The transfer decision Roma have to get right in January

It was clear at the beginning of a long-term project under Jose Mourinho that there were a lot of things for Roma to fix and it wouldn’t all change overnight.

Mourinho arrived on an initial three-year contract with the promise of making the club a force again by the end of it (refusing to rule out a longer stay if so). But in the here and now, he was inheriting a weaker group than he had managed for the best part of two decades.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter boss knew he had to spend in his first summer to build stronger foundations for the club. But despite paying more on transfer fees than any other Italian side, gaps remain for Roma to plug.

Most obviously, Roma still lack the defensive midfielder Mourinho craved in the summer. Granit Xhaka was the subject of the club’s focus before, throughout and after his impressive Euro 2020 with Switzerland. However, Arsenal won the battle and kept him away from Mourinho’s clutches.

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It was too late and difficult to source an alternative and the lack of a midfield signing has been a major source of Roma discourse since. Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante appear to be the only two players Mourinho trusts in his double pivot; Gonzalo Villar and Amadou Diawara are both linked with January exits and Ebrima Darboe is still working his way up to seniority. Consequently, Roma continue to be linked with midfield targets for January.

Denis Zakaria, out of contract with Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, seems to be the priority target. However, he is also on the radar of many other clubs, so Roma are having to line up alternatives like Harry Winks or Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

But it remains to be seen just how much Roma can spend on a midfielder when they have another issue to resolve that, although no secret, hasn’t been discussed quite as much – but is arguably an even more pressing concern.

Recent reports have indicated that Mourinho has been promised both a midfielder and a right-back in January. The latter role is an obvious one to reinforce too, but perhaps it is where the main emphasis should be.

Rick Karsdorp is the undisputed starter in the position at present. He took his time to prove himself at Roma, but finally did so last season and is the first-choice still despite the change of regime.

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His numbers are still decent this season, but there appears to have been some teething problems with his adaptation from being a wing-back ahead of a back three, to a full-back in a four.

Karsdorp’s attacking qualities remain an asset and he is improving defensively, but he hasn’t reached last year’s overall levels yet. It shouldn’t be too much of a concern; he took until around December to find his stride last season. But the issues could be relieved with what Roma clearly need: sterner competition.

Karsdorp’s only backup is Bryan Reynolds, who is still yet to settle in Italian football. The American is not offering a threat to the Dutchman’s place and it is doubtable if he ever will. For Reynolds, it already seems his future – even if just on temporary measures – will not be in Rome.

With that in mind, Roma are running the risk of burning Karsdorp out. For a player who has had injury history before, that is an increasing danger.

Thus, if there is one transfer decision Roma have to get right in January, it is not necessarily the midfield. Yes, that area does need reinforcing, but Cristante is exceeding expectations this season and there is some depth – even if not fully to Mourinho’s taste – behind the starters. In an ideal world, someone would arrive in midfield and at right-back. But if Roma can only focus on one, the latter is more critical.

So, who comes in? Roma cannot afford another experiment in the position; it must be someone with appropriate experience, ready to rival Karsdorp for the starting berth. The new arrival should account for his deficiencies and offer their own qualities.

The name of Diogo Dalot has cropped up in conversation with increasing frequency recently. He seems like a sensible solution for a number of reasons: he worked with Mourinho before at Manchester United, where is not playing much now; he has experience in Serie A from his stint with AC Milan last year; and he can play in a back four or a back three. It would hinge, though, on whether negotiation with Man Utd can be more straightforward than it was with Chris Smalling, which is doubtable.

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It seems smart to recruit someone like that as Karsdorp’s equal – at least while the Dutchman develops into a more confident stride in both directions.

Of course, though, after signing a contract extension in the summer, he won’t want to be disrupted too much. Therefore, other alternatives like Sampdoria’s Bartosz Bereszynski have been mentioned. Again, with experience in Italy, he may be a competent solution.

There has also been the idea of Cagliari’s Nahitan Nandez, who is mainly a midfielder but can cover at right-back too, thus filling both vacancies in one fell swoop. But if Dalot is a realistic option, he should be a priority.

Roma still have a lot of rebuilding to do and there are two clear areas to reinforce most urgently. They will be hoping to rectify both as soon as possible to make a major difference to their season ambitions.

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