Roma’s strategy this year is clear. Amid a hectic schedule, Paulo Fonseca is using the Europa League to rest his key players and give others a chance to impress.
In Roma’s two group games so far, Fonseca has opted for a high turnover of players. It can be a risky strategy, given that some of the backup players are not as match fit as the regulars. But on matchday one, Roma still found a way to win.
That wasn’t the case on matchday two, though. Once again, Fonseca switched his lineup heavily, as only three players kept their place from the most recent league match. Unfortunately, those that came in could not inspire a victory, as CSKA Sofia claimed a 0-0 draw at Stadio Olimpico.
Generally speaking, the result suggests that the fringe players did not take their chance to impress. But one diminutive player in the middle of the park was an exception to the rule.
If there was one thing that could get Roma fans excited in Thursday’s game, it was the performance of Gonzalo Villar. The Spaniard dictated play from midfield, showing his full range of qualities.
The 22-year-old was elegant when dribbling and efficient in possession. Only Marash Kumbulla completed more passes than Villar’s 57, and no-one matched the Spaniard’s four successful dribbles.
The Spanish school has moulded Villar into a technically gifted player. His idol has always been Andres Iniesta, and the Barcelona legend’s influence on his style is clear.
Villar has more to his game than his ability with his feet. Despite his small stature, he continues to show his strength on the ground and in the air; no Roma player won more aerial duels than his three, and he was never dispossessed.
#Villar in #RomaCSKA— AS Roma Data (@ASRomaData) October 29, 2020
57 passes (88% accuracy)
2 key passes
1 big chance created
3 shots (1 on target)
3 dribbling (100% success)
4 long balls (80% success)
1 tackle pic.twitter.com/VrBftSLVL3
Since leaving Spain to join Roma in January, Villar’s potential has been obvious whenever he has been given a chance. He has rarely been a regular starter, but he has made the most of the opportunities that have come his way.
It all began with his first start for the club, in the last game before lockdown in March. Villar impressed in the 4-3 win over Cagliari, establishing himself as someone who could help out when Roma needed to rotate.
Half a year later, and Villar is quickly outgrowing such a role. As he continues to make his case every time he plays, Fonseca will have no choice but to give him more gametime in Serie A as well.
The coach clearly knows Villar deserves a chance; he has sent him on as a substitute in four of Roma’s five league games this season. However, competition for places in midfield is high, and he is yet to start in Serie A.
It can only be a matter of time before that changes.Embed from Getty Images
Of Roma’s stacked midfield options, Jordan Veretout remains the only guaranteed starter. Lorenzo Pellegrini could also be considered for that description, and was Roma’s best outfield player in the draw with Milan in the last league game.
However, Pellegrini has also enjoyed some of his best football playing in an advanced midfield role. Perhaps he could soon move back up there to accommodate Villar.
While Amadou Diawara is out with Covid-19, Villar may be Roma’s best option to partner Veretout. Bryan Cristante is moving up in Fonseca’s hierarchy as well, and has captained the side in both Europa League games so far. But Villar could soon overtake him also.
With the games coming thick and fast, Fonseca needs to know he can rely on his rotation players. Villar has answered the question every time it has been asked.
He has a maturity beyond his years, both on and off the pitch. It can only help him gain Fonseca’s trust even more.
As long as he continues at this rate, the coach will simply have to give him a more prominent role in more important games.