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Roma Season Preview: The Midfield

With a few new additions (and one surprising subtraction), José Mourinho's midfield will look awfully different this season. But can Lorenzo Pellegrini push this group to the next level?

Toulouse FC v AS Roma - Friendly Match Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Roma is no stranger to last-minute changes. Heck, one of the best midfielders the club has seen over the past 10-15 years, Miralem Pjanic, was a deadline-day addition in 2011, so this summer's delayed transfer market isn't without precedent. But this—losing one key midfielder (Nemanja Matic) and adding two complementary pieces (Leandro Pardes and Renato Sanches) less than a week before opening day—is extreme, even by Roma's already skewed standards.

Time will tell if those additions actually change the function of José Mourinho's midfield, but with so many new faces brought aboard in such short order, we may be in for a bumpy ride in the first few weeks of the new season.

There is undoubtedly enough class in Roma's midfield to weather the storm, but there is no shortage of question marks, so let's look at the men in the middle of the park.

The Midfielders

Lorenzo Pellegrini, Edoardo Bove, Houssem Aouar, Bryan Cristante, Riccardo Pagano, Renato Sanches*, Leandro Paredes*

*Rumored signing, not yet official

Key Player: Lorenzo Pellegrini

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

Whenever discussing Pellegrini, it's important to note that, as the club captain and local boy, he receives more praise and scorn than he deserves. When Roma plays well, he's an all-conquering hero, but when they sputter, he's the devil's spawn. The truth, as always, rests somewhere in between.

But there's no escaping it: as Pellegrini goes, so goes Roma's midfield. Admittedly, some of the club's additions this summer should lessen the burden on the 27-year-old club captain, but as the maestro of Mourinho's midfield, his presence looms large.

Truth be told, Pellegrini's first two seasons under Mourinho were fairly similar. From expected goals to expected assists to expected goal chain to key passes, his year-over-year numbers were mostly within fractions of one another. Apart from passes played into the final third and penalty area, his statistical performance during his first two years with Mourinho has been relatively steady.

At 27, Pellegrini is rounding into top form, so we know what to expect minimally from him. The question is simply how much more does he have to give? Is there a more decisive and aggressive player ready to burst out?

Apart from Bryan Cristante, no Roma midfielder sees more of the ball than Pellegrini (and no player on the squad took more touches in the attacking third), so his impact will be felt—good, bad, or otherwise.

Player Under Pressure: Houssem Aouar

Toulouse FC v AS Roma - Friendly Match Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Honestly, this could just as easily be Pellegrini for all the reasons we described. And while it may be unfair to heap pressure on a newly signed player, as a guy they reportedly chased for well over a year, Aouar won't have much time to settle in.

But, if the early glimpses we caught this summer are any indication, he won't falter under the brighter lights in Rome. Whether he's playing wider than Pellegrini or even slightly behind him, Aouar will be counted upon to lighten the load on Roma's captain, working in concert with Pellegrini and Paulo Dybala to advance the ball through the final third, feeding whoever ends up being Roma's top striker.

His exact role will develop throughout the season, but as a secondary playmaker behind Pellegrini and Dybala, Aouar will be counted on this year...heavily.

The X-Factor: Renato Sanches

The ink isn't even dry on his contract yet, but the 26-year-old now-former PSG midfielder could be the glue that holds Roma's midfield together. If there were a way to add further emphasis beyond the bold/italic combo, we'd use it because this move does come with enormous caveats.

After all, we're talking about a kid who has never played more than 2,000 league minutes for any of the five clubs for which he's played. But, man, oh man, he can play. From defense to attack and everything in between, there isn't much Sanches can't do on a football pitch. Speed, balance, strength, close control, tactical intelligence. He's got it all, and if he can stay healthy, he could have a Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan-like impact on the Giallorossi's midfield.

If not, well, he'll limp back to PSG next summer. No harm, no foul for Roma, but this is a gamble worth taking because he can be transformative.