Giallorossi | Part 3 | Exciting Champions League Qualification Battle

A couple of months off thanks to the Winter World Cup – which you can read about Gareth Southgate losing in Part 2 – saw AS Roma’s players return looking to consolidate their place in the Champions League qualification places.

2023 began with an unexpected firesale as several players decided they wanted out. Right-back Rick Karsdorop joined Spurs for £25m and Nemanja Matic bizarrely moved to Real Madrid for £975k. Nicoló Zaniolo (0 goals and 2 assists) refused to discuss a new contract so we flogged him to Man UFC for £20m, Bryan Cristante (0 goals and 0 assists) went to Inter for £15m, Chris Smalling wanted stupid money so joined Newcastle for £2.5m, Andrea Belotti agreed a contract with Zenit so moved for £2m and backup left-back Matias Vina went to Cruz Azul for £1.9m.

The start of a new year saw us finally make our first permanent signing and, if you read our Sempre Samp FM22 Beta save, you won’t be surprised by it. We snapped up 18-year-old attacking midfielder Andreas Schjelderup for £7.5m from Nordsjaelland. We also added a backup right-back in Álvaro Mantilla, who I think is better than our scouts and coaches suggest, for £450k from Santander, and striker support as Kaio Jorge joined on loan from Juventus.

Deadline day goalkeeper drama!

Transfers have been a real problem so far. Teams make subpar bids for our players that we have to reject then they get unhappy and, on the flip side, teams want way too much money for their players. A good example of this was Newcastle approaching us to sign Rui Patrício, who’d kept five clean sheets in 18 games, on deadline day. They offered £4m rising to £6.5m, which was pathetic. So I told them I wanted £20m and eventually negotiated a £17.5m deal, which is decent for a 34-year-old.

So now we needed a goalkeeper on deadline day. I looked at Ilan Meslier, whose agent said Leeds would want around £50m – but they demanded £117m! Then another option popped up in Shakhtar’s Anatolii Trubin, who had a £25.5m release clause, but he signed a new contract rather than sign for us! So, with four hours remaining, we did a six-month loan deal for 36-year-old Salvatore Sirigu from Napoli, as well as loaning Eden Hazard from Real Madrid to support Schjelderup.

The transfer window hasn’t been the best, leaving us short in several areas – with goalkeeper clearly being the biggest concern. But it does leave a £104m transfer budget waiting for us in the summer…

Back to Serie A action

Serie A returned with a bang as we welcomed rivals Lazio and Juventus to town. First, the league’s top scorers Ciro Immobile and Tammy Abraham went head to head and both scored in the first half. The game appeared to swing on a penalty decision that saw Roger Ibanez sent off, but Rui Patrício saved Immobile’s spot-kick. Immobile immediately doubled his tally but that man Abraham responded by smashing home a dramatic late equaliser from 25 yards! Juventus were up next and the opposite story saw the same result as we twice led through Belotti but the visitors quickly equalised both times.

We got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win at Monza but switched to a 4-2-3-1 to use Schjelderup as a winger at Empoli. And it worked as the Norwegian created the only goal and won player of the match. But another shift in formation was required as we’d ended up without a natural right-winger. So we went to a 4-3-1-2 with a left-winger in behind two strikers. That worked fairly well in a 2-1 win over Spezia with Giorigino Wijnaldum, now playing as a mezzala, scoring his first for the club. That took us to halfway through the season and surprisingly, albeit having played one more game, we sat second in Serie A!

Pushing for Champions League qualification

The second half of the season began with another cracker against Sassuolo. We dominated the early stages, only for Sassuolo to score their first shot. Schjelderup came on to bag his first goal for the club, but Sassuolo also scored with their second shot then Ibanez got sent off again. But the boys rallied and Leonardo Spinazzola hit a 30-yard screamer before Kaio Jorge was the hero with his first goal for the club. Sassuolo, by the way, have scored 32 in 20, but six are in two games against us!

We finally got Paulo Dybala back from injury and tried him as a false nine. That worked nicely as Abraham teed him up for the only goal against Bologna then the Argentinian rescued a deserved point at Lecce. Abraham, on the other hand, went eight games without a goal after starting the season in flying form. But he finally scored in a 3-1 win at Torino, along with 18-year-old midfielder Giacomo Faticanti and left-back Nicola Zalewski scoring their first goals for the club, which ended a run of three draws.

The form was a little hit and miss, including a 3-0 hammering by Atalanta being followed by sneaking a 2-1 win over Torino thanks to a late strike by young starlet Cristian Totti. But we showed great resilience to beat Verona 2-0 with 10 men, including Lorenzo Pellegrini finally scoring his first of the season. And that gave him a taste for it as he scored twice alongside an Abraham brace in a 4-0 win at Salernitana.

Europe League knockouts

The Europa League second round saw a tough draw against Arsenal. They battered us in England but we managed to only lose 2-1. And that proved crucial as we put in possibly our best performance of the season back in Rome. Abraham put us ahead but Martinelli equalised just before the break then a nice Dybala finish put us ahead and Arsenal thought they were level immediately, but Smith-Rowe’s goal was ruled out for offside. That man Dybala put us 3-1 up and we went defensive and held them off.

Man UFC knocked out Real Madrid in the last round… so we obviously drew them next! The home leg was first and an edgy first half exploded into life when Yacine Adli scored a 30-yard screamer. Abraham won a penalty that Dybala slammed home but UFC got a goal back through former player Zaniolo. Obviously. But they took us apart in the second leg with four first-half goals to go out 5-3 on aggregate.

Champions League qualification goes to the final day

We went into the final eight games of Serie A with players exhausted and Abraham injured. The good news was we were third and looking good to qualify for Europe.

We trailed Juve by two points and led Napoli by four, city rivals Lazio by five and Inter by six, who all had a game in hand. But we had to play four of the top six!

We started at home to Sampdoria and 5ft 9in Schjelderup opened the scoring with a surprising towering header. Totti added a second and Dybala tucked home a penalty to seal an easy 3-0 win.

Now things got tricky. We went to rivals Lazio and led early through Schjelderup but the hosts dominated and deservedly equalised. Next, leaders Milan came to town and led early through a dubious penalty. Youngster Totti scored from a great Hazard pass but Milan immediately nicked it 2-1 through de Ketelaere. Three days later we went to Juve, who took the lead through Kean, but a mass of subs worked out as Kaio Jorge – on loan from Juve! – bagged a late equaliser. That kept us fourth after a tough run of games but meant we couldn’t win the league, which apparently infuriated the supporters who outrageously demanded a meeting with me as they wanted me fired! Piss off Dan Friedkin.

A much easier task followed at home to 19th-place Monza, but the visitors scored a dodgy penalty. We battered them and eventually got level through our own penalty that Dybala converted before creating goals for Gianluca Mancini and Kaio Jorge. He was on form again as we beat Empoli 4-2 while Juve lost 3-1 at Udinese to move us third, with two points separating third from fifth.

Another really tough game followed as we visited second-place Napoli, who were too good for us and won 2-0 through Osimhen and the ridiculous Kvaratskhilia. But luckily, Inter lost 1-0 at relegated Monza to make the final day really exciting.

We travelled to Spezia (9th), Juve hosted Atalanta (7th) and Inter went to Empoli (16th). We got the perfect start as Spinazzola hit a right-footed howitzer into the top corner from 25 yards after five minutes. Abraham headed home a Wijnaldum cross four minutes later, Schjelderup made it three and Abraham doubled his tally within half an hour! Inter also led early while Juve fell behind but quickly equalised. We switched off there and won 4-1, while Inter won 3-0 and Juve nicked a late win.

That saw us confirm Champions League qualification in fourth place with 77 points, which is 14 more than Mourinho managed last season, 23 wins, seven defeats and eight draws. We scored 77 and conceded a concerning 44. But we finished one point ahead of Inter and one behind Juve, but a huge 17 behind runaway winners Milan, who only lost twice all season.

2022/23 Season Review

Our first season has to be seen as a success (ignore Dan Friedkin), leading Roma into the Champions League. Abraham was our star player, finishing the season with 30 goals in 39 games – although he had 15 after seven! Dybala impressed in spells with 14 goals and eight assists in 36 games and 17-year-old Totti was our third-top scorer with seven goals in 24 games, of which just eight were starts.

Pellegrini got a club-high 14 assists but only three goals (in two games), while Schjelderup was solid with five goals and six assists in 24 games. But the problem areas have been full-backs, as none of them averaged over a 6.96, and midfield, where Pellegrini was inconsistent and we have a huge hole to fill next season. In short, I think it’s going to be a big summer transfer window!

A big positive has been the improvement of Faticanti, who trains superbly but gets bad ratings as he plays as a ball-winning midfielder, and the overachieving Totti. We added to that with a solid first youth intake of FM23 led by 5-star potential winger Matteo Nardini and 4.5-star winger Antonio Borri and goalkeeper Mattias Morlacchi, plus one 4-star potential talent.

Join us next time as we look to strengthen what will soon be a pretty threadbare AS Roma squad for season two of Giallorossi!

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