Kluivert, Zaniolo & The 5 Second-Year Players Who Could Save Roma

For a club that has been near the top of the league for several years — while also producing magic on the European stage — Roma could not have ended the 2018-19 campaign in a much worse fashion. 

Stand-in manager Claudio Ranieri did his part after the departure of Eusebio Di Francesco, but their final points tally (66) saw them finish sixth on the table, their worst result dating back to 2012-13. The start of the summer left supporters increasingly disillusioned when rumors of Maurizio Sarri or Antonio Conte being brought in to steady the ship went unsubstantiated.

There is now cautious optimism in the capital, however, after the club brought in Paulo Fonseca, a tactician known for his offensive prowess. Furthermore, Edin Dzeko remained in the Eternal City and new sporting director Gianluca Petrachi secured a solid mixture of young talent and veterans to give Fonseca a base to work with in his first season in Italy as a player or manager.

The team looks quite formidable going forward with 12 goals scored in four games, but there remains plenty of work to do given the same problems at the back rearing their ugly head. New faces may have their say in both defense and attack, but much of what the Giallorossi are able to accomplish this season will ultimately come down to the contributions of five players in their sophomore season at the club.

1. Justin Kluivert

The potential has always been there for the son of former Barcelona and Netherlands great Patrick Kluivert. Yet another player who had heaps of pressure thrown on him after landing in the Italian capital, Justin Kluivert failed to fully settle after joining from Ajax.

The season is quite young, but so far Kluivert appears to be a man on a mission to get his career back on track. Goals in consecutive games, improved link-up play, and defensive contributions to add to his electrifying pace on the flank should have supporters buzzing.

“I’m gaining more and more confidence and I’m playing well with this team,” he told Sky Sport Italia following his side’s 4-0 thrashing of Istanbul Basaksehir. The 20-year-old provides quite the outlet in transition.



2. Javier Pastore

The Argentine dazzled last year early on with a pair of audacious back-heel goals against Atalanta and Frosinone, but his campaign quickly turned sour and never really recovered. Numerous injuries and poor performances when he was match fit prevented Pastore from living up to his transfer fee and high wage bill.



It remains to be seen exactly how often he will start given the play of Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini, but he does possess the creative spark to unlock stubborn defenses in Serie A. So far he has recorded three substitute appearances in Seria A, while putting in a solid stint in his first start of the season in Europa League play. 

3. Nicoló Zaniolo

As Serie A followers may well remember, the selling of Radja Nainngolan didn’t go over so well with the Roma faithful. Fast-forward a few months and the deal no longer looked so bad due to the inclusion and subsequent emergence of Nicoló Zanilo, one of Italy’s brightest young talents.

Now in year two at the club on the heels of swirling summer transfer rumors, Zaniolo is set to take his game to new heights and has already shown he is ready to produce in a big way. His performance in the Europa League opener — his first game for the club with an assist and a goal — is further proof he will remain a pivotal component of the squad moving forward.



"A year has passed and I’ve grown a lot, but I still have growing to do as a person and as a player,” Zaniolo said in an interview featured in AS Roma’s Match Program. "The club, the manager and the staff are helping me and I’ll do my best to continue on this path.”

4. Bryan Cristante

Roma have dealt with plenty of questions in the midfield as of late, and general Daniele De Rossi is no longer at the club to singlehandedly will them to results. Fonseca now has a number of young talents at his disposal, and one player who continually refuses to relinquish his role in the middle of the park is Bryan Cristante.

The 24-year-old’s versatility is an asset, but that has often led to uncertainty as to where exactly he belongs on the pitch. I’d venture to say that so far Cristante looks to be the most improved player from the 2018-19 squad. He has shown glimpses of the player he was in his final year at Atalanta, but his composure, passing (89 percent success rate), and overall influence through three full Serie A matches have been top drawer. Production on set pieces with defenders draped all over him only helps his cause.



5. Antonio Mirante

There can be nothing but high praise for the veteran following his heroics at the tail end of last season. The 36-year-old may have joined the Giallorossi with the expectation of seeing limited action, but he was at the ready and more when fellow shot-stopper Robin Olsen failed to live up to expectations.



Spaniard Pau López is now the main man after joining from Real Betis for a hefty fee, but Mirante will undoubtedly be called upon yet again with Europa League and Coppa Italia matches combining for another busy schedule. His proven record between the sticks in his first year in Rome will go a long way in giving Fonseca and the back line confidence against any opposition when López needs a break.

Roma Defender Chris Smalling Has Been Stellar In Italy

As if he’d not made enough of an impression since joining AS Roma on loan from Manchester United in the summer, defender Chris Smalling really stood out as an exceptional talent on the week of his 30th birthday. 

Hofstra Coach Simon Riddiough Doesn't Need The Power 5 To Define Success

By Jerry Beach

Simon Riddiough, the head coach of the Hofstra women’s soccer team, spent about two minutes of a 21-minute interview Tuesday afternoon discussing why he’s content at the Long Island school and not planning to see if he can replicate his success with a higher-profile Power Five school that would offer the resources and opportunities to make a deep NCAA Tournament run that are generally lacking in the mid-major arena.

Carlo Ancelotti, Aurelio De Laurentiis & Napoli Are In Complete Chaos

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Concacaf Nations League Returns For Final Group State In November

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Seattle Sounders & Toronto FC Clash With The MLS Cup On The Line

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Potential USMNT Contributors From The Nations League Pre-Camp

November 15 could be a day of reckoning for Gregg Berhalter and the United States men's national team. After last month's 2-0 defeat to Canada — the first loss to their neighbors in 35 years — Berhalter needs a win in Orlando to help rectify the USA's position in the first-ever Concacaf Nations League. Anything other than a win would mean that Canada will advance to the semifinals, a shocking result for the U.S.

10 Things In Italy: Mario Balotelli, de Ligt Handballs & Conte's Inter

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Concaclusions, Ep. 9: Pulisic Strikes Again, Jiménez Haunts Arsenal

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