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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Cautiously Optimistic Edition

It was another dramatic summer in the Eternal City, but did Roma do enough to put themselves back in the Champions League conversation?

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

As we do at the dawn of every season, the Chiesa di Totti crew assembled to discuss the summer transfer market and the season ahead. Over the past 15 years, we've seen summers where Roma spent lavishly, buying nearly any player they desired, entering the season as sure-fire Champions League candidates, if not title Serie A contenders outright. Even if the Giallorossi weren't front runners, they were always in the conversation, adding just enough talent to ensure that Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi didn't have to do all the heavy lifting themselves.

And sure, there were times when the club entered a new phase, forcing us to adjust our expectations accordingly, but I'm not sure we've seen a summer quite like this one. After entering last season with high expectations, Roma came crashing back to earth after their vaunted attack sputtered for, well, pretty much the entire season. But the real fatal blow came in the season's final match when Tammy Abraham tore his ACL... 10 minutes before the final whistle.

We may never know if the club intended to sell him, but as the biggest cash cow on the roster, he would have solved Roma's FFP woes in one shot, potentially freeing Tiago Pinto to spend more money earlier in the summer. As it was, the club added a couple of free agents early in the summer before being frustrated with their inability to land coveted transfer targets Davide Frattesi, Gianluca Scamacca, and Marcos Leonardo.

All of this is to say we have no idea what to expect from Roma this season. Pinto's early work on the market could be enough to keep them in the top-four hunt, but his inability to close key deals could also drag the Giallorossi down.

But that won't stop us from making predictions. As always, please give us your take in the comment section!

Roma started the transfer market with a bang and went through a fallow period before finally signing Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches earlier this week. Tiago Pinto took a lot of heat this summer, but was it justified?

ssciavillo: Yes and no. I do think that some of what transpired is out of his control because of Roma's financial constraints under their FFP agreement. However, part of me thinks that he has had some big misses on the mercato, particularly with Davide Frattesi and Gianluca Scamacca. These are two Romans that expressed their desire to return to the capital and instead will be playing for direct rivals because PInto couldn't get those deals done. When you see the way teams have structured deals as loans with buy obligations with Sassuolo in the past, it makes you wonder why Pinto couldn't do something similar.

Jimmy Miotto: I'm a strong no here. People want Roma to be PSG or Real Madrid when we're quite patently not on their financial level, even without a Financial Fair Play agreement; add in FFP, and I don't see how Pinto could've done much better this summer. He brought in some of the best free agents available in Evan Ndicka and Houssem Aouar, and he exploited PSG's overstocking of good players and general poor management to sign Paredes and Renato Sanches on club-friendly deals.

As Roma Unveil New Signing Renato Sanches Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

My biggest quibble with Pinto is how he's handled signing Roma's new strikers: I wish we had just gone after Marcos Leonardo sooner (before Chelsea had a chance to sign Deivid Washington), and I also wish he had looked a bit harder for a veteran striker presence than Duvan Zapata. Beyond the striker position, though, I'd say that this squad has gotten better for very low fees, and that should be appreciated.

Bren: I think it's somewhere in the middle. He obviously can't do anything about the club's finances and was likely working with a pretty strict edict from the owners, but I think he should shoulder some blame for the pace of the market. Granted, we're viewing this from the outside, but if he's willing to add several million more to his Marcos Leonardo offer now, where was that three weeks ago?

There's gamesmanship in any transfer negotiation, but at some point, you have to shit or get off the pot. And the delays we've seen with nearly every transfer target this summer can't solely be blamed on the club's meager budget.

What I'm more curious about is the working relationship between these three parties. Was Mourinho really Pinto's choice, or did the Friedkins pounce on a big name that unexpectedly became available? The Scamacca/Morata melodrama seemed to suggest that they weren't on the same page. And if that's the case, that might explain the stop-and-start nature of the mercato.

I think we'll get a better gauge of Pinto's team-building capabilities next summer and beyond, particularly if the club has more money to play with. I get the feeling that the past 18 months have just been a holding pattern where he's biting the austerity bullet, waiting for easier days ahead.

JonAS: You have to shit or get off the pot. Damn, Bren, that might just become my next favorite saying. And it sums up this mercato, really. I understand the Paredes deal was a quick counter-move for Matic leaving but the Sanches one? What's the difference between this deal in July and mid-August? Why wait so long? Frattesi, Scamacca, Morata, Zapata. This summer is filled with cases like those.

Usually, we had just one long winding transfer soap like Mahrez or Dzeko before. Now literally every target Pinto chased turned into one exhausting war of attrition. Pinto knew he had less cash to spend from the start, why even bother then? Just go for free agents or sell a big fish in time, so at least you HAVE money to spend. But c'mon man, at least make sure all the boxes are ticked by the start of August so the team has time to gell.

In his defense, though, Ndicka and Aouar were 2 great, smart deals, so yeah, I guess we saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of Pinto.

Let's talk about those midfield signings. Of Sanches, Paredes, and Houssem Aouar, which stands to make the most significant impact this season?

ssciavillo: In the end, even though I was upset with not getting Frattesi, I think Pinto did a great job of upgrading the midfield without spending much in transfer fees. In terms of the biggest impact, I think it's between Aouar and Sanches, but I'm going to lean toward Aouar for two reasons.

Even though Sanches is more highly regarded and probably more talented, for one, Aouar has been with the squad the whole summer, so he should be more ready to have an impact right away. Sanches will likely need the first few match days to get up to speed. Secondly, Sanches' injury history isn't the greatest. So, even though we're all hoping he'll have a healthy season, there are no guarantees.

Jimmy Miotto: So much of this hinges on Renato Sanches' ability to stay healthy; if he's able to play in 3/4 of Roma's matches this season, I'd say that he stands to make the most significant impact, as when healthy, I'd say he's the second-most talented player in the squad behind Paulo Dybala.

Given that I can't 100% trust Renato Sanches to stay healthy, though, I'll agree with Steve and choose Aouar here. He's got the time with the squad, he's looked mighty impressive in training camp and friendlies, and there's a certain amount of hunger that's very clear to see in his play. This is a player who was highly touted for most of his career, yet because of the spats he had with his manager and club management back at Lyon, he never became the star many thought he was predestined to become.

The best case scenario for Roma is that he becomes that star in Rome, and given the question marks around some of Roma's midfield depth, if he stays healthy, he'll certainly have the chance to prove himself on the pitch time and time again.

Bren: I was going to say Sanches, but since you both went in that direction, I'll make a case for Paredes. So far, Roma has not replaced Roger Ibañez, and given that the injury bug always bites Roma, I'm assuming Bryan Cristante will spend some time in the back line. If that's the case, I think Paredes' passing and distribution from deep could be pivotal for Roma.

Plus, of the three new midfielders, he's the only one with experience in Italy and Rome. That being said, I am really excited to see what Aouar can do for this attack.

JonAS: I'm not entirely convinced by Sanches. Yet. I was going to say Aouar thanks to his preseason, but then Paredes arrived, and I just felt warm and fuzzy inside. I don't know why, just a hunch. I think Leo will be the best midfield deal this season, not even from Roma but the entire Serie A. Laugh all you can. We'll talk again in May.

As we write this, Roma has yet to find a striker to pair with Andrea Belotti while Tammy Abraham recovers from injury. How concerned should Roma fans be? And, assuming they're unable to find suitable replacements, are there any tactical moves Mourinho can make to compensate for the club's dearth of strikers?

ssciavillo: I do believe at least one striker arrives before the end of the mercato. But, if it doesn't happen, then Romanisti should be very concerned. That would leave us with only Belotti as a number nine until at least 2024 rolls around. And as much as I think Belotti will bounce back (see my piece from a few weeks ago), you can't go into a new season with just one healthy striker. It leaves Roma an injury away from having to really improvise.

Tactically speaking, even if Belotti stays healthy, he can't play every match. So, I think you would see some matches with a Dybala False 9 like we saw a couple of times last season. Otherwise, Ola Solbakken probably gets a few runs at striker. Maybe you pair SES and Dybala in a "light" tandem. I'm sure Mourinho could find stopgap solutions, but it would be far from ideal. Roma NEEDS another striker.

Jimmy: Paulo Dybala false nine, anyone? Golbakken to the rescue? More seriously, it should be concerning that Roma hasn't found at least one other striker to pair with Andrea Belotti this close to the start of the season; yes, Tammy Abraham's ACL tear was rotten luck, but you can't get Champions League football as an apology for bad luck with injuries. I'm still moderately hopeful that another striker will come in sooner rather than later, and who knows, maybe at this point, Marcos Leonardo will become a much-needed January reinforcement. Beyond crossing my fingers, though, I'm hoping that Mourinho makes the tactical changes Steve's describing if Belotti goes down. I don't really know what else he could do, to be honest with you.

Bren: Hmm, you bring up an interesting point about Marcos in January, but I'll point to last year's January signing. There's just something I really like about Ola Solbakken. Physically speaking, he's got it all. He's tall, fast, powerful, and difficult to dispossess, and while he's ostensibly a winger, he looks like a guy that can bag 10 to 15 goals if need be.

If they don't land another striker soon, I think it will be a collective approach, with Solbakken and El Shaarawy shouldering more of the scoring burden with Dybala operating in the hole, as you all suggest.

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

JonAS: Not too concerned, actually. A striker will arrive, be it Zapata, Marcos, or Luca Toni on crutches. I think the two openers vs Salernitana and Hellas have a big say in all of this. Just think of it. If our first two games were Lazio and Inter, for example, then I'm sure Zapata or even Morata would already be here.

Roma's start looks rather easy, so I guess the management said 'fuck it' and gambled on Solbakken/Belotti/SES to score some goals by the time September arrives. In fact, Roma has a great history with formation, including a false nine, so why not opt for a 4-2-3-1 with SES or Dybala up front?

Roma are similarly thin at the back. With Kumbulla injured and Roger Ibañez gone, is the club running the risk of wearing out Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini?

ssciavillo: I'm less worried at center back than I am about striker because Diego Llorente can fill in anywhere along the backline and do it well from what we saw last spring. With Kumbulla still out for the foreseeable future, it would be prudent to bring in a fifth option if Roma is planning on playing three center-backs all season. But, as we know, in a pinch, Cristante can always fill in for a few matches. In my opinion, if Roma brings in another CB, I'd like to see a younger player with high upside who wouldn't cost much and can grow without much pressure.

Jimmy: I'm going to push back against the idea that Roma is thin at the back, if only because Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, Evan Ndicka, Diego Llorente, and Dimitrios Keramitsis are all in and around the squad. Beyond that, I'll remind you that the Bryan Cristante at center-back option actually worked pretty well last season, and given Roma's more stacked midfield, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get significant minutes in defense if Renato Sanches, Houssem Aouar, and Leandro Paredes all impress.

As for wearing out Smalling and Mancini, I'm more worried about Smalling due to his age. We'll see what happens there - I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm hopeful enough rotation will happen that Smalling is still helpful by the time spring 2024 rolls around.

Bren: The only thing that gives me pause on Llorente is that we've seen players hit the ground running as mid-season transfers but fail to replicate that in a full-time position. And with Smalling's age and history of minor injuries, depth could become an issue. And as much as Mourinho plays youth players, would he really trust Keramitsis in a full-time role if it came to that?

In that light, I think they will, at the very least, need another body back there. Whether it's a veteran looking for one last chance or an up-and-comer.

JonAS: Pray to the Gods Smalling remains fit. Cristante, Celik, and even Karsdorp can occupy the RCB or CB role, although it's not an ideal situation. Especially against teams like Napoli or Milan, who have fast-paced attackers. Perhaps Mou will find another Primavera gem for our defense this time. If all else fails, we have an abundance of fullbacks/wingbacks, so I won't mind a shift to a four-man defense from time to time.

Apart from the new signings, give us one or two incumbent players that may surprise fans by making the leap this season.

ssciavillo: There aren't a lot of players who you would target to take the fan base by surprise this season. But in terms of making a leap, I'm going to pick Ola Solbakken and Edoardo Bove. I think Solbakken should be much more comfortable both in his acclimation to Italy and to Mourinho's tactics by now. I think he'll grow into an important player as an impact sub and as a rotational starter. I think he gets at least five league goals this season and gives the Giallorossi another option aside from Belotti and whoever else is brought in at striker.

As for Bove, I think the surprise element is gone after last season, but I think he continues to grow into an important piece of the midfield rotation. Playing time will have to be won if all of the midfielders stay reasonably healthy, but this will push Bove to take the next step in his career, which will eventually see him as a regular starter in Roma's midfield in the not-too-distant future.

As Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Jimmy: I agree with Steve that Edoardo Bove is the obvious choice for a returning player who can make the leap next season, so I'll choose Nicola Zalewski as my other "one to watch." Zalewski had a bit of a sophomore slump last season, made all the more understandable when you realize he was played out of position from his normal slot with the Primavera and the Polish National Team.

Unfortunately, it seems likely that Zalewski will continue to be played as a left wingback, but I'm hopeful that with more time at that position under his belt, he'll be able to rediscover the excellent form that made him a standby of the starting eleven under José Mourinho in the first place.

Bren: I already said Solbakken in an earlier question, so I'm going with El Shaarawy. Now that his contract situation has been sorted, he should be less distracted, and with the club in dire need of goals, I think he's going to become a double-digit goalscorer again. He had 7 in roughly 1,500 minutes last season, so I think it's entirely possible he bags 10-12 league goals this year.

JonAS: Svilar. #bravelittlebelgium. I think this will be the season we'll finally see Mile explode. José won't be able to ignore his rise to fame and start Svilar from November all the way to June. Rui to get the scraps like Coppa Italia and a Europa League game vs Sturm Graz or Servette. And, of course, Pinto will sell Svilar next summer for €40m to please the FFP gods. Ah, the life of a Romanista.

Honorable mention: Belotti. You can't believe how much I want Andrea to succeed in Rome. I was so happy when he arrived, but last season was just, yikes. He works his ass off all the time. All he needs is a bit of luck. I think he'll surprise everyone this season. The rooster will sing again.

Prediction time: Does Rui Patricio last the entire season as Roma's starting goalkeeper?

ssciavillo: Is there any other choice? Based on what we've seen, it looks like Mourinho has full trust in Patricio and not so much in Svilar. Maybe we see Svilar get a few more games this season, but I think Rui is the man until May, for better or worse.

Jimmy: Yes, because I don't think Svilar is ever going to be Roma's starting goalkeeper. My guess is that Roma will run down Patricio's contract and then go big game hunting for a new goalkeeper next summer.

Bren: Well, yes. He'll be gone after this year, no matter what. I just think that, given the club's financial situation, they have to see what they have in Svilar this season because it would remove a massive headache next summer, freeing up precious money to be spent elsewhere. I hope he gets a handful of league starts this year.

JonAS: Well, it would be foolish of me to answer with 'yes' if you look up the previous question. So no, he won't. Rui Patrici-no

Paulo Dybala will likely lead the club in scoring again but give us a name or two who could make a run at La Joya's spot atop the club scoring chart.

AS Roma v RB Salzburg: Knockout Round Play-Off Leg Two - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

ssciavillo: It depends on who is brought in at striker over the next two weeks, but it would have to be that player or Belotti. I think a fit and healthy Belotti could lead the club in goals if Dybala is feeding him the ball like in their Palermo days. Either that or a Zapata-type who is familiar with the league and won't need a long bleeding-in period.

Jimmy: Lorenzo Pellegrini might rediscover his scoring boots (but if he beats out Dybala, I'd be worried about the club's place in the standings); similarly, I'd say Nicola Zalewski might go on a tear if his left wing-back position becomes more of a left winger position.

Bren: Give me El Shaarawy. I already said he's going to get 10-12 this year, so I can't waffle now! If he's healthy and gets a consistent role, I think Dybala will be looking his way quite a bit this year. After that, it has to be Solbakken, right?

JonAS: Belotti. With Abraham injured and our new striker still not here, Belotti's the main guy for at least the next three weeks. And I predict this 'pressure' will give him wings. One or two goals vs Salernitana, and we have liftoff. Then he can score anything between 10 and 25 goals. Especially with a new, revamped midfield including Paredes, Sanchez, Aouar, etc. He might even keep the new addition on the bench for most of the time.

Lorenzo Pellegrini, as always, spends his entire life under the microscope. What can he do to silence his doubters once and for all?

ssciavillo: Pellegrini supporters like myself are less critical of our captain, but for the Lolo haters club, he is always under the microscope. I think to silence those critics, he'll have to replicate what he did two seasons ago when he was one of the best midfielders in the league.

Jimmy: Walk on water? Turn water into wine? Raise the Marcos Leonardo deal back from the dead? There are some people who are always going to be disappointed in Lolo because he's not Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi; it's something that has plagued every Roman-born academy graduate (and Nicolò Zaniolo as well, if we're being honest) since those two hung up their boots.

I think that scoring more goals this season and winning the Europa League would help embolden his supporters a bit; winning two European competitions with Roma is something that neither Totti nor De Rossi ever did, and while getting that additional silverware for the club won't turn him into a world-beater, it will show the fans that Pellegrini is a worthwhile successor to the captaincy.

Bren: I view this from a statistical lens, and in that respect, he's hamstrung by Mourinho's tactical preferences and Roma's lack of a clinical striker. But from 2019-2022, he had three consecutive seasons with double-digit goals+assists. A return to that should quell the noise somewhat.

JonAS: Solve the war in Ukraine? Aim for the presidency in America? Stop global warming? He'll never be Totti or Daniele, but the Lorenzo of 2020-2022 deserves his place on the team, fan or not. He's got Mourinho to back him, and there's more competition in midfield this time, so it can only motivate him more.

Let's circle back to transfers for a moment. Which missed targets will the club rue the most? Are there any remaining options on the market that could push Roma out of their 6th place funk?

ssciavillo: I've said it on the pod many times. I think it has to be Scamacca. Proven goalscorers don't grow on trees, and Scamacca has all the tools to be a consistent 20-goal scorer in Serie A. If Roma struggles to score like last season and Scamacca performs to his ability at Atalanta, we'll be ruing that one for quite some time.

Jimmy: We'll see how well Scamacca does in Atalanta, but yeah, I agree that if Roma had resolved their striker problem early in the window with a Roman-born striker who wanted to come home, Romanisti would be in a far more optimistic mood right now. A lot hinges on who Tiago Pinto eventually signs; if Marcos Leonardo walks through that door and is a star from day one, that probably silences the doubts about bringing in Scamacca. If it's an underwhelming Zapata, though, or ML takes time to gel, or there's simply nobody brought in? Then Romanisti will have a right to be furious.

Italy Training Session & Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Bren: Personally, I wasn't that amped about Scamacca, so I'll say Frattesi. I like the midfield moves Pinto did make, but Frattesi is a decade-long solution. We can't say that about Paredes or Sanches. He had the talent and background to be a club legend, so I'll always wonder what if on that one.

I would have also loved to finally see Mauro Icardi in Rome this year. It felt like the right time, given how much his star has faded in recent seasons, but he was exactly the type of goal scorer this team needed this summer.

JonAS: Really? No Fabien Centonze Bren? Rueing your mistakes is typical for losers, so I say to hell with Scamacca and co. Focus on the ones who are in Rome right now and give them our blessing.

Let's say Roma fails to finish in the top four. What would a successful season for the Giallorossi look like?

ssciavillo: Without the top four, I think Roma would have to make another Europa League run and lift the trophy this time around.

Jimmy: Europa League win or bust.

Bren: Yeah, I agree with that, Jimmy. I'm not sure Roma is a top-four team, anyway. Finish 5th or 6th again, and I think the only way to take the sting out of that is reaching the finals of the EL or even the Coppa Italia. Just give me something to build on for 2024 and beyond.

JonAS: I'd like another 5-1 win vs Lazio, thank you very much. And a Coppa has been way too long, so also one of those, please.

Alright, here's the big question: Where will Roma finish this season?

ssciavillo: This is such a tough one to answer. I hate making predictions to begin with, but Serie A has been so tough to predict these last few years. I could see Roma anywhere from second to seventh, in all honesty. As we saw last season, every side has its flaws and inconsistencies. It's really about who can bounce back from their stumbles the quickest. I'll go fourth as long as another striker is brought in.

Jimmy: Third place. Book it.

Bren: 6th. I just think too much has to fall in their favor to finish in fourth place. We're pinning a lot on players like Sanches staying healthy, Belotti magically becoming the Torino Belotti again, Solbakken taking the leap, the defense staying healthy, and Patricio not faltering again.

Inter had a great summer, and so did Milan, Atalanta should be lethal in attack, Juventus has no European commitments to distract them, and Napoli, despite losing Spalletti, still has Oshimen and the other guy whose name I cannot spell, but you know who I'm talking about. The Georgian Messi.

So I think this question has as much to do with what the other clubs did than what Roma didn't.

JonAS: I think the Europa League duties will once again hurt Roma's top 4 chances in the long run and create the eternal question: Serie A or EL? And we'll falter in both, ending fifth and reaching only the quarter-finals.

Bonus Question: Who is managing the club next year?

ssciavillo: After Roma lifts the Europa League trophy and finishes top four, the Special One will be back to manage the Giallorossi in their UCL return and challenge in Serie A.

Jimmy: I'm calling my shot like Babe Ruth against the Cubs; Mourinho's gonna win the Europa League this time, sign a new contract, and help the Giallorossi make a deep Champions League run next season. I don't think all of these free agents would be signing with Roma if they didn't think Mourinho was sticking around; similarly, I think a Paulo Dybala extension, when it happens, will practically confirm a Mourinho extension is on the way.

Bren: Mourinho has only stayed with a club beyond three years once, with Chelsea, and he didn't last the entirety of that fourth season. I'll concede that he does seem more content here, but perhaps he's at the age where a National Team gig seems more comfortable.

I just don't know if we can expect him to completely change his stripes and stay longer than he normally has, so I'd lean toward someone like Thiago Motta or maybe, just maybe, Roberto De Zerbi.

JonAS: I don't see José remaining, even if we would magically win the EL. His journey in Rome is over after three years. And guess what? It's time for Pep Guardiola to finally return to his former club and take us to the next level, baby!

Alright, now it's your turn: Where will Roma finish the season? Did Tiago Pinto do enough to improve the squad? Let us know!