If there was one thing Roma needed to do going into the 2020 transfer window, it was also a thing that could have caused a problem.
High on the agenda for the club was to lower its wage bill over the months of the transfer market. But in turn, trimming down the squad could have led to there not being enough depth to compete.
It was a dilemma that became apparent more than ever on deadline day, when Roma got rid of wingers Justin Kluivert and Diego Perotti – but not quick enough for Stephan El Shaarawy to return as their replacement.
El Shaarawy was all ready to come back to the club after leaving for China last year. However, delays in the Perotti deal meant it was too late for the Italian to return.
It leaves Roma with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pedro as their main options to play in the two attacking midfield positions behind Edin Dzeko. But while there may be some concerns about the durability of those players – all over 30 – it might not be the end of the world.
Removing wingers from the squad was an important item on the agenda when it became clear that Paulo Fonseca would be continuing with his 3-4-2-1, rather than 4-2-3-1, formation. It also led to the exit of Cengiz Under before Perotti and Kluivert.
Pedro and Mkhitaryan are versatile, experienced players who can play in either system. And while it is still early to make a judgement, Pedro has looked fit as a fiddle in his first three games.
Let’s not forget that there is a smaller gap between the summer and winter transfer windows than usual this year. Roma only need to navigate three months – some of which will be international breaks – before the market opens again.
Perhaps then, they could go back in for El Shaarawy, who took to Instagram to express his disappointment at not being able to return. But as Chris Smalling’s agent wrote as Roma anxiously awaited approval of his permanent transfer after the deadline, good things come to those who wait.
Tutte le cose buone arrivano a chi aspetta. pic.twitter.com/xRalRm6Fhb— James Featherstone (@JLFOmniSports) October 5, 2020
But Roma still have enough options to act as stop gaps in the games between the two transfer windows. Lorenzo Pellegrini may have dropped into a deeper midfield role in recent games, but his best position remains as a number 10. If he can regain his very best form, he can thrive there again.
There is also Carles Perez, who has been an intriguing prospect since arriving in January. A first full season in the capital could lead to more opportunities for the former Barcelona winger.
And let’s not forget Javier Pastore, who – no matter how much he is injured – can make an impact when he is available. He produced a decent spell of form when starting four games in a row in Pellegrini’s absence about a year ago; even if he can only do it in short bursts, it might be enough to see Roma over the line until January.
Furthermore, if Pedro does have to rest every now and then, Roma could always switch to a 3-4-1-2 instead, with just one attacking midfielder behind Dzeko and new striker Borja Mayoral.
Fonseca was also concerned about a lack of depth at centre-back going into deadline day, but the signing of Smalling finally alleviates that. The Englishman gives Roma a fourth very strong option alongside Roger Ibañez, Marash Kumbulla and Gianluca Mancini. And Federico Fazio eventually stayed put, so can be an adequate backup – as can Bryan Cristante if he drops into the back three.
In fact, Roma have plenty of depth in defence now. It may even allow Mancini to step forward into midfield again on occasion; it may not be his preferred position, but he did well there for a brief period last season – which also coincided with Jordan Veretout’s best run of form.Embed from Getty Images
The Frenchman is one of Roma’s most consistent players, but when Mancini was alongside him, it gave him extra freedom. Maybe he could benefit from that again.
All in all, this was always going to be a difficult transfer window. With no sporting director and a changing ownership situation, it could have been hard to get things done.
Some fans may have dreamed of a huge spending summer from the new owners, but that would have been unrealistic. They are building towards long-term goals here.
Roma still managed to bring in two players who excelled on loan last season on a permanent basis in Smalling and Mkhitaryan. They added the experience and quality of Pedro, who looks like he can take the squad’s mentality to a new level. Mayoral will provide the competition that Dzeko needs, and the gift was Kumbulla – an unexpected signing that happened quickly, as Roma beat a lot of competition for one of Serie A’s most coveted young defenders.
It has by no means been a brilliant mercato, but when it looked like it could have easily become a bad one, it has not fallen into that territory. Roma’s business has been solid.
This isn’t a title-challenging squad, but that’s not the aim right now. The target is to get back into the top four. It won’t be easy, given that rivals have strengthened as well, but this squad now has enough to compete.
Time will tell how far that can go, but this Roma is a work in progress. The activity this summer brings hope that there could be progress – and if it doesn’t materialise straight away, the January window is only 18 games away.