Thomas Vermaelen has revealed he has been “very impressed” by the quality of his new teammates since arriving at Roma on a season-long loan.
The former Barcelona, Arsenal and Ajax defender has been a Giallorossi player for less than a week, yet has already trained extensively with the first-team group and also started Wednesday’s friendly victory against US Latina.
And the Belgium international feels he is settling in well.
“I think in the dressing room there is a good atmosphere,” Vermaelen said, at his first press conference in Rome. “I had a warm welcome from all the players. Of course I know some players, there are some familiar faces, so that makes it easier for me. And of course the training is going well.
“I’m very impressed with the quality this team has. I’m very happy with the game I have already played, because for me I have just started pre-season and it is good to have some game time as well, but so far it is going very well.”
Given his Premier League experience – Vermaelen spent five years at Arsenal – he was asked about his thoughts on Leicester City’s remarkable title win last season, and whether that could be replicated in Italy this term.
“I think it can happen anywhere,” he said. “It has happened in a few leagues before, these kind of surprises. We look at ourselves, I look at Roma now and if I look at the squad then I think we have the quality to fight for the title.
“Obviously you look at Juventus and it is a team that has won the last five times, but we start the league with full confidence to go for it and winning the league is something we want to achieve.”
One major subject of discussion among the media ahead of the new season is whether coach Luciano Spalletti will play with a four-man defence, or opt instead for three central defenders and push the wide players further forward.
Vermaelen is ready for either eventuality.
“Of course it’s not a decision I have to make, but from my experience in the past I have often played with four defenders,” he noted. “But, for example at Barcelona sometimes the midfielder would drop between the two central defenders and then you would start out from the back with three.
“So I think you can practice both and both have their advantages and if you can do both then you can switch during a game, which gives you a good advantage. Personally I don’t have a preference – I think you have to train both so you can play them together. It is something we will work on during the next weeks and months.”
He added: “I think for me it is very important to get to know [Spalletti] now and see how he wants to play as a team. Right now I think it is quite similar to the teams I have played for, he wants to build play from the back, he wants to play with the ball on the floor which I’m used to and I think is very good. But even as the weeks and months progress I will get to know him more and more and better and better as I train.”
Roma’s first test of the season will come on Wednesday, as they face Porto in the first leg of the Champions League play-off. Vermaelen, who has experience of such ties, believes it will be about handling the occasion as well as possible.
"Of course there is pressure on these games. They are very important for the club and as a player everybody wants to play in the Champions League,” he said. “But a lot of players are used to the pressure, they are used to playing in games like this before – I had to play with Arsenal a couple of times the playoffs for Champions League and you realise they are so important.
“There is lots of pressure on them but that is why you are here, as a football player if you play at the top level. So that is no excuse for next week. We have to go into these games with lots of confidence and try to beat Porto.”
Vermaelen’s time at Barcelona was disrupted by injuries – but he insists he is feeling fit and firing and just needs game-time to build back towards his best.
“At the moment I feel good, I have no problems at all,” he said. “Of course I started pre-season only two weeks ago, something like that, so I try to work to get better and better.
“It’s very important for players to get game time, that’s how you get fitter and fitter. Obviously I’ve had my issues over the last two years, for some reason, but as I said I hope to get as many games as I can as I think that is the only way you can get fitter and fitter and get into some sort of rhythm. That is very important for me.”