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Pouring Cold Water Over Roma’s Summer Transfer Market - Part 2

How Roma can find vertical passing and a ruthless streak... on a budget.

AS Roma v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

We figure, in part 1, the fundamental idea behind this Roma team is to work to a system where all parts are replaceable and talent isn’t as much of a deciding factor, as the will of each player to carry out tasks for the team.

Two major tasks where the Giallorossi have come up short this season can be improved with smart moves this summer.

1. The Search for Vertical Passing (CB, Mediano/DM)

Roma are set to finish out this Serie A season as the second-highest team in the league for crossing, and that’s not even mentioning the number of corners taken on top. This current team defeated themselves into mastering the lowest percentage route to goalscoring, as any opposition club would gladly welcome having to defend crosses all day over the alternative.

It’s ironic that Roma’s search for defensive reinforcements is actually a search for that missing alternative in the team’s attack: A constant will to pass the ball through the middle of the pitch.

Our defenders are all missing something as individuals, but as a high-line unit keeping the ball away from goal and brilliant pressing from the two banks in front of them, we don’t necessarily need them to be better at defending. We need our defenders, individually, to be better on the ball.

Fazio, Jesus and De Rossi are all decent with knocking the ball forward on a good day but all inconsistent with finding the confidence and the vision to do it on a regular basis. Manolas, for all his qualities as a defender and athlete, has never been comfortable when searching for a meaningful pass. The end result is a waste of the tactical options given to the rest of the team. As Di Francesco himself said: “I would rather see the team pass two balls through the middle of the pitch for every pass they make on the outside.”

So there’s work to be done for that to be anywhere near the case. The ugly reality is we’ve seen the team instead choosing to rely on the wide men to carry the ball forward this past season. Better ball-players at the back in possession can redress that issue for the next campaign.

The Ideal CB Signing

Mathias de Ligt (50 million)

To put it simply, this transfer won’t happen. No chance. But it sketches the outline: A mentally-strong and adept footballer in the backline not afraid to take calculated risks, equally good in the attacking phase as he is in defence. With time on his side to improve even further, still.

Or, if you want, a younger Fazio with pace.

More Realistic CB Options

CB - Duje Caleta-Car a.k.a a mate for Ante Coric (20 million)

Coming off a season where he was at the heart of Red Bull Salzburg’s most successful Europa League campaign, the 21 year-old Croatian giant is an aerial threat at set pieces, and loves an accurate long-ball from the back straight to his forward men. He can be slow in his technique to both receive the ball and get it out of his feet. He’s started international games with Ante Coric.

CB - Caglar Soyuncu a.k.a. Cengiz Under’s old roommate (20 million)

For everything said about Caleta-Car, you can pretty much say similar about Soyuncu. 21-years old, Turkish and part of Altinordu’s push to bring Turkish youth back to the top echelons of European football (where he shared a room with teammate Cengiz Under) before he moved to Freiburg. He just narrowly helped them escape Bundesliga relegation this season.

CB - Mauricio Lemos (15 million)

If you’re a fan of the Sassuolo-to-Roma highway carving through the middle of the Italian domestic market, then Lemos is your guy. A ball-playing defender that would have taken up a non-EU transfer had Sassuolo not already gone through the trouble of bringing him into Italy themselves, this past January.

The ideal mediano/DM/regista

Max Meyer (free transfer)

Unlikely in reality, but ticks every box on paper. 1. No one is going to complain at a free transfer. 2. Meyer is happy to play in the lone role of regista or in a midfield duo as part of two mediani or mezzale, when needed, giving EdF more options to adapt formations. 3. Domenico Tedesco runs his Schalke midfield incredibly similar to Di Francesco’s at Roma. If this signing were to happen, I’d consider it a masterpiece move from Monchi.

More realistic options

DM - Gonalons stays (free)

Maxime Gonalons is the one guy in the Roma squad who showed an immediate understanding of the need for quick, one-touch vertical passing. Nonetheless, his first season has been stained with a lack of awareness for when he’s running into danger, and failing to offer the same cover as De Rossi. First season syndrome?

DM - Torreira (5 million upfront - 45 mill more to come later)

For the Torreiras of the world, you can also read Barella or your favourite other up-and-coming Serie A talent of the kind. The main roadblock to these kind of names is Roma’s need for a Serie A team willing to accept staged payments - as the final fee wouldn’t be anything near what Roma can afford to drop on a player in one transfer window.

DM - Ante Coric - (7-8 million)

A lot of people fancy Coric further up the pitch in midfield, but it’s been mentioned that the club may hold the idea of converting him permanently to regista.

DM/CB - Frenkie de Jong (?)

Because RomanistaSfegatato will drive de Jong to the gates of Trigoria, himself.

2. The Search for Killer Instinct (LW, RW)

Roma has the joint-second best defensive record in the league, only letting in 5 more goals than Juve’s title-winning defence, but the lack of goals at the other end have cost any chance of mounting a title challenge. Against teams who sit deep, not only is fast, incisive and direct passing through the middle needed but more killer instinct among Roma’s frontline would make a hell of a difference, too.

We’re defining killer instinct as guys who don’t need time and space on the ball, and don’t wait for permission to put it in the back of the net. The only guy matching that description at Roma right now is Cengiz Under, who can punish any team caught sleeping on his left foot, in under (no pun) a second or less.

Dzeko, Schick, SES, Perotti... None of these guys are natural hitmen. There is no doubt that Dzeko’s prolific record through the years is beyond reproach, but he’s a proficient player who added goalscoring to his game as an afterthought, refined through the years. He needs space, or a runner to screen the defenders in front of him, to pull out great finishes.

Schick can follow a similar path, but the Czech kid is obviously more of a creator and dribbler by nature. The awkward nature of Schick’s physique makes him hard for defenders to anticipate, and an opportunistic goalscorer who can put away really unexpected goals - as seen in a Sampdoria shirt. But consistent goalscoring is something he’ll have to mould into his game, like Dzeko.

Of all Roma’s forwards this season, only Dzeko, Perotti and Under have a higher non-penalty goals scoring rate than xNPG number (SES narrowly coming under the bar). In plain English: they’re the only three forwards scoring more than expected from open play, with the chances given to them.

But while both Perotti (3 goals scored from open play vs xNPG 2.36 goals expected) and Dzeko (16 goals scored from open play vs xNPG 15.46 goals expected) are efficient, Cengiz Under scored nearly double the quality of chances fallen his way (6 goals scored from open play vs xNPG 3.81 goals expected).

Cengiz simply doesn’t need easy chances to score goals. He shoulders the hard stuff and makes it looks easy. If you want to put it in another way, Under even has a better goals-per-minute record than Salah’s debut season in Italy.

Roma needs a Cengiz Under on the left, and a couple of backups on either flank wouldn’t hurt either. The major problem: these kinds of players happen to be the most expensive in football, so any potential targets would come glaring flaws for Roma to be able to afford them.

The Ideal Wide Forward Signing

Justin Kluivert (Roma transfer record money)

Plenty of rope here to rationalize why Kluivert isn’t a good signing: too much risk, too young etc. but the bottom line is he has everything Roma needs. Like Under, Kluivert is two-footed, can put in an assist from the outside, can cut inside and score with minimal backlift in his shot technique. He also has the strength to deal with defenders getting tight to him, that Under does not have yet. Kluivert can beat his man for pace or simply skip past them with the ball from a standing position like Perotti. Kluivert has it all, which makes his signing all the more unlikely for Roma. If it were to happen, I’d consider it a major coup from Monchi.

More realistic options

RW- Defrel Stays (20 million)

Defrel is going to cost the club 20 million in final payments either way, as confirmed in the half-year reports in January announcing his permanent signing. At the beginning of the season, Defrel was doing what no one else would - taking snapshots on goal with minimal time for the defence to close down or anticipate, even though he tends to need a lot of space and his starting position for runs - from the center circle - shows that much.

At his sharpest in a Roma shirt, Defrel’s shots were either hitting the post, straight at the keeper, just blazing over or wide - anywhere but the back of the net. And while I like Defrel, I can’t excuse him from the fact he’s paid to score goals.

We put it down to bad luck, but then injuries turned him into quite a different player by season’s end - looking sluggish, taking too many touches of the ball and clearly not confident in himself. Defrel will need a hell of a turnaround from knee and ankle surgery to hit next season running. Expect him to play at right-wing if he does.

Some people took EdF playing Defrel on the wing as a slight to his trusted man, but wide forward is actually the most protected position in any EdF side, with the ‘wide trequartisti’ expected to do the least amount of work off the ball while taking the glory of breaking the 0-0 deadlock to score goals. Prima punta is, in comparison, a slog under EdF.

There’s a reason why Dzeko lost his temper at the beginning of the season, once he realised what he was being asked to sacrifice from the easy-street demands of Spalletti. It’s the same reason why Berardi’s star rising at Sassuolo forced EdF (at the time) to move the Italian forward away from the center to wide-forward - this wide forward position is where EdF gives his players all the perks, in exchange for the one major responsibility of scoring.

RW/LW/MC - Hakim Ziyech (30 million)

He’s able to play anywhere across the frontline - and even play as a left-sided mezzala - beats his man with the ball, decent shot on him and dead-ball expertise to boot. What keeps his price-tag down? Ziyech takes too many low percentage shots at the expense of the team’s attacking moves. If Messi rewrote football as the symbol of La Masia’s belief to never shoot too far outside of the box, the point has been lost on guys like Ziyech.

RW - Domenico Berardi (20 million)

Berardi lives off the hype of pre-injury years, no doubt, but it’s become just as hipterish to deny he is a proven marksman. Like Ziyech, Berardi makes the game more complicated than it need be, yet still remains one of the two youngest players ever to reach 50 Serie A goals in history - and he’s been trusted as captain and leadership material at every rank of his Azzurini career until senior level.

If you need a guy who can stick it in the back of the net in this league, Berardi’s already done it at 23 years of age. His left foot is magic, equally able to pick out a beautiful pass as it is able to score long and short-range goals, but he is overly-aware of his talent and constantly ignores teammates in better positions.

Berardi has suffered a dip in confidence since Di Francesco left Sassuolo, easily topping the league in terms of chances missed. There is a chasm between his xG rating and actual goals scored this season, probably halving his pricetag from what Sassuolo were expecting last year. If Berardi can stay fit and learn how to keep the game simple, he’s money.

For everything said on Berardi, there is also the equally capable (but likely more expensive - thanks to his recent 7 goals in Sassuolo’s last 9 league games) Mateo Politano, who Sassuolo’s president says is more likely to go to Roma (or Napoli) than Inter fan Berardi. Another Italian name is Simone Verdi, who can play on both wings and through the middle.

LW - Hirving Lozano (20 million)

I’ve not heard of this guy beyond rumours or even seen anything of him playing football, but he’s Mexican, he plays for PSV and he could be on Monchi’s radar. What could possibly go wrong?

RW/LW/MC? - Talisca (cash + player exchange)

I may be the only guy on CdT that doesn’t understand how Talisca fits into this team, at least not in a 4-3-3, but he keeps being linked to the club day by day and there’s no smoke without fire. It looks like this deal could be a piece of opportunism, with Besiktas having been caught out by FFP deadlines.

LW - Bernard (free)

Bernard looked impressive as a creator against us, but his scoring record isn’t. This season is the first where he’s brought his record up to a 1-in-3 goalscorer. At 25 years old, he is done with his major development years as a footballer. But he is a free transfer (albeit expected to come with heavy wages) and he can hold his own in the Champions League.

Bonus - The Opportunistic ‘Winning Mentality’ Signing

These signings don’t matter as much when it comes to position, as they do in terms of signing the right character to support the dressing room. Usually the profile of such a player is a veteran with the right on-pitch mentality to lead the team in difficult moments of the season, and plenty of title-winning experience behind them from Europe’s top 3 leagues.

Considering how much of a gamble this club has to spend on youth, signings like these are critical to balance out the emotional and mental side makeup of the squad. Think Seydou Keita or Aleksandar Kolarov.

Bonus - Legit Squad Improvements

Already one is making his way through the door in the form of Ante Coric, potentially replacing Gerson in the squad. Rick Karsdorp’s return from injury would be a major boost for competition at right-back. Diego Laxalt’s proposed January move from Genoa to Roma has also been revived in the papers, at left-back. Then there is backing up the goalkeeping situation, with young keepers like Marko Johansson on Monchi’s radar.


None of this is meant to be inside info on Monchi’s transfer strategy, that it goes without saying none of us at CdT are in possession of anyway, nor do we pretend to be. You may have your own favourite players you want to sign for Roma that haven’t been named yet. I listed player examples for the hell of it, but the transfer market happens in real-time and I don’t have a crystal ball.

This outline pushes two areas where big gains can be had for less money - by focusing on vertical passing and breeding a ruthless streak - with a realistic combo of 3 major first-team moves that can be done for 40 million euros, tops.