AS Roma took Serie A by storm in 2023/24, romping to the Italian title by smashing club records left, right and centre. The challenge now was to further strengthen key areas of a team that was packed with exciting talent.
Our success last season saw the club’s bank balance boosted to £175 million and a transfer budget of £102 million to work with. We also sold on several backup or underperforming players, including Zeki Celik going to Benfica for £14.5m and Leonardo Spinazzola joining Milan at the end of his contract, to boost that transfer kitty to over £130 million. So I set about spending some of it.
First on my list was a player I’d been scouting since day one of the save. I’d heard plenty about Palmeiras sensation Endrick being “the next big thing” but, until now, he’d shown zero interest in a move. The youngster eventually appeared keen and we agreed a deal to bring him in for just £11.25m. However, he tore an ab muscle the day before signing and will be out for three months! I think he’s best off as an inside forward from the right, despite being a natural striker, due to only being 5ft 9in.
He was joined by last season’s loanee Dominik Szoboszlai, who signed permanently for £21m. We strengthened the defence with Bologna’s Wisdom Amey for £14.5m, 16-year-old Sampdoria right-back Andrea Croce for £4m and 23-year-old left-back Fabiano Parisi for £17.75m from Empoli. However, we really struggled to find a first-choice right back as teams kept jumping on our bids and signing players on less wages than we offered them! So we eventually made a signing that doesn’t really fit my youth or legendary player signing policy as we brought in 28-year-old Benjamin Pavard for £18.5m from PSG. Much more my type of signing was 18-year-old centre-back Martin Georgiev for £5m from Barcelona.
In total, we spent £96m and brought in £17m, which left the squad looking in good shape. And the tactic now looks like this:
Roma’s Serie A defence begins
The media bumped us up to a predicted third-place finish at 5/1 to win for the title. Milan are 5/2 favourites followed by Juve at 7/2 and Inter and Napoli are at 6/1. Andreas Schjelderup, Nicoló Barella and Tammy Abraham are in the Dream 11.
Our title defence began against two promoted sides. We fell behind at Cagliari but Barella quickly levelled. We took control after the break as Pavard scored a debut screamer and 39-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench to score a penalty. Our first game at Stadio Olimpico was a battle of two massive strikers, as Lorenzo Lucca put Pisa ahead with their first shot then a quickfire Abraham double put us in front. He wrapped up his hat-trick 10 minutes after the break before Ronaldo replaced him and scored. And Abraham scored again in a 2-0 success at Genoa.
The winning start ended as we came from behind to draw 1-1 at Milan, then our 28-game unbeaten streak ended with a 2-0 loss at Bologna, which took them top of the league. We responded straight away with an Abraham brace inspiring a 2-0 win over Udinese, a late Ronaldo double helping us beat Brescia 4-0 away and Endrick got his first goal for the club in a 3-0 success at Sassuolo.
That took us into a run of really tricky games. First, we went to Napoli and had the best chances but earned a solid 0-0. We had a cagey start at home to Lazio but took control through Roony Bardghji before Abraham and a Ronaldo penalty killed them off. Three days later we went to Inter, who obviously scored their only shot before the 90th minute! I threw water bottles at half-time and it worked as Bardghji created two goals in a minute for Abraham and Barella, before Ronaldo scored off the bench again.
A week later, we welcomed Juventus to town and hammered them with 14 shots to two in the first half, and made one count through that man Ronaldo against his former club. Roger Ibanez headed home a second before Ronaldo was the star man, terrorising Juve’s defence and wrapping up a hat-trick. And to remind you, he’s 39!!
We concluded 2024 by hammering 10-man Spezia 5-0 with Abraham and midfielder Alberto Moleiro both bagging braces. At the same time, Milan lost 2-1 at Juve, which took us into a two-week break with a six-point lead at the top of Serie A. Both Abraham and Ronaldo have 11 league goals, with the latter only starting three and making 12 sub appearances, but they trail the league’s top scorer Lautaro Martínez (14). Abraham and Ronaldo also have the league’s best average ratings of 7.58 and 7.53, while Bardghji and Borella lead the assists chart with nine and six.
First look at the new-look Champions League
The Champions League format switches to a strange new league format from the 2024/25 campaign. If you’re unaware, 36 teams compete in a league table, each playing eight games against a selection of the other 35 between September and the end of January. The top eight proceed to the last 16 and the next 16 go into playoff games with the eight winners also progressing. We got what my PA judged to be a tough draw, but it’s honestly hard to know. At least we still don’t have to play Erling Haaland.
Worryingly, we started with a trip to Bayern but nicked a 0-0 in a really bad match. Next was Villarreal at home and we fell behind to Moreno’s early goal but an Abraham penalty and excellent Barella strike earned a 2-1 win, in which Endrick had a terrible debut. We then went to Israel and Hapoel Be’er-Sheva obviously scored their only attack of the match after nine minutes. But Ronaldo equalised on his first start of the season and we won 3-1.
We got battered early on at Arsenal, conceding three in the first half-hour. I went more cautious, turned on a low block and Bardghji and Abraham dragged us back to 3-2, but we lost 4-2. We hosted Man UFC next, so I threw Ronaldo in for a start and he scored within four minutes! UFC came back and went 2-1 in front through our former player Zaniolo, then Schjelderup dragged us level but Zaniolo scored again. But we had the last laugh as Abraham came on to nick a late point. However, we lost a terrible match 1-0 at Leipzig to drop to 19th, where we stayed. I think that puts us in the hat for the first playoff round to reach the last 16. But I’ll say it now – I really don’t like this new Champions League format.
To answer the question in the article headline – time will tell whether Endrick really is the next big thing. But for now, he’s nowhere near as good as Bardghji or Schjelderup. But I suspect he will improve as he gets more game time. One thing we do know is that Abraham is monstrous on FM23. He concluded 2024 by coming third in the Ballon d’Or and Footballer of the Year behind Mbappé and Haaland.
Can AS Roma continue their fine league form and defend their Serie A crown? Join us next time to find out!