La Gazzetta dello Sport (Chiara Zucchelli) Luciano Spalletti sounded the alarm just under 2 months ago. “We might have a few problems around February-March. We’ll have 11-12 games in 40 days and we won’t get out of it if we don’t have the right number of players.” The coach, speaking two weeks before the end of the transfer window, has been proved right. It was 15th January, there was time to add to the squad, but only one player arrived: Clement Grenier from Lyon. He can’t play in the Europa League because he has already played for the French side in the competition, and after a month and a half he has only played for a few minutes in the league in the 4-0 win against Fiorentina.
To say that Roma’s signings, in both January and June, were all poor is both wrong and ungenerous. Fazio has been a revelation, despite the errors in his last couple of games, and is one of the team’s senior players; Peres isn’t the same Peres that played for Torino but is a regular starter; Juan Jesus, after a bad start, has since shown that he is a more than capable player. The others, however, have hardly been given an opportunity. Roma, with the players available at the moment, only have 2 new players in their starting 11, because Szczesny, Manolas, Rudiger, Strootman, De Rossi, Emerson, Nainggolan, Salah and Dzeko were all there last year. And the players most frequently used in the squad rotation – Perotti, El Shaarawy, Totti and Paredes – were all previously part of the squad as well.
Other than the aforementioned Grenier, there are 3 players who – for one reason or another – aren’t part of the rotation. Vermaelen has been struggling all season with hernia problems and other injuries, and when he has played he has almost always been the worst player on the pitch. Just 11 appearances, 596 minutes: less than an hour (54 minutes) on average per game. Mario Rui has fared no better: he was going to be first choice as Digne’s replacement, and he was “perfect for the left hand side – that’s his bread and butter” in Spalletti’s opinion. However he has suffered both because of his cruciate ligament injury last August and Emerson’s sudden rise to prominence: 4 appearances in all competitions, and in the league – even though he has been available for 3 months – he has played for just 3 minutes against Crotone.
Nor has Gerson played: he started – surprisingly – against Juventus on 17th December, but was substituted after 45 minutes by Spalletti “because he was booked, otherwise I would have kept him on.” True, perhaps, but since the Brazilian’s transfer to Lille on deadline day collapsed he hasn’t played a single minute. He has been on the bench or in the stands instead, perhaps thinking of that number 10 shirt that Roma sent him a year and a half ago to convince him to join them (at great expense, almost €19 million) and to become Totti’s heir. Frequently sat next to him on the bench is the captain himself: he has played 19 games, with an average of 41 minutes on the pitch. Not an inconsiderable amount, for a 40 year old, but he has almost never been selected by Spalletti for the big games: 0 minutes against Porto, Inter, Napoli, Lazio (in the league) and Villarreal (away) and just 4 minutes against Lazio in the Coppa Italia. Thursday’s game in Lyon, barring any surprises, will be the next one in this long series, even if he’s ready to help the team. After all, he’s been doing it for 25 years.