If there’s one area in the capital of Rome that looks like a construction site lately, it’s AS Roma’s midfield. This summer, Roma said goodbye to Mady Camara, Nemanja Matic, Benjamin Tahirovic, Ebrima Darboe, and Georginio Wijnaldum while the likes of Renato Sanches, Houssem Aouar and Leandro Paredes arrived and Riccardo Pagano got promoted.
Yes, an iron defense wins championships, and your attack has the most important job of all in football: score goals. But midfield? Well, let’s just say they have an influence on everything and everybody on the field. They can make the life of your defenders and strikers a lot easier or exactly the opposite: a living hell.
The past season Roma’s midfield was not on par with the rest. While Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling, and Roger Ibanez held the fort at the back and Paulo Dybala (and to some extent Stephan El Shaarawy) created a bit of magic up front, the midfield got overrun, looked clueless, and showed no grinta. But that, my dear friends, is about to change.
This summer, we lost quite a few midfielders. Some were (with all due respect) expendable, like Camara, Tahirovic, or Darboe. Others just had bad luck (Wijnaldum), while there was one player whose departure really felt like a loss (Matic). Pinto revamped the midfield and searched for cheap, younger alternatives. Low-risk, high-reward type of deals.
Both Aouar and Sanches are familiar names by now, but they were once hailed as Europe’s finest talents and out of Roma’s league. Pagano looks like another Primavera gem, so that’s always a plus in my book. However, I’m actually most excited and hyped by the return of Leandro Paredes.
The Argentinian only had one true breakout season at Roma before he was sold to Zenit in 2017. In the excellent 2016-2017 campaign with Spalletti at the helm, Roma ended second (good old times, huh?) with 87 points. 22-year-old Leandro blossomed alongside heavyweights Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan, and Kevin Strootman. Back then, we already knew the kid was special, but damn, there was some big competition in midfield during those days.
After Zenit (okay but cold), PSG (never a starter), and a short stint at Juve (meh, black & white doesn’t suit him), Paredes is back to revive his career and make us dream like it’s 2017 again.
He’s not your typical Matic replacement, though. Neither is particularly fast or blessed with pace, but Nemanja is more defensive-minded, taller, and a force of nature. Paredes may play at the DM position, but he’s more of a playmaker than a true DM like Matic, DDR, Keita, or Emerson. While Matic often used his calmness and physique as a solution, Paredes will try to regain possession, pick out a teammate, and move the ball asap. Hopefully, we’ll see some more fluid football in midfield with Paredes as our ‘regista’.
While Matic surely was one of the bright spots last season, he’s already 35. We’ll never know if he could have repeated his trick for one more year. It was always a gamble. Paredes, on the other hand, was bought for less than €4 million and is six years younger. He is a recent World Cup winner with a lot of gas left in the tank out to prove his critics wrong. And he’s familiar with the club, city, and league.
I must admit that my excitement about Paredes' transfer is partly due to nostalgic feelings. The 2016-2017 season was truly great, and back then, I hoped that Leandro would stay in Rome for a few more years instead of choosing Russian oil money. Sadly, we can't change the past.
But it seems as if the wait is finally over, and Paredes is back in town to help Roma in their quest for the Champions League. And Leandro could cement his place in Mourinho's eleven quickly. He’s got more experience than Bove, while he’s more suited as DM in Mou’s lineup than Cristante due to his technical abilities, passing, and decision-making.
Leandro has signed a contract until 2025. If it's a match made in heaven part two, Paredes won't make the same mistake again and will stay for the long haul.
We’ve waited long enough. Paredes’ conquest of paradise starts now.