Miralem Pjanic is many things--a field marshall, playmaker, free kick specialist and traitor--but now we can add one more thing to that last; gone. By now we've all seen the photos of Pjanic and his oblong head holding up Juventus' unmistakably ugly home strip, dollar signs glinting off his eyes with the Juventus Stadium in the background. Pjanic's Roma career is dead and gone, but in its ashes rises an even more bitter rival with the Old Lady of Italian football.
In the face of that loss, last week we ran over a few possible replacements on the transfer market--Borja Valero, Mateo Kovacic, Leandro Paredes and Piotr Zielinksi--and while we could add a dozen or so more to that list (Christian Eriksen, Giorgino Wijnaldum and Axel WItsel to name a few), today we're going to focus on Pjanic's tactical replacement rather than his positional replacement; that is to say, the man through whom Roma's offense will flow in Pjanic's absence.
And guess what? He's already here, in fact he's been here since January. We're speaking, of course, about everyone's favorite late bloomer, Diego Perotti, who burst on the scene in early February, becoming the mortal equivalent of Francesco Totti's revered and canonized false nine role.
While Miralem Pjanic's 2015-2016 numbers were pretty evenly split between Rudi Garcia and Luciano Spalletti, once Perotti became a fixture in Spalletti's lineup in early February, his greatest contribution was that of a playmaker; his importance in Spalletti's strikerless system was key to Roma's resurgence in the spring; his movement and passing made in exceedingly difficult for opposing defences to decipher and slow down Roma's attack.
Granted, it's not as if Pjanic disappeared down the stretch, far from it, it's just that Perotti's role was so incisive, that when you really look at it, it takes some of the worry away from losing Pjanic. To wit, since February 2 against Sassuolo, Perotti's first appearance, Diego scored more goals, passed with greater precision, won a greater percentage of duels, and, most importantly, created only two fewer chances than Pjanic, and this was all while making approximately 180 fewer passes.
While some of these statistics are products of their respective roles, let's use an illustrative example to show how influential Perotti can be in shifting, sparking and orchestrating an attack, Roma's derby victory from the spring. In that 4-1 win over Lazio, both Perotti and Pjanic played the full 90, and while Pjanic wasn't necessarily terrible, it was Perotti who truly sparkled.
Take a look at the spread of his touches:
As you can see, Perotti made himself practically available all over the pitch. You won't notice one particular cluster of touches, he had several areas--almost a horseshoe around the midfield and the left flank--in which at least 10% of his touches originated; he was picking the ball up deep, working the left flank with Stephan El Shaarawy and creating chances in front of the goal. This movement sufficiently confused the Lazio defense, who were unable to key on Perotti and by extension Roma's attack, thereby ensuring an easy victory.
Pjanic, meanwhile, was rather limited in his range, taking roughly 43% of his touches on either side of the midfield. Now, this isn't an indictment of Pjanic, but rather an illustration of Spalletti's shift from a midfield-reliant attack to a more forward originating offense, a shift that should enable a smooth transition this summer.
Of course, there is the unquantifiable, the notion that Perotti was able to do all this simply because of Pjanic's presence, but what our eyes can see and what the numbers tell us is rather simple to understand--Diego Perotti was the focal point of Roma's attack for the final four months of the season.
Considering the resounding success they experienced with Perotti at the helm down the stretch, Pjanic or no Pjanic, Roma shouldn't experience a precipitous decline in his absence.
There was a reason why many of us were so excited about Spalletti's return; he changed Roma's paradigm and indirectly and unwittingly set the club up for success in a post Pjanic world.
Now, if they can go ahead and get someone like Mateo Kovacic, I won't complain, but Spalletti's tactical shift has put us in good hands.
graphic via squawka.com