With that famous night in Rome against the Blaugrana in the Champions League, A.S. Roma put the world on notice. With the perfect mix of youth and experience, do not be surprised if this Roma team becomes a force, both in the Scudetto and in Europe.
The Roman revolution started when the club appointed Eusebio Di Francesco on the 13th June 2017. The Italian had previous with the club, a stint at the Giallorossi from 1997-2001 in which Di Francesco won the league title.
During his managerial career, his time at Sassuolo was one that caught the eye of many Italian sides. In his first season, the 2012-13 campaign, he led them to the Serie B championship, and by the 16-17 campaign, had taken them to the Europa League. He was impressive. We knew. And so did Roma, as when they came calling after the departure of Spalletti, who amassed 87 points in the previous season, the Palma native just could not say no to this beautiful club despite the pressure on his 5-foot-8 shoulders.
It was never going to be plain-sailing for Di Francesco. Hit with the loss of Mohammed Salah to Liverpool early on in his reign, the attacking options behind the prolific Džeko looked bare. Trusted stalwart Antonio Rudiger was lost to Chelsea. Di Francesco addressed this promptly by bringing in old pal Gregoire Defrel from Sassuolo and young Patrick Schick, from Sampdoria, who had scored 11 goals in 32 appearances in his first season for the Genoa-based team. He also acquired trusty Aleksandar Kolarov, who has made 79 caps for Serbia to date, to give his team experience and a threat from set-pieces. As these signings start to settle into the club, expect them to come to full fruition in the 18/19 campaign
A.S Roma have not rested on their morals after their successful 2017/18 campaign, which saw them come 3rd in Serie A and fall at the hands of Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals. To date, they have completed the transfers of 9 players, and most importantly, Alisson Becker is still an A.S. Roma player. If the Roman club are able to retain his services, even if this is to be his last year, it could help propel them to success, as the Brazilian number one evidently has saved his team’s backside endless times.
His skill set is rather unique, and it becomes clear why the worlds best are chasing after him. Distribution equal to that of City’s shot-stopper and international compatriot, Ederson Moraes, composure and presence in his penalty area and beyond that I have not seen since Manuel Neuer’s best years. His shot-stopping ability truly is on par with the best. I could quite literally rave on about Alisson all day.
The next phase of the team, the defence, has been improved for the foreseeable future, with William Bianda from RC Lens in France for a reported £5.4m fee. The 18 year old is definitely one for the future, but under the tutelage of world class CB Kostas Manolas and inspirational leader, Alessandro Florenzi, the rangey centre-back is surely one you will be hearing about sooner rather than later. Even though Bianda is only 5 months older than I, he displays footballing IQ beyond his years. Key interceptions and general reading of the play are well developed attributes of his, and add this to his physical prowess, the Giallorossi certainly have a player on their hands.
22-year-old Bryan Cristante of Atalanta, and AC Milan during his youth years, means that Lorenzo Pellegrini finally has an apt CM partner, and this Italian tandem will be pushing the veterans in the midfield and creating healthy competition within the ranks. Cristante has developed into a deep-lying playmaker, who is still adept in his defensive duties. Pair this with Mr Jack Of All Trades, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and surely this Roma midfield will continue to impress for the next decade.
Eyes on: Justin Kluivert
The ‘Kluivert’ name could have either been a blessing or a curse for Patrick Kluivert’s son, Justin, but he has certainly made a name for himself, and with this move to a hugely historic club in A.S. Roma, it may be time for young Justin to set the world alight, just like his father.
Able to play on both wings, Kluivert will be leaving fullbacks in his trail, his electrifying pace and having the ability to know when to use it is something you simply cannot teach. Kluivert was involved, either through assisting or scoring himself, in 15 goals last season in the Eredivisie, showing Kluivert is not just a pace merchant, and at just 18, it is scary to think what stats he may produce in the right system, barring any injuries.
Adding this wonder-kid to the roster, alongside Cengiz Ünder, will create tactical nightmares for the opposition managers. They will consistently be forcing opposition full-backs into retreat, not allowing them a moment’s peace.
From the training ground
Eusebio Di Francesco favours a 4-3-3, which drops into a 4-5-1 when out of possession. The Italian demands his wingers to shoulder defensive responsibility. Di Francesco’s system can be best described as dynamic and possession orientated but, when needed, they will use the physicality they possess to unsettle teams, either through blistering counter-attacks, or intense pressing, which sees Džeko accompanied by one of the midfield 2 ahead of, normally, De Rossi, press the CBs and CDMs. This hopes to see opposition buckle under the pressure and shift the ball out-wide.
The explosiveness of their wingers (see Justin Kluivert/Stephen El Sharawaay/Cengiz Ünder) means they will be ready to pounce onto any mistake from the fullbacks. This is different to other schemes that press, as the wide-men are not pressing within the halfspaces, rather holding wide position and shape, to ensure the full backs will not be outnumbered if the opposition does find a way out of their initial press.
When in possession, they will aim to get the ball to the wing. Marauding full-backs in Alessandro Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov aim to support the wingers through over/underlapping. This forces opposition full-backs to choose whether to track these runs or the runs that will be coming through the halfspaces and through the midfield.
Obviously, crosses are their main source of joy, as the big Bosnian can virtually overpower any defender in the world, and the Romans certainly enjoy exploiting this mismatch as much as they can. If limited and pressed in the first phase of play, you will normally see an outlet ball to Džeko, in which the two wide-men will be feeding off the second balls, and aiming to run in behind off these flicks, or the midfield regaining possession higher up the pitch, and going through their normal style of play.
This Roma team does have the lot, and if Eusebio Di Francesco can harvest a way to make this highly talented squad stay harmonious and cohesive football, those inside the Stadio Olimpico should fasten their seatbelts. They are in for one heck of a ride.