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Roma Winter Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Eight Questions for 2018

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With Roma, there’s always something going on.

AS Roma v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since it’s still the first week of January and the spirit of renewal and optimism remains in the air, I thought I’d assemble the crew and make a few more predictions for the coming season. In addition to the usual transfer market speculation, we touch upon which players are facing a make or break 2018, Francesco Totti’s fictional bastard son and plenty of Radja Nainggolan...

1.Give us a quick three sentence summary of what’s happened to Roma over the past several weeks. What’s led to the downturn in goals?

Bren: Two to three sentences, yikes! Oh crap, I wasted one already! In simple terms, their left-leaning attack stopped working, opponents are compacting their defense and EDF hasn’t been able to counteract that tactic yet.

Steve: The goal scoring has dried up. We continue to control possession but we’re lacking the creativity to break down defenses and get quality shots on goal.

Sam: I think Roma is reverting to the mean from playing a 4-3-3 without the appropriate players. The similarities with Rudi-ball are too many and we seem to be on the wrong side of the football Gods lately. I don’t think we are in too bad of a state right now, just not playing as well as should be.

Brandon: Well, since the tactical side of the issue has been covered I’d point toward the mental side of things. Complacency? Underestimating the opponent? In any case, EDF needs to stoke the fire and get the lads on their A game again.

JonAS: It’s the Roman way. Every trainer in Rome faces a crisis sooner or later, whether he likes it or not. Garcia, Spal, Enrique (crisis from start to end)... Perhaps the honeymoon period is already over and EDF must revamp his squad, smash his fists on the table. Wake them up, do something. I’m sorry, I can’t count so I don’t know who this mister ‘three’ is?

Jimmy: Like Steve said, lack of goals has led to a lack of points. The defense has helped contain the damage of seemingly every attacking player going through a drought simultaneously, but it’s still obviously a big issue. Di Francesco needs to bring the goals back fast if Roma is to perform as expected, perhaps by either using something other than the 4-3-3 or by changing the roles of attackers in that system.

2.Okay, so what's the solution?

Bren: Hmm, try something different! I’m not sure he’ll abandon the 4-3-3, but he has to do something to balance this attack. So whether it’s dropping Diego Perotti into the hole or pushing Nainggolan closer to Edin Džeko, something’s got to give, constantly pumping it through Kolarov isn’t working anymore.

Steve: I agree with Bren. We need to change something tactically. I think Pellegrini needs more time in mid and like Bren said either push Radja higher or drop Perotti a bit deeper to create behind Džeko and/or Schick. I think those moves could create a bit more in the attack.

Sam: This stuff needs to be worked out on the training park. I think it is kind of bizarre we aren’t playing with two strikers, I wonder if the hangover from one F. Totti is a reason we don’t seem to employ a central creator? I also want Radja playing as more of a goal threat rather than as a security blanket. Will this solve everything? Nah probably not, but it’s better than doing the same thing over and over.

Brandon: I would love if EDF decided to scrap the 4-3-3 and go with a 3-4-1-2. Kolarov, Fazio, and Manolas in the back; Emerson on the left wing, Strootman/Pellegrini and DDR in the middle, and Florenzi on the right wing; and Nainggolan in the hole behind SES and Schick/Džeko. This would never happen but a guy can dream, right?

JonAS: I’m just a tiny, puny Belgian with little influence in the Roman stratosphere or even on my own cat. I’ll let the tinkering to the big boys Monchi and Eusebio. A good mercato in January could solve a problem or two though.

Jimmy: Monchi getting a loan for the right attacker (or just a right-back, allowing Alessandro Florenzi to go back to his slightly-more-natural right winger position) might do wonders. Simultaneously, someone needs to tell Di Francesco to try Schick out in the middle, or at least try to put him up top with Džeko. Monchi spent the big bucks on one of the most promising strikers in Europe. We shouldn’t be cramming him into the right winger spot constantly.

3. Now that we have half a season of EDF under our belts, what’s impressed you the most and what worries you the most going forward?

Steve: I’m most impressed with the way the squad was able to get off to a quick start under a new coach and taking into account some big personnel loses. I’m also impressed with the amount of player rotation employed by EdF so far. Also, did I mention that win vs Chelsea and winning the group? However, as I’m sure we all are I’m concerned by the lack of goals being scored and the lack of creativity shown by the team of late.

Bren: Yeah, can’t argue with that; their performances against Chelsea were legendary, and it was at that point that I began to become an EDF believer; he seems to have a way of building relationships, trust and belief among his players. What worries me most is simply what we just talked about, the lack of tactical diversity.

Sam: Without a doubt it’s gotta be the Champions League performances. And doing that while giving solid game time to Gerson, Under et al has been very welcome. The thing that scares me is that there’s growing evidence that Italy has now figured this Roma out and that tactically we don’t seem capable of much change. But overall, EDF has exceeded my expectations and the team is in a much better spot than I thought we’d be.

Brandon: Topping the group in the Champions League is easily the most impressive aspect of the season far. As for my concerns? Well, the lack of a suitable solution on the right wing is the first thing that comes to mind. I believed the team would do a much better job in overcoming the loss of Salah.

JonAS: I like that he’s a passionate man and obviously he cares about the club and fans. Spalletti was more unmoved at the sidelines and cynical during his pressers. EDF’s pressers are usually on point and down-to-earth. He knows he’s still young and has a lot to learn. But that same thing also worries me. If this slump continues, can EDF really turn it around like a veteran ala Capello, Allegri or Ancelotti? Or will the pressure get worse and will Eusebio snap?

Jimmy: Sorry to repeat nearly everyone else here, but Di Francesco topping the Champions League group of death in his first year on the job was some truly impressive stuff; I certainly didn’t expect it, and I doubt anyone else really did. To add on to what JonAS was saying, it’s an incredible breath of fresh air to have both a manager and a director of football who are very down-to-earth when talking to the press. I loved Spalletti, don’t get me wrong, but his pressers were my least favorite part of his tenure. As for what’s been worrying, Di Francesco really needs to find better ways to utilize Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick. Arguably, they could be two of the best players wearing the Roma kit, but Nainggolan certainly seems to have come down to earth since Di Francesco’s hiring, and Schick looks like he either needs to be played as a striker or given different instructions as a winger.

4. Give us one or two players EDF must make better use of in the second half? Why are they so crucial to Roma’s success in the second half?

Steve: For one I think Lorenzo Pellegrini has to be utilized more. I love DDR, Radja, and Strootman but we haven’t created enough with that trio. I’d like to see Pellegrini used more. He makes incisive runs from the midfield and is a goal scoring threat when he does. We need more offense from the mid. Staying on that same topic I think Radja could be utilized in a more offensive manner than he has by EdF. We saw what Radja could do when he’s given a more offensive role. If he can begin to score some goals like last season we become a much more complete team. These two will be key as we look to score more goals in 2018.

Sam: Radja. He is the best player in the team and an absolute force to be reckoned with. I’d like to see him play a role kind of like Frank Lampard, charging into the box late to slam home a late cut back. If that means we play with an extra midfielder and one less winger… then so bloody be it!

Brandon: Radja and Džeko. Radja is Roma’s best player by a good margin but it hasn’t felt that way thus far. As for Džeko, when he’s on form there aren’t many teams that I would peg to beat us, so it is crucial to get him back into gear.

JonAS: Džeko obviously, the difference between the one of last season (or even Edin between August and October this season) and now is staggering. When Džeko’s good, Roma’s good. Ow, and we need his goals to win games, it’s football logic 101. And Perotti can be so much better if he wants too. Remember when Spalletti came back in 2016 and played Salah-Perotti-SES up front? Now that was some sweet stuff. Diego needs to find his groove back ASAP, change his role perhaps? Get on it, Eusebio!

Jimmy: Well, I’ve already mentioned it in my last response, but I think that Nainggolan and Schick could be crucial to a deep Champions League run, or even a push for the Scudetto, but only if Di Francesco uses them better. Džeko will rediscover his torrid form in time, so that doesn’t worry me too much; it’s the players who simply haven’t impressed as much this season who he truly needs to work on.

Bren: Well, seeing as I dedicated an entire piece to it last week, I think Lorenzo Pellegrini needs a consistent and more important role, simply because his skill set is so different from the remaining midfield players. Beyond that, I’ll also go with Schick--you don’t pay 42M for these sort of results; he needs a confidence boost asap.

5. Let’s pretend for a second that Monchi will make a (semi) splash during the January transfer window, who should he grab?

Steve: I think Roma most need to target an experienced right back. I think Matteo Darmian could be that guy. He’s experienced, familiar with Serie A, and versatile. In addition he could be available at the right price considering he isn’t integral to Man United’s team. Perhaps a loan with an option to buy?

Sam: Heart over head I’d love to see Mahrez in our team.

Brandon: Do you think Liverpool would be willing to send us back Salah? Aside from that, I’d love to see Monchi get Mahrez.

Bren: Ha, nice try, Brandon! Mahrez is having a hell of a season, and seeing as he’ll still cost more than 40M, I don’t see it happening. I’ll go with Steven on this one and say Darmian, for two reason: versatility and the fact that it would free up Alessandro Florenzi to play further up the pitch. Two birds with one stone.

JonAS: Ironically, I think Roma’s good up front, although we are facing a crisis there. Džeko, Schick and co just need to regain some confidence (I did buy Berardi in my FIFA 18 career though). We desperately need some creativity in the middle of the park. Would PSG be stupid enough to give us Pastore in mid season? Or try to rob Suso from Milan, they’re shit anyway. Sell Peres and get Darmian, that would be a good move as well, so Florenzi can help out on the wing more often. Mahrez is the pipe dream but that would be be a costly operation.

Jimmy: Beyond hiring Indiana Jones to find the Holy Grail (in an attempt to finally rid Roma of the dreaded ACL Curse), I’d say that some midfield creativity is what’s desperately needed. I don’t have a specific player in mind for this role, and if Monchi truly meant it when he said that there would be no January purchases, I think that Gerson could be used brilliantly in the midfield playmaker role. Di Francesco’s been doing a good job of using Roma’s younger players; it would be delightful to see them continue to be important.

6. It looks like Napoli and Juve are running away with the Scudetto race now, so what is Roma’s best case scenario?

Steve: I think Roma’s best case would be a third place finish which would include UCL qualification for next season.

Sam: Best case would be some of the little guys taking points off Juve and Napoli and giving us a relative shot at staying within shouting distance of them. I’m terrified of battling for fourth place down to the wire. We don’t tend to do very well in those scenarios.

Brandon: Third is our ceiling for this season, and there is nothing wrong with that. I think a third place finish and a cinderella run to the Champions League semi-finals is the ideal finish to the season.

JonAS: In March VAR rules both offside in the competition so Roma and Inter will battle it out, with a slight advantage for Roma.

Jimmy: Best case scenario both Napoli and Juve run out of steam, just like Roma has of late, and this becomes a real close race. I definitely think it’s possible, neither team is perfect.

Bren: I think it’s 3rd or bust. Napoli should end Juve’s run this decade, while I think Inter will fade down the stretch. We’ll see, but as long as they don’t give up fourth place to Lazio, I think we can say this season was a relative success.

7. Alright, what about the Champions League--how scared should be we of facing a Donetsk team that’s had nearly two months to prepare for Roma?

Steve: I think Shakhtar does represent a tricky encounter which could go either way depending on which Roma squad shows up. However, if we can get a goal scoring draw at minimum in Ukraine then I’d like our chances at home in the return leg.

Sam: They have an Italian coach, don’t they? I have no doubt Shaktar think they can knock us over so there’s plenty of room for caution and worry but man to man our squad is stronger and having the final match at the Olimpico suits us.

Brandon: I’m terrified. That fear mainly stems from Roma’s lack of production in front of goal. If the Roma that dominated Chelsea shows up then I believe winning the fixture is a lock but I haven’t seen anything as of late that inspires confidence.

JonAS: That entirely depends on which team shows up. It’s simple really: Roma has been a different beast in the CL, they’re more ruthless and clinical. If they can keep that tempo up, then Donetsk won’t be a problem. But boy, if the Roma of Chievo or Torino (in the Coppa Italia) shows up, they’ll get hammered big time. As always with AS Roma, we’ll have to find out on matchday itself.

Jimmy: It’s honestly a crapshoot; if Roma maintains its Champions League form, they could end up with a 5-0 aggregate win. If they continue their league form, it’ll be incredibly tight, with a decent chance of being kicked out of the competition. Your guess as to which of these Romas we will see is as good as mine.

Bren: I suppose it depends on how much pressure one think they’re feeling. Are they playing with house money after winning the Group of Death, or now that they’ve advanced will the weight of expectations become to immense? I could see the extra juice of the competition lifting some of the current fog. I think we beat ‘em!

8. Lastly, whether it’s the tail end of this season, the summer mercato or next fall, give us one bold Roma prediction for 2018.

Steve: Roma will beat Shakhtar and advance to the quarterfinals. They might even make the semis if they get the right draw in the next round while finishing third in the league.

Sam: Roma sell another two starters this summer and replace them with unknown youngsters, whilst still shitting on about our aspirations to be better than Juve and a preseason tour to Qatar or Mar a Lago.

Brandon: Bold prediction? Well, in that case, Roma beats Shakhtar in the round of 16 fixture and is lucky enough to draw favorable matchups the rest of the way, leading to an appearance in the Champions League final!

JonAS: Atta boy Brandon, ‘smoke weed everyday’! Give me a puff…. Hmmmm, well I predict Eusebio to resign in February after 4 consecutive losses. Ancelotti is called in to save the day and appoints Totti as his assistant coach. Roma miraculously finishes first in Italy. During the Scudetto celebrations at Circo Massimo, Totti reveals in a speech he has a bastard son of 20 years. Antonio Totti is immediately thrown into the first team in August and scores 15 goals by December 2018, creating sparks at the Olimpico alongside Florenzi and Pellegrini. Life’s good.

Bren: Haha, good lord, where do you come up with this stuff? I’ll go way, way, way out on a limb and say Roma makes a genuine run at Christian Pulisic, breaking a club record transfer fee in the process, while instantly making him the club’s top earner, which would be necessary to fend off the Premier League.

Jimmy: After getting a healthy amount of prize money from a Champions League Semi-Finals appearance, Pietro Pellegri is signed by Roma in the summer. The seventeen-year-old combines with a revitalized Džeko and an in-form Schick to make a three-striker lineup best compared to Messi-Neymar-Suarez. Either that happens, or they all tear their ACLs on the first match of the new season, and Florenzi is forced into becoming a striker by a disbelieving EDF.

So you’ve heard our slant, what do you guys and gals say?