While the international break comes to a merciful end this weekend, we still have a few days to kill before Roma returns to action. After dropping consecutive matches to begin September, the Giallorossi found their footing after defeating Empoli and HJK Helsinki in the span but once again felt the cold sting of defeat as they fell to Atalanta 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico before the break. And with no matches to distract us, we’ve had to stew on those results, replaying all the highs and lows from the past month over in our minds.
To provide a break from this storm of analysis, we gathered the CdT crew to discuss a few issues facing the Giallorossi as they prepare to face Inter Milan this weekend. In our latest roundtable discussion, we discussed finishing, midfield tactics, and much more.
Enjoy, and please give us your answers to these questions in the comment section below. And if you’re not a fan of Twitter and have a question for our next podcast, feel free to leave one below.
Let’s talk about finishing. Roma leads the league in xG and are sixth in SOT%, yet they’re converting at a pitiful 7% rate. So, uh, what the hell is going on? Is this a tactical issue or a player performance issue? What can the club do to address this?
BSanti: Steve and I discussed this on the most recent episode of Across the Romaverse, and I think it’s a mixture of both. The easy answer is that it’s a confidence/luck issue, and at some point, you’d expect the script to flip, and these chances start finding the back of the net. At the same time, though, I think you can also make the argument that the strategy of ceding possession and looking to hit on the counter plays a role in that maybe you don’t have your shooting boots on compared to a team that camps out in the opponent’s box and recycles possession, seemingly always on the precipice of scoring. Ultimately though, creating chances to score is the hardest part of the game, and Roma have no problems in that department. The goals are bound to come at some point, so I’m not particularly worried long-term.
ssciavillo: I have to agree that it’s a little bit of both, but that the player performance issue is the bigger culprit so far. As Brandon said, we’re creating chances at a high rate, which is one of the hardest things to do in soccer. So, tactically I have a hard time blaming Mourinho, considering the injuries he’s had to deal with, that xG is very telling that the team is doing a lot right. I think players like Tammy and Pellegrini are just in a bit of a rut that they need to break out of. Nico’s injury spell probably set him back a bit. Dybala’s been the one guy scoring consistently, even though he has hit his share of posts already. Belotti is just getting back to match fitness. I think it’ll come together for all of them.
If they all click at the same time, then Roma could light the league on fire at the rate chances are being created. But, even if it’s just two guys at a time, that would be enough to win plenty of matches if everyone else is playing well in other facets of the game. I’m not that worried yet. The goals will come. There’s just too much quality in the attack.
Bren: Very well said to you both, which leaves me no other choice but to play the individual performances. As you both suggest, the club leads the league in changes, so the system is working, but the means aren’t producing many ends at the moment. And if it wasn’t for Dybala’s individual brilliance, Roma would be down a couple more goals. He’s already hit a couple that very few players in the sport can pull off, so how much worse would we look without that?
I think we have to hope that Belotti and Abraham will push each other to greater heights and hope that things improve simply due to the return of Zaniolo and El Shaarawy.
JonAS: It’s a psychological thing, sure. The more you miss, the harder it gets. But at least we’re creating chances. I reckon the goals will follow once Tammy and Andrea find their groove. In the meantime, Dybala will clean up the mess.
Jimmy: One of the issues that I anticipated coming into this season was that Roma’s attack was almost too powerful; this is by far the most explosive attack on paper that the Giallorossi have had since the Batistuta signing, and a side effect of that is that all of those potent attacking talents need to figure out how to work properly together. We haven’t had that much time to see Zaniolo, Dybala, Abraham, Pellegrini and Belotti as a healthy and available attacking core; I’m confident that the kinks will get worked out sooner rather than later, and actual goals will be far closer to xG by the end of 2022.
Roger Ibañez is off to a flying start, bundling all his impressive physical traits in a more polished package. What’s impressed you most about his quick start to 2022? Is he now Roma’s best defender?
BSanti: I’m not sure that Roger has knocked Smalldini off his perch as Roma’s best defender just yet. Tere’s a calmness at the back that Smalling provides that I don’t have just yet with Ibañez, but you certainly can make the argument. Regardless, Ibañez has had a great start to the season, and I’d say cutting down the mistakes is the improvement in his game that’s impressed me the most. A well-deserved first call-up for Brazil is a wonderful marker of his improvement since Mourinho joined the club.
ssciavillo: I agree that cutting down on his mistakes has been the biggest thing for Ibanez. The natural talents have always been there, and now that the mistakes are being reduced, he’s showing just how high his ceiling is. He’s been stuffing the stat sheet. Mourinho is really having a positive impact on his development. I think the case can be made that he is Roma’s best defender, but maybe not the most important quite yet because of Smalling’s calming presence that has been so important.
I just hope Roma keeps Roger around for a while so we can see him hit his best years with Roma, unlike some of the other big talents we’ve had come through the backline. I wish him the best of luck with Brazil, but man, he would’ve looked really good next to Bastoni in Italy’s backline for the next decade.
JonAS: Yeah, he’s simply more mature this season. Fewer brainfarts, cards, harsh tackles, etc. Partly thanks to Mou. And earning that first callup for the Brazilian NT will only motivate him more. Damn, we’re gonna lose him next summer, aren’t we?
Jimmy: I would say that Smalling is still Roma’s best defender, but Ibañez has pulled away from Mancini to become Roma’s undisputed second-best center-back (and that’s no disrespect to Mancini, who I think is a key part of Roma’s defensive identity). The rest of the writing staff is spot on; vision and understanding are both catching up to sheer ability and physical tenacity, and it’s allowing for a more complete version of Ibañez to impress for the Giallorossi (while giving him a clear path to minutes with the Brazilian National Team alongside former Romanista Marquinhos).
Bren: I’m not going to dive into the “what constitutes an error and how do we prove that” argument again, but I’ve maintained that was always a bit exaggerated. I think what we’re seeing is an athlete whose understanding of the game is now catching up with ability, creating the total package-in-the-making we’re seeing this season, which has been given a jolt by the presence of José Mourinho.
We’ll keep this one simple: What’s going on with the midfield? Something doesn’t seem to be clicking. Is this a case of too many redundant parts, or are we just a Wijnaldum away from ironing out these wrinkles?
BSanti: I do think Roma is a healthy Wijnaldum away from being fine in the midfield. I don’t think the much-maligned pairing of Cristante and Matic has been as woeful as social media would have you believe, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Having said that, we’d do well to remember that the Cristante-Matic pivot is a product of Roma’s injury crisis, and once that subsides (knock on wood, folks), we’ll hopefully see better midfield play.
ssciavillo: I think this is just an injury-induced issue. Matic-Cristante is a forced pairing. When Gini comes back, I think the mid will really start to be a strength. But, while he’s on the mend, I think Pellegrini and Camara, maybe even Bove on occasion, can add a different dimension next to Matic or Cristante to add a bit of a more box-to-box presence. The problem is Pellegrini has had to fill in for injured Zaniolo and is now injured himself, while Camara isn’t 90 minutes fit yet. I think we’ll see more of the two of them after the international break as part of the double pivot.
Bren: I think it’s kind of hard to say because we didn’t get to see much of him before his unfortunate training ground injury. He’s only played 13 official minutes this year, so to see things go a bit haywire already underscores why he was such an important signing, to begin with. The only other thing I can really add is: can we give Bove a real chance soon?
JonAS: Just give me a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2, bring in my boy Camara, turn Mancini into a DM, and we’re definitely top 4 material. Then when Gini is back, we’ll talk about formations again.
Jimmy: I think Camara and Bove can really make things work as the season progresses. Through no fault of Bryan Cristante, the Cristante-Veretout double pivot didn’t work very well last season; I think we’re seeing similar problems with the Cristante-Matić pairing, which are compounded by the fact that Matić is old enough that he should be a rotation option, not an out-and-out starter. If Bove is given a longer leash, at least until Gini Wijnaldum returns, I’m not too worried about the midfield.
Where does Mady Camara figure into all this? What does he offer that someone like Bove does not?
BSanti: I’ll be honest, outside of the brief cameos we’ve seen from Camara thus far, I can’t say I’m overly familiar with his game just yet. Having said that, I’ll go with his experience in European competitions. The schedule is starting to ramp up with tough fixtures against Inter and Betis (twice) on the horizon after the international break, so Camara’s experience in Europe could prove invaluable as it allows Mourinho to rotate and plug Mady in to give his midfield some relief in these Europa League group stage matches.
ssciavillo: I’m on the same page as Brandon here. I don’t know much about him, but his scouting reports from Olympiacos were impressive from two years ago. I think he has more experience than Bove, for one. I think Mourinho likes Bove enough to give him some looks against lesser opponents, but in a week where Roma plays Inter followed by Betis, then I think Camara just gives Roma a European experienced option.
Heck, if Pellegrini can’t make it back for those two matches, we may see Camara start both matches. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility if he finds his legs in training over these two weeks. I think they’ll look to him to fill a box-to-box role with Gini out, and if he’s impressive enough, then he could be a rotation option as the Dutchman gets back to 100%.
Bren: Yeah, I think you nailed it. It’s all about experience, and Camara simply has the edge over Bove in that department. We have to hope that experience then translates to Serie A, but given his time as a starter in Greece and his 2,500 minutes in European play, it shouldn’t be a problem.
JonAS: A certain positive energy and enthusiasm. Bring some much-needed dynamite in midfield coupled with a lot of running. And yes, lots of European experience. But Bove definitely deserves more chances as well. Maybe rest Matic a bit more, we’ve been using his 34-year-old legs too much lately.
Jimmy: I don’t think there’ll be any issues with Camara getting into the squad, and I think there’ll be enough room and enough minutes for both Bove and Camara to find time on the pitch over the course of the next few months. Camara was arguably the star for Olympiacos as recently as last season; he has European experience, and he just has experience, period. Those are things Bove can gain with time, and I’m sure that he will! Patience is the keyword with both Bove and Camara in my eyes.
With two matches against Real Betis, a trip to Helsinki, and fixtures against Inter Milan and Napoli, October looks brutal for Roma. Six weeks from now, what are we saying about the Giallorossi: Where are they on the league table? Will they control their Europa League group?
BSanti: I think Roma will be right around where they are now in the league—jostling for a top-four spot with its rivals—with a firm hold on the second spot in their Europa League group. Roma haven’t shown the type of consistency just yet to give me confidence that they’ll run the table in the month of October, especially given the quality of their opponents over the next few weeks. They’ll likely do just enough to keep up in the race for top-four, and I can see them splitting the results with Betis, leaving the Giallorossi locked into that second spot.
ssciavillo: I agree. I think they’ll be fully in the battle for the top 4. How they perform against Inter and Napoli will give us a good read on just how high Roma can push in what looks to be a wide-open league again this season. Depth will certainly be tested with all the European fixtures mixed in, so let’s hope the relative health of the squad trends in a positive direction. I’m hoping to at least split with Betis, or ideally, take four points and then win in Helsinki. That would put Roma in a strong position to advance to the last group stage match against Ludogorets at the Olimpico.
Bren: I think we’ll actually fare a bit better in the Europa League, to be honest. If they can take four points from the two Betis matches and win in Helsinki, they’re in the Group C driver’s seat.
JonAS: Either we praise José as the lord our savior after five consecutive wins, or we condemn him to hell for using Cristante and Matic too much while losing 4-0 to Inter and a ⅙ vs Betis. Knowing our Roma, there’s no in-between.
Jimmy: Cheers, JonAS, I’ll drink to that. I think EL will sort itself out, and I think the fight for top four will still be a tough one – I don’t see four titanium-strength sides out there guaranteed for those slots, but I do see six or seven very hungry sides who want that Champions League prestige and money.
Finally, José Mourinho made a much-publicized cameo in British Grime artist Stormzy’s latest video. Here’s your challenge: Take any Roma manager from the past 40 years and put them in any music video from the past 40 years, who ya got and why?
Bren: I’m replacing Chevy Chase in the Paul Simon video for “You Can Call Me Al” with Luciano Spalletti because I’d like to see him in the 80s Miami Vice-style sport coat with the sleeves rolled up. I can picture him coming out of that door and being in perfect synch with the horn section.
We’d also have to rename the song “You Can Call Me Spal” and, since it features Spalletti, it would peak at 2nd on the Top 40 charts.
BSanti: I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The Stormzy x Mourinho collab confirms The Special One’s status as the coolest manager in the game, so let’s keep it going and throw Jose into the music video for Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop”, thank me later.
Alternatively, given the French connection, let’s get Rudi Garcia a cameo in the mesmerizing music video for Lous and the Yakuza’s “Dilemme”. I don’t think any manager is cool enough to actually pull it off, but if there’s an artist that I’d trust to figure out how to make it work, it’s her.
ssciavillo: I haven’t seen many music videos since the days of MTV’s TRL. If it was a player, I’d go with Pablo Osvaldo in a 90’s grunge video or something. For a manager, I’ll defer to you guys, since my music video game isn’t strong.
JonAS: Zdenek Zeman in 50 Cent’s In da club. Self-explanatory.
Jimmy: Shout out to my brother Joe, who has had his best week in quite some time as a Romanista and a massive fan of grime. Along with Brandon, I loved the Mel Made Me Do It music video, but to provide another option for the masses: Rudi Garcia playing guitar alongside Santana in the Smooth music video.
Can’t you see it? I know I can. I miss you, Rudi (even though I’m far happier with Mourinho than I was towards the end of Garcia’s reign).
Alright, you’ve heard our say, now it’s your turn to sound off. How can Roma fix their midfield stagnation? Can anything be done about the finishing? Would EDF be better in a Devo or Weezer video?
Let us know, and if you have any questions for the next episode of Across the Romaverse, drop them in the comment section.
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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Frustrating Finishing, Midfield Concerns, Ibañez Improvements & More
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