gone for a month and question marks around just how much, if anything, Smalling and Kumbulla will provide, Tiago Pinto has been hard at work to shore up Roma’s backline.

So, let’s take a look at some of the latest rumors of just who could arrive.

The Strange Bedfellow: Leonardo Bonucci

Italy v Switzerland - UEFA Euro 2020: Group A Photo by Alberto Lingria - Pool/Getty Images

As Bren reported last week, veteran Italian center-back Leonardo Bonucci has been linked with a return to Serie A after an underwhelming half-season in Germany. Bonucci moved to Union Berlin on a free transfer this summer but has played just 420 minutes for one of the most disappointing sides in Europe.

The latest reports state that the move for Bonucci is imminent as negotiations are down to the final details regarding bonuses and salary. Those discussions are thought to be a formality and shouldn’t hold the move up.

ForzaRoma.it says that a move for Bonucci wouldn't necessarily exclude a move for another central defender, especially if Leonardo Spinazzola (and his salary) is moved. Keep an eye out in the coming days, as Roma would love to get Bonucci in ASAP to have him integrated into the side when Ndicka departs in the first week of January.

The Serie A Veteran: Merih Demiral

Atalanta v Roma - Serie A Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Aside from Bonucci, another name with Serie A experience popped up yesterday, and it’s another former Juventus man. Like Bonucci, Merih Demiral left Juventus at the end of last season to join Saudi Arabian side Ah-Ahli. However, things haven’t gone swimmingly for the Turkish center-back as he’s struggled physically this season with the Saudi side, playing just 420 minutes in six appearances.

No details of a move have been outlined, but unlike Bonucci, who is 36, Demiral is still only 25 years old. Nevertheless, the physical issues would have to raise some alarm bells for a Roma side looking to find cover for a position short on bodies.

The Ex-Mourinho Pupil: Trevoh Chalobah

AC Milan v Chelsea FC: Group E - UEFA Champions League Photo by Nderim Kaceli/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Another name that has sprung up in recent days is that of wantaway Chelsea defender Trevoh Chalobah. The 24-year-old Chalobah has yet to play this season under new manager Mauricio Pochettino after starting a combined 35 EPL matches over the last two seasons.

According to The Mirror, Mourinho is keen on a reunion with Chalobah, and Roma has already opened talks with the London club to feel out the terms of a potential deal for Chalobah, which would likely be a short-term loan. However, if Mourinho does return next season, it would potentially become a loan with an option to buy, a strategy that has worked well with Roma's last few Premiership rejects.

Aside from that trio, a few other names have been running through the rumor mill in recent days, including Nino of Fluminese, Jakob Kiwior of Arsenal, and Thiro Kherer of West Ham.

So, which defender would you prefer?