Thomas Vermaelen Gives Roma New 3 1/2 Man Defensive Versatility

While Roma wait for their midfield regista (Borja Valero), their defensive reinforcement has now arrived. Smiling, slightly delayed in his arrival, Thomas Vermaelen arrived at Fiumicino airport on Sunday lunchtime where around 100 fans were waiting for him. He is Roma’s most important transfer signing of the summer window. Not just for his name, quality and previous clubs. But for the added value that he will give to Spalletti’s chessboard who, not by chance when the deal was in the pipeline, described the player as “a work of art”.

Luciano is aware that, with Vermaelen (who was visited by Sabatini in his hotel before he underwent his medical) in the squad Roma have radically changed their appearance. Now it will be possible to implement the famous three-and-a-half model which Spalletti explained after its success against Frosinone (30th January): “The idea is to pass the ball around using three defenders and defend with four, because El Shaarawy attacks the opposition full back while Zukanovic closes the space. That should become second nature.” With the Belgian, it will be. Because with the former Barcelona man on the pitch, it won’t be necessary to pull back a central midfielder (De Rossi) and start the play with him.

There will finally be a new style of play, essential when facing teams who defend throughout and/or employ heavy pressing on central midfield playmakers. It was trialled against Montreal Impact with Manolas, but the results were a little disappointing. Kostas is an outstanding man marker but shows limitations when trying to build anything. It is a similar case with Rudiger, who in the final matches of the season was invited by opposition teams to bring the ball forward as they were aware of his lack of ability in creating the play. Vermaelen will change Roma’s style of play. Now Roma will be able to choose between playing with three in defence, with four (by putting Juan Jesus at full back) or – as Lucio loves to play –with three and a half.

How the wide players work will be key. At the moment, in the absence of new signings, Spalletti has Florenzi and Torosidis available on the right. On the left, other than the possibility of putting Juan Jesus out wide (and should the need arise Vermaelen as well, a remote possibility given his ability on the ball which is far more useful in the centre) there are Emerson Palmieri and, when playing with three in defence, El Shaarawy. The option of picking both Italian internationals together is certainly the more tempting one but also the more risky. It’s not by chance that even Conte, during the European Championships, never tried it out.

As for the rest, as Mazzone always taught, “one goes, the other stays”. During the 1994/95 season the Roman coach utilised Moriero on the right and Carboni on the left of his 3-5-2, an act some 20 years ahead of its time. The best player in that role would be Zabaleta but talks – to say the least – have stalled (the Argentine started in a friendly against Arsenal and was even made captain by Guardiola).

Widmer could come back into play at this point, even if Udinese’s valuation (€10m) is considered to be high. Manquillo is also an option, simply because he is the easiest (and cheapest) to buy. In midfield the Borja Valero deal is tied to progression in the Champions League, but the Ziyech transfer is a separate story. Things are in place to sign the Twente winger when one of Ricci (wanted both by Genoa, where he would link up with his old boss Juric from Crotone, and by Atalanta, who are ready to use him in Gasperini’s 3-4-3 system) or Iturbe (Bologna have reignited their interest) leave Trigoria. With Vermaelen’s signing, Gyomber is also ready to leave: the defender is on the verge of a move to Pescara.

This article is a translation, the original was written by Stefano Carina for Il Messaggero.


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