2019/20 AS Roma Serie A preview
Background image: Doublejack92, CC BY-SA 4.0
Juventus seek a ninth successive Scudetto in 2019/20 and are favourites to do so. Happily, though, Serie A isn’t all about who wins the title. For honours, there are also the Coppa d'Italia and the battle for Champions and Europa League places. For bragging rights, there are two massive derbies. The Derby della Madonnina pits roommates AC Milan and Inter against one another. The Derby della Capitale does the same for the Stadio Olimpico tenants Lazio and AS Roma. After finishing sixth in 2018/19, their lowest ranking in seven years, the Giallorossi have even more to prove. Looking to strike back, the club adopted an appropriate away kit featuring a stunning crimson and gold lightning bolt on a white background. Now the question is whether I Lupi can live up to it?
At 33, Edin Dzeko continues to prove his worth as a formidable goal-getter. Nine goals may be a little off his prior seasons' 16 and 29 but the Bosnian was the club’s second-highest scorer last year in a badly muddled campaign.
Eusebio de Francesco's avante garde approach lost its sharp edge. The bespectacled boss was sacked and Claudio Ranieri brought in to put the side back on track. The best the genial Italian could do was stabilise the squad. Former Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca took over in June. After a good look in preseason, the 46-year-old decided Dzeko wasn't done yet.
The tall forward opened his case with a goal in the preseason matchup against Perugia which ended 3-1 in Roma's favour. He followed up with two assists in the victory over Lille.
Fonseca isn't relying completely on his veterans, however. Cengiz Under is preparing for his third season in Italy after leaving his native Turkey while still a teenager. The 22-year-old became an integral cog in De Francesco's rotation, making 26 appearances in each of the past two seasons. He provided three goals and seven assists from the wing in 2018/19.
Defensively, Fonseca is short of heroes. Roma's sixth-place finish was an achievement considering they conceded the most goals among Serie A's top eight clubs last term. Former Tottenham centre-half, Federico Fazio, is their best defender. The 32-year-old brings a varied skill-set to the pitch. He intercepts, clears the ball and puts his body between shots. Fonseca's concern will be whether he can handle the pace at this stage of his career. Roma need one or two youngsters cut in his mould.
The need is accentuated by Kostas Manolas' transfer to Napoli for €36 million. The Greek international was a pillar at the back. His exit threatens to leave Roma's defence in ruin. Selling him to a direct rival for a European place invites questions about the board's priorities.
At least the club is fairly strong at fullback. Captain Alessandro Florenzi is in his prime on the right side. The attack-minded Leonardo Spinazolla arrives on a four-year deal from Juventus. Loan moves to Atalanta, Empoli, Perugia and Atalanta drastically improved his standing but he remained a part-timer under Massimiliano Allegri this past season. He'll walk into the starting XI although he isn't what you'd call a defensive warlord. When the need for battle arises, however, the club has added former Manchester City and Lazio stalwart Aleksandar Kolarov.
Expect another new arrival, Spaniard Pau Lopez, to push Robin Olsen for the No.1 shirt.
The boss will add further grey hairs looking for a new defensive midfielder. With over 600 appearances for the club, Daniele de Rossi called time on his Serie A career, moving to Boca Juniors in Argentina. After 18 lock-down seasons in front of the defence, there is now a rather large hole to fill. Youngster Amadou Diawara was bought for €21 million and veteran Maxim Gonalons  returns from loan at Sevilla to compete for the role. There is also the option to play one of the club's wealth of attacking midfielders in a deeper position. Bryan Cristante, maybe, or perhaps 30-year-old Javier Pastore will chart a similar career path to Andrea Pirlo and Cesc Fabregas.
Fonseca must also replace Stephan El Shaarawy's 11 goals after the forward departed for China. At just 26, Shanghai Shenhua is most certainly a step down from Serie A. He should light up the Chinese Super League, posting numbers as he used to at Milan. It can't be the same, however.
Meanwhile, the new boss faces the challenge of matching his success with Shakhtar. Fonseca won the Ukrainian domestic double three times on the trot and more than 70% of his matches during his spell in Eastern Europe. Critics will point out he hasn't been tested at a big club although he has one season with Porto [2013/14] on his CV. Time will tell whether he's ready. At the very least, he's an easy sack if the results don't come.
The season begins with what should be a breezy warm-up against Genoa. Il Grifone barely escaped relegation in 2018/19. The match will be good preparation for the season's first Derby della Capitale against Lazio on Matchday Two. Then up and coming Atalanta loom in September.
Francesco Totti once said winning one title with Roma meant more than the possibility to win ten with Juventus. It's a sentiment shared by all Giallorossi supporters. They don't care to hear about Juventus' hegemony even though the Scudetto hasn't been in their hands since 2001. Such fantasies only add to the pressure on Fonseca but since when have fans been reasonable in their expectations?