Yesterday in part one of our season review round table, most of the discussion focused on expectations vs. reality. Armed with Paulo Dybala, Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Andrea Belotti up front, Roma faced enormous expectations to begin the 2022-2023 season, only to come crashing back down to earth after that vaunted attack began to wilt as the season wore on and the injuries piled up.
In the second part of our discussion, our team covers some challenging topics, including Abraham and Belotti's struggles, possible summer additions, the Nicolo Zaniolo transfer, and even a debate about which player, Edoardo Bove or Nicola Zalewski, possesses a more promising future.
Before we jump into that, we led off part two by singing Paulo Dybala's praises. Enjoy!
8. Paulo Dybala. Discuss.
JonAS: Not much to discuss for me. Paulo oozes class and is the best player in a Roma shirt since Totti retired. If only we could extract some DNA from Matic’s legs and inject it into Dybala to create the perfect footballer.
Bren: It still doesn’t feel real, but as the season wore on, I kind of got upset with Roma for the surrounding cast he was left to play with. It makes zero sense to sign a player of his quality and leave him on an island. He needs help… a lot of it.
But man alive, he is a joy to watch. So graceful, so precise, so clever.
ssciavillo: No doubt the second most talented player in Rome since I’ve followed the club for almost 20 seasons. He’s a world-class player who elevated the entire team’s performance when he was on the pitch. If only he had the legs to play 33-35 league matches and he probably could’ve willed Roma to top 4. I just hope Pinto can find some more talent to surround him with and truly make the most of his time in Rome.
Jimmy: Watching Dybala in a Roma kit is the most enjoyable thing I’ve seen in the world of football since watching Francesco Totti in a Roma kit. It’s as simple as that.
9. Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a minute: Did Roma make a mistake selling Nicolo Zaniolo this winter?
JonAS: The situation became a bit poisonous between the club and Zaniolo. It was probably best for both of them. My only regret is that we didn’t sell him for more money to a club like Tottenham. Who knows, if he stayed, perhaps he would score in his second European final, and Roma would be crowned EL champions. Or Nico would blow up all ties to Roma, fight with fans, and play zero minutes until June. We’ll never know. Anyway, Nico got to celebrate another trophy, this time in Turkey, so I guess that’s nice for him.
Bren: Unequivocally, they did. I’m not even entirely sure what the true cause of the rift was, but it couldn’t have been that bad, could it? But the real mistake here was not finding a suitable and/or similar player to take his spot, at least not one who could’ve helped immediately; Solbakken wasn’t ready yet.
ssciavillo: Yes and no. The mistake was selling him in the way they did for so little money in the middle of the season. But if they had kept him around, who knows how it would’ve damaged a strong locker room. I wish things would’ve turned out differently for Nico but for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him back in Serie A in the not-too-distant future.
JonAS: October 22, 2023, Roma 0 Juventus 1, Zaniolo goal in minute 88. You read it here first.
Jimmy: Jonas, stop. I agree with Steve, though; the mistake is selling him for such a low transfer fee, but he needed to move on for the benefit of himself and the club. He’ll be back in a top-flight league relatively soon; I just hope it’s the Premier League, because I don’t want to start rooting against him in a Serie A context.
10. What the hell happened with Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti this season?
JonAS: Roma happened. If Ronaldo, Haaland, or Lewandowski join us, they’ll never reach 10 goals a season too. It’s just how this club rolls. Expect the unexpected. But history showed us a change of formation could be what the doctor ordered.
At one point I would have loved to see a plain and simple 4-3-1-2 formation with these guys. Back to basics. The good old Brighi, Perrotta, Pizarro, Vucinic days. Something like Pellegrini-Matic-Wijnaldum with Cristante in the hole behind Dybala and one of Abraham or Belotti, why not?
ssciavillo: I mean can we really explain it any differently than Roma Happened. These are two guys who have proven that they can score in Serie A yet they combined for 8 goals. It’s almost impossible for a striker with Belotti’s track record not to score at least once. It really is mind-boggling.
Bren: I was surprised to see that, for the most part, Tammy’s stats this season were in line with his performance last year, except for actual goals, of course. So I’m not sure what we’d chalk that up to other than bad luck, perhaps? They say that American football is a game of inches, but so is actual football—change the trajectory slightly on any of his misses or post-hitting shots, and he’s likely well into double figures. This makes his ACL tear all the more depressing; he was likely to bounce back next season.
As far as Belotti goes…oof, who knows? I never imagined he’d be this poor. Maybe it was adjusting to a new team and a new role that got him down. Maybe the pressure of playing in Rome got to him. We’ll never know, but I’m glad he’s got two more years here–I’m confident he’ll become a useful and effective second banana.
Jimmy: I have no real answer here. Somebody clearly cursed their shooting boots, or maybe this is the karmic price we pay for managing to sign Paulo Dybala.
11. Going along with that, with Tammy likely to miss substantial time due to his recent knee injury and rumors already swirling, give us a few possible replacements for Abraham.
JonAS: Well, we’re too late now to persuade Messi and Benzema. In a more realistic scenario, Eldor will return but for how long? Nzola from Spezia and Dia from Salernitana are interesting moves and fairly cheap. Arnautovic from Bologna could be a ‘Matic in attack’ kind of deal. And for the umpteenth time, just give me one of Muriel or Zapata from Atalanta, how many times must I preach these words in Chiesa to be heard?
ssciavillo: In a dream world these Mauro Icardi rumors materialize and Roma has him leading the line in rotation with Belotti. He would feast with Dybala and Pellegrini feeding him.
However, with his contract extension triggered for two more seasons, I’d expect Belotti to be leading the line looking to prove he’s still got it. That’s the more likely scenario in my opinion.
If that’s the case then Roma is going to have to scrape the bargain bin for his backup. Maybe they could look to the relegated sides for someone like Manolo Gabbiadini, Simone Verdi, or David Okereke who have plenty of Serie A experience. If Spezia goes down on Saturday then Nzola might be worth a crack coming off a 13-goal campaign. In the end, I could even see it being a combo of Eldor and Solbakken.
JonAS: If we end up with an Eldor-Ola frontline, then we might as well aim for 2024-2025 instead.
Bren: I’m digging these Mauro Icardi rumors, that’s for sure! He obviously has baggage, but I have to imagine he’s dying to prove himself in a top European league again, so perhaps he’d have renewed focus–22 goals in Turkey is a good start.
Mbala Nzola intrigues me as well, though I fear he may not excel in a backup role if Belotti assumes the lion’s share of the minutes.
Jimmy: Yeah, my guess is that the Icardi signing happens. I’m neither ecstatic nor miserable about that move, I just sense its inevitability. If he doesn’t impress, well, there are some exciting forward prospects with the Primavera squad, right?
12. Paulo Dybala was Roma’s MVP, but what other player(s) deserve a special shout-out?
JonAS: Smalling for sure. Thank God he isn’t showing signs of slowing down. He even looks like he’s getting better! And I feel Mancini doesn’t get enough praise as he’s slowly becoming Mourinho’s own version of Materazzi. SES has impressed me too, especially in the final weeks of the season.
ssciavillo: If we’re looking at this as an MVP runner up then it has to be Smalling. He was Roma’s only player to make many Serie A teams of the season for a reason. He continues to be a rock at the back for Mourinho and I’m glad he signed an extension. I like Jonas’ shout on SES too. He was a consummate professional. He didn’t get a lot of minutes early on but stepped on with some big goals when he was called on. He’s another goal who needs to come back next season on a new deal.
Bren: Yeah, you’ll get no arguments out of me about Smalling, but I’m gonna toss my vote to Bryan Cristante. I think this will turn out to be the pivotal year of his career, one where he finally tuned out the noise and really began to hone his craft. He’ll always have his detractors, but for me, he’s becoming an indispensable piece of the puzzle.
Jimmy: Chris Smalling, Bryan Cristante, and Lorenzo Pellegrini all deserve some love if you ask me. One player doesn’t turn a club into a winning side; it requires a mentality and consistent performances from defenders, midfielders, creative types, and forwards. Roma’s forwards fell incredibly short of providing anything consistently good this season, but the season wasn’t a total loss because of Dybala, Pellegrini, Cristante, and Smalling. Let’s hope they have another season of this kind of form in them, and that the forwards wake up from their slumber.
13. Nicola Zalewski vs. Edoardo Bove: Who was the better U-23 player this year? Who has a brighter future?
JonAS: I vote for Bove in both aspects. I’ve never been a fan of Zalewski, to be honest. I’m sure he’s a great kid but whenever I watch a Roma game and he plays, he doesn’t impress me. I admit he does earn another chance playing further up the pitch as a winger, not this hybrid makeshift wingback thingy he’s doing now. But I won’t be sad if he leaves this Summer.
But Bove, damn he really improved this year. I like his dynamism, aggression, and stamina. He reminds me of a young De Rossi. A pit bull in midfield. No chance he gets loaned out next season, he simply needs to stay with the first team. And with Mourinho, he has the perfect mentor. Could he be next in a long line of Roman captains?
ssciavillo: It’s hard to make a true judgment on Zalewski because he’s been played out of position all season. But, I really like Bove. He works like a dog in the midfield and looks like a guy who can be a real box-to-box presence. We know how hard it’s been to find quality midfielders so I think he has a bright future with the club. His emergence has probably made Davide Frattesi no longer a priority even though I would have loved seeing both Primavera products as part of the midfield rotation of the future.
Bren: If you asked me this back in August, it wouldn’t have even been a question: Zalewski on both accounts. But now, I think Bove’s future is brighter. He plays a more cerebral position and is already showing the kind of decision-making skills that will make him a lock in the starting lineup, perhaps as soon as next season. Zalewski will likely be the flashier player, but there’s already a lot of substance to Bove’s game. He’s a bit of Daniele and a bit of Radja with a dash of Gattuso to round out the palate.
JonAS: Gattusso is a great comparison. Perhaps not the most technical player out there but one with a lot of heart, fire, and passion.
Jimmy: I’m happy that both of them look to have promising futures, but criticizing Zalewski for not looking excellent as a right-back smacks of the somewhat unfair criticism Alessandro Florenzi received during his time in Rome. He’s shown a determination to fight for the shirt, and he’s shown an ability to at least be passable in several positions. Put him in as a forward (or at least on the left!) and I think he can be an exciting part of Roma’s future. Bove has been excellent as well, and I’m optimistic that he’ll succeed in the long term, but he’s just not flashy enough for me to say he’s got a brighter future.
14. And finally, give us cause for optimism next season. Will we see the Champions League again?
JonAS: Of course and sooner than you think! Lazio qualified no? So next season at the Olimpico we’ll just have to watch our neighb... *sounds of duct tape and mumbling in the background*
ssciavillo: Hope rings eternal.
Jimmy: We’ve got Paulo Dybala and José Mourinho. We’ve got Adidas kits, and that Digitalbits sponsor is gone. We were a couple penalty kicks away from winning the Europa League. There’s plenty to be hopeful for about Roma moving forward, and anyone who tells you differently enjoys misery just a little bit too much.
Bren: Damn, Jonas. That’s fucking cold-blooded! Causes for optimism: simple, it looks like we’ll have Mourinho and Dybala back. Aouar and Ndicka appear all but formalities. And if they can ship Ibañez out to satisfy the FFP demands by June 30th and perhaps sign Tielemans on a free and add a Mauro Icardi with something to prove, we may be onto something.
We weren’t that far off this season, playing with one hand practically tied behind our back, and with a few shrewd (read: cost-effective) moves, we’re right back in the mix.
JonAS: Well, I’ve certainly heard that last sentence somewhere before.
Bren: I literally cannot think of a better way to end this. Never change, Jonas!
And with that, our 2022-2023 season review series comes to an end. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you once again for the incredible support you showed us this season, it means a great deal to us all.
Now, onto silly season!