Football Features

Why Chris Smalling’s arrival at Roma couldn’t have come at a better time

By James Richards

Published: 20:15, 31 August 2019

The Derby della Capitale takes place this weekend as AS Roma looking to sure up a backline that conceded three on the opening day at home to Genoa.

The Giallorossi’s problems were plain to see as their opponents made the most of some statuesque defending to ensure the points were shared.

Although the season has only just started, Roma fans were deeply unhappy with the way their team failed to do the basics, compounded by the sale of popular defender Kostas Manolas to Napoli during the summer.

The Greek man-mountain forever cemented his cult hero status with a late goal to see Roma knock Barcelona out of the Champions League in 2017-18.

His absence saw Genoa score three goals from four shots on target on opening day and neither Federico Fazio or Juan Jesus showered themselves in glory.

The Giallorossi hierarchy went hell for leather to rectify the issue and snapped up Manchester United centre-back Chris Smalling on a season-long loan.

The England international had seen himself sliding down the pecking order faster than a snake on a water slide and it was a move that made sense for all parties.

Could his arrival play a huge part in Roma’s chase for a Champions League place this season? We take a look:

Bigging up Mr. Smalling in Rome

Roma signed Smalling on a deal that will see the Italian club pay United £2.7m for the season and it could turn out to be a bargain.

No one is suddenly going to start comparing the former Fulham defender to Manolas as they are very different players but Smalling’s arrival is timed perfectly as they take on eternal city rivals Lazio who looked ruthless as they brushed Sampdoria aside in their first game of the season.

Smalling’s contract at Old Trafford runs until 2022 but with other players in front of the 29-year-old including new signing Harry Maguire, his first-team opportunities will be limited at best.

The lack of depth in the Roma squad gives him an ideal opportunity to play at a high-level week-in-week-out.

His 34 appearances for the Red Devils last season had him very much on the fringes but he could be a key player in Paulo Fonseca’s side this season.

‘Smalling will be in the squad’

With such an important game facing Roma this weekend, it was critical that the deal was put through in time for Smalling to play.

Fonseca confirmed that he will be involved and given the poor defensive display shown against Genoa, the Portuguese manager may well start the Englishman.

When asked in his pre-match press conference about the arrival of the Red Devil defender, Fonseca admitted it was an important addition for the club.

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“As has previously been said here – we were looking for a specialist centre back,” the manager said.

“Chris has made more than 200 appearances for Manchester United – he’s got the qualities that fit with our team. He’s a quick and aggressive player, who can add quality.”

Smalling was impressed with the Portuguese manager when they met and Fonseca explained how he persuaded the England defender to play for the Giallorossi.

“When we have these talks, we try to explain our way of playing, how we’re thinking of using the player in the team, and how important we believe them to be.”

“It’s about convincing the player, explaining the rationale behind our decisions and why we’ve put faith in them.”

Roma attack looking sharp

As disappointing as the Roma defence was against Genoa, there was plenty to like about the attack.

In particular, Cengiz Under was unplayable at times and took his opening goal brilliantly before hitting the woodwork with another chance. The Turkish winger has pace and excellent ball control which gave the Genoa backline a real headache.

His performance was complemented by that of Edin Dzeko who also scored a quality solo effort of his own.

The Bosnian star was subject to a speculated move to Inter Milan this summer but stayed in Roma to lead the line in the capital and his presence will be very important for Fonseca who has a number of good young players to play off their target man.

Nicolo Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert both have bright futures and with experienced captain, Daniele De Rossi leaving the onus will be on midfielders Bryan Cristante and academy product Lorenzo Pellegrini to step up and fill the void in the middle of the park.

Smalling’s arrival finally gives the manager some genuine options at the back but Roma go into the derby as underdogs for the first time in a while.

Lazio’s impressive start

The Eagles well and truly landed in the opening game of the season in Genoa. While their rivals were shipping three goals left-right and centre, Lazio put in a ruthless performance against Sampdoria.

The clinical finishing of Ciro Immobile saw the striker grab a brace but, in truth, he could have bagged himself at least five or six.

The team has some real quality going forward with Luis Alberto very influential playing on the left in a 5-3-2 formation. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is also, miraculously, still a Biancocelesti and Argentine Joaquin Correa impressed with a goal in the first game of the season.

Simone Inzaghi is not getting carried away by the ‘favourites’ tag and stated his side are approaching the game with humility and hard work.

“Probably in theory we are favourites because on the first day of the championship we won while Roma drew,” he said in his pre-match build-up.

“We know what it means to play a derby, they are two separate games during the championship, we will have to face it better. It will be strange to play this game on the second day, it never happened to me.”

“The boys prepared well tomorrow’s race, together with our staff. We have concentrated a lot in the last few days, we will have another training session before playing this very important match for us.”

The game kicks-off at 6 pm on Sunday.