If it seems like we've dedicated an inordinate amount of column space to Edin Dzeko on CdT--a player who has been with the club for all of six-and-a-half months--there's a good reason. In form and function, he represents so much of what this club was missing for so many years; a physically imposing, skilled and legitimate number nine to lead the line, someone capable of eating up defenders, creating space for his teammates and finishing with a flourish.
That's why Roma chased him for nearly six months, but once the season started, it began to look like the club was saddled with a lemon rather than a leader. Gone were the capocannoniere predictions, replaced instead with frustrating performances, infuriating misses, and a simple misunderstanding of how to properly utilize Dzeko's skillset.
Sure, there were intermittent success stories, his goal against Juventus in the fall stands out, but as the season wore on, we struggled to find the silver lining. While we basked in the glory of his holdup play (an important facet, of course), it still felt like we were grasping at straws. Dzeko was never meant to be the second coming of Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Luca Toni, players who were prolific in front of goal well into their 30s, but we had to expect a bit more than an expensive decoy, right?
Dzeko's struggles through the tail end of 2015 can't be attributed to any single factor--it was partially Garcia's tactics, a lack of linkup play, too much Gervinho, not to mention the menace in between his ears that was devouring his confidence--but whatever it was, it took on a life of its own, almost becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, it was with much joy that Dzeko celebrated his goal against Carpi over the weekend, his first since November. While it wasn't the most glamorous goal in the history of the sport, it was the proverbial cherry on top of his best statistical performance this season--at least based on Squawka's ambiguous "performance score" metric. Dzeko managed a 48 in that match, some ten points higher than any previous mark this season, and well above many of the negative numbers he was hoisting up during the Garcia days.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at what made Edin so effective over the weekend--first up, touches. While he was a mile short of Lucas Digne's 129 touches (I bet he slept well that night), Dzeko found the ball 50 times against Carpi, his high water mark under Spalletti. But, as well all know, touches are only as important as the area in which they occur.
As you can see, Dzeko had a pretty wide swath of touches, but you'll notice the concentrations closer to midfield, the source of his holdup magic. We spent enough time in the fall discussing this, but once again, this match proved just how valuable he can be in sustaining an attack--his ability to stop the ball enabled Roma's wide players, particularly Mohamed Salah, to get behind the defense and advance up the pitch. To wit, Dzeko and Salah linked up 18 times in this match, with Dzeko springing Salah closer to midfield, and Salah returning the favor closer to the box. In fact, Dzeko had four key passes in this match, all of which occurred in the box. Dzeko's holdup play may not be glamorous, but it makes an enormous difference in terms of establishing offensive continuity and momentum.
Okay, but besides that, what else sticks out in that graphic? That's right, the amorphous blob of neon green/yellow right in the box. Dzeko isn't Leo Messi or Robert Lewandowski; you gotta get him the ball where he can do damage, in the box. And thanks to Salah and Miralem Pjanic in particular, that's exactly what they did, which led to this:
There's no magic bullet to this one (the nutrient extractor kind, not the JFK kind), thanks to the service provided by Pjanic and Salah, among others, Dzeko managed five shots in the box, all of which were on target. Even with his struggles this season, the law of averages would dictate one would find its way home, right?
For expediencies sake, we won't even bother with his negative performances, but I think we've stumbled across a formula (of sorts) for Peak Dzeko Efficiency (PDE), not to be confused with the quadratic equation.
PDE = ≥35 touches X100 %
± 3OT shots
It's a simple formula, but one that Roma has ignored to their own peril this season. Or maybe not, I don't know, I'm not good at math. Just give the guy the damn ball close to goal.
End of story.
graphics via squawka.com