After finishing second in Serie A in 2016/17, Roma had to settle for a distant third place last time around following the departures of Mo Salah, Antonio Rudiger and Wojciech Szczesny, as well as the tearful farewell of club legend Francesco Totti. However, Eusebio Di Francesco’s men saved their best for Europe, where they reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 1984 after a famous comeback against Barcelona in which they overturned a 4-1 deficit.
Just as it was 12 months ago, though, this summer has seen more upheaval at the Stadio Olimpico. Radja Nainggolan has departed for Serie A rivals Inter Milan after four seasons, while goalkeeper Alisson, who performed brilliantly after stepping out from Szczesny’s shadow, left for Liverpool. Having come so close to success yet again, how do the club rebuild once more?
Alisson has been replaced by Bologna’s Antonio Mirante, who played 33 times in Serie A last season with a total of 101 saves. At a fee for £3.6m, the 34-year-old represents a bargain in the current transfer market, especially considering that his predecessor was sold for a reported £67m. However, in Szczesny and Alisson, Roma had shot-stoppers with their best years ahead. The same, sadly, probably cannot be said of Mirante. Daniel Fuzato has arrived from Palmeiras but, with only a handful of appearances to his name, the 21-year-old is an unknown entity.
Replacing Nainggolan is no easy feat, either. The combative Belgian has been a key component in Roma’s upturn in fortune in recent years. Last season the mohawked menace delivered nine assists in the league, more than any of his teammates, and made 59 key passes; only Aleksander Kolarov provided more for the club. Maxime Gonalons, who signed from Lyon last year, will have to step up after only 12 league starts to date. The club have also acquired defensive midfielder Bryan Cristante on loan from Atalanta. At just 23 years of age, the Italian is already somewhat of a veteran and has played for four teams in his native country prior to the switch. In addition, rumours swirl regarding a bid for Sevilla’s Steven Nzonzi.
Part of the deal for Nainggolan saw Inter’s Davide Santon join in an attempt to revive his career. The Italian was a promising prospect in his youth and was a regular for three seasons at Newcastle. Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll on the left back and he has made just 101 appearances in Serie A in six and a half seasons. It won’t be easy to displace Kolarov in the side, either. The Serbian only joined in 2017 and was Roma’s top tackler (58) and interceptor (53) in his debut season.
Dazzling in attack
Roma’s real business to date has been in reinforcing their attack. The club have bought strikers Patrick Schick and Gregoire Defrel on permanent deals following their loan spells at the Olimpico last season. Another exciting youngster, Justin Kluivert, has also signed from Ajax to much fanfare. The son of famous striker Patrick, the Dutchman netted ten goals in the Eredivisie last year and made his international bow in March. It was rumoured that bigger clubs like Barcelona were interested, so the capture is a real coup for Roma.
Javier Pastore has linked up with the Italians after becoming one of the many casualties at PSG due to the arrival of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The Argentinian joined the French giants in 2011 and inherited the number 10 shirt once Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed in 2016. Like Santon, though, recent injuries have limited him to 34 league starts in the past three seasons, only three more than he managed in the 2014/15 campaign alone. Fitness permitting, he should prove a shrewd purchase though.
Di Francesco’s task now is to ensure that the holes left by Alisson and Nainggolan do not go exploited. Roma have certainly improved their forward line and they will not struggle for goals in 2018/19. In order to keep their momentum, however, requires their unexperienced players to adapt quickly, and Juventus are unlikely to allow the Romans such luxury.