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Roma Season Preview: The Full-Backs

Roma's full-backs may be lacking hype this season, but that doesn't mean they're any less important to the club's success. But who will stand out and who must improve?

SC Farense v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The full-back position has long been an area of concern for Roma, especially on the right side. We’ve seen the Giallorossi go through a number of players at the position since Maicon was marauding down the right flank almost a decade ago. So, you have to forgive us for feeling like the position was finally one of strength heading into last season when José Mourinho seemed to be well covered down both wings.

After all, Nicola Zalewski and Rick Karsdorp were coming off a 2021-2022 season where they harried opposing fullbacks down the flanks in Mourinho’s 3-5-2. Meanwhile, one of the top left-backs in the world, Leonardo Spinazzola, was fully recovered from the Achilles injury that caused him to miss almost an entire season. Throw in the newly signed Zeki Çelik, who added quality to the right, as well as Matias Viña to provide extra depth, and it looked like Roma had one of the best full-back crops in the league.

Fast-forward to the end of the season, and the final results weren’t so great. Spinazzola didn’t hit the stride that we saw pre-injury. Zalewski looked more out of place than the previous season in his make-shift position. Karsdorp found his way into Mourinho’s doghouse. Çelik was underwhelming in his first season in the capital. And Viña was jettisoned to Bournemouth on loan by January.

This season, the outlook on the position feels less positive than it did last summer. However, that doesn’t mean it should all be doom and gloom. So, let’s take a closer look at the men who will be patrolling the wings of Roma’s 3-5-2.

The Full-Backs

  • Leonardo Spinazzola
  • Rasmus Kristensen
  • Zeki Çelik
  • Rick Karsdorp
  • Nicola Zalewski*

*Technically listed as a midfielder but should see significant time at full-back.

Key Player: Leonardo Spinazzola

Partizani Tirana v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

This summer, speculation was rife about Spinazzola’s future. With the 30-year-old Italian in the last year of his contract and no extension in sight, it appeared as if he might be sold off when reports of a Saudi offer came through. However, those rumors have died down, and Spina remains Roma’s key man on the wing.

After missing all but a handful of matches in 2021-2022, Spina returned to full-time action last season. Nevertheless, it took some time to get back to speed. That wasn’t a surprise considering he’s a player that relies on his pace and carrying ability down the left flank. And while he may never again be the player that was one of the top players at Euro 2020 in the summer of 2021, he still remains a very effective player in his day.

Over the last calendar year, Spina’s 5.50 progressive carries per 90 ranked him in the 99th percentile among full-backs in Europe’s top five leagues. And as a wingback in the 3-5-2, Spina has free rein to maraud down Roma’s left when the Giallorossi are in possession on the counterattack. Spinazzola can give opposing fullbacks headaches when he’s running at them, and his ability to push the flank at speed could be key in creating scoring chances for an attack that struggled last season.

If Spinazzola is at his best, then Roma is that much more dangerous on the break.

Player Under Pressure: Zeki Çelik

Partizani Tirana v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Çelik was brought in from Lille last summer to help solidify Roma’s right flank. The Turk was signed as a more defensive change-up to Rick Karsdrop’s more attacking style. It was thought that Çelik’s play style would also allow Mourinho to at least occasionally switch things up to a back four. But that didn’t really happen.

Now, after playing just over 1,500 league minutes in his maiden season in the Italian capital, Çelik will have to prove that he was worth his €7 million transfer a season ago. And he’ll be under even more pressure to do it with the arrival of Rasmus Kristensen from Leeds United on loan.

Çelik’s starting spot seemed assured but no longer appears that way, as Kristensen has started four of five preseason friendlies. If Çelik is second choice, he’ll have to make the most of the opportunities presented to him, or this could be his last season with Roma.

The X-Factor: Rasmus Kristensen

Partizani Tirana v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The aforementioned Kristensen was linked with Roma last summer before he eventually found his way to Leeds from RB Salzburg, while Roma purchased Çelik from Lille. The 26-year-old Dane arrived this summer after Leeds was relegated. However, in spite of being part of a poor defensive side, his overall defensive stats stack up pretty well.

His tackles and interceptions per 90 are both greater than the 90th percentile across Europe’s big five leagues, while blocks, clearances, and aerials won are all greater than the 80th percentile. If he can put up those kinds of defensive numbers in a more stable side like Roma, Kristensen could be a steadying force on Roma’s right side. The fact that he can chip in goals will also be welcome, as he contributed seven goals and four assists in his breakout campaign for Salzburg in 2021-2022.

A Year From Now, We’ll Say...

This group ended up being better than expected. Spinazzola had a bounce-back campaign just in time to earn himself a new deal. Meanwhile, Kristensen played more like his Salzburg days than his Leeds days. Çelik found his feet and settled in after a shaky first season. Zalewski again mostly played out of position but provided an offensive spark down the flanks. And despite being transfer listed with no takers, Karsdorp found a role in the side, adding some much-needed depth.