With Antonio Rüdiger, Mario Rui and (gasp) Thomas Vermaelen all rounding into form, beyond the lack of a backup striker, the only thing Roma is really missing is an attacking midfielder. While Roma’s starting trio of midfielders is among the game’s finest, they’re still lacking that final peg, the player who can pick out the final pass, feeding Edin Dzeko in high percentage scoring areas.
Repeat it with me...we’ve already discussed several options, most recently Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, but I’m here to throw another iron in the fire, Empoli’s erstwhile whiz kid Riccardo Saponara. Why erstwhile you ask? Well, for one it’s a great word, for two, Saponara has seen a dramatic decline in his play from last season, one in which he seemed like Italy’s next great #10, scoring five goals and dishing out an impressive 11 assists, all while averaging over two key passes, two dribbles and two shots per match, a feat no one on Roma managed last season.
Suffice it to say, the kid can ball, or at least he could last season. Whether it was the change in manager, losing some key teammates (Leandro Paredes and Piotr Zielinski) or simply the league “figuring him out”, Saponara’s statistics have taken a bit of a hit this season. Through 16 appearances, Saponara has tallied two goals and registered only one assist, while his triple double from last season, so to speak, has vanished, as he’s averaging only 1.6 shots, 1.1 key passes and 1.4 dribbles per match.
So, why would Roma even want Saponara given his decline in play?
Simple, he’s talented and young enough to believe that he can recapture last season’s form. Besides, throwing him alongside players like Dzeko, Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy is sure to be a boon to his creative juices. If he can recapture that spark, we might see a repeat of last season, wherein Roma managed to revive the still young careers of El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti. Saponara’s ability to create in the final third, particularly in the middle of the final third, is exactly what this team needs. Roma and Saponara are perfectly suited for one another.
With Empoli in the thick of a relegation fight, prying Saponara away from the Azzurri might be a sticky wicket. However, with the likes of Torino, Sassuolo and Bologna sniffing around Saponara, he may be more attainable than we originally thought. Furthermore, Saponara’s rumored €10 million asking price is a bit more palatable than some of the other transfer market options we’ve discussed over the past month.
So much of success in sports is about timing and location, and bringing Saponara in at this point of his career and into this Roma team might be the perfect confluence of both—Saponara is tailor made for this squad, making him a prime midseason revival candidate.
So, to whoever is pulling the strings this winter...