For so many years, even during Roma’s relative halcyon days of the early to mid ‘00s, the club was desperately searching for a striker, a true number nine to lead the line and take some goal scoring pressure off Francesco Totti’s golden shoulders. Luca Toni’s six month stretch in the Eternal City notwithstanding, the club failed miserably in their attempts to find a big man.
But you know what they did? They adapted. Whether he "invented" it or not is immaterial, Luciano Spalletti’s shift to the strikerless, false nine, 4-6-0 hybrid formation is arguably the defining tactical shift of 21st century football. Using Totti is this new role not only mitigated and virtually erased the woes of not having a striker, it completely flipped the script; Totti was now impossible to track and contain, while his vision, intelligence and creativity enabled the players around him (Vucinic in particular) to thrive.
Well, guess what? Spalletti has done it again. With Edin Dzeko’s struggles last spring, Spalletti recreated his mid decade masterstroke using the trio of Stephan El Shaarawy, Mohamed Salah and Diego Perotti, with the latter recreating Totti’s role.
Given how quickly and completely those three players gelled, they figure to be the keystones to Roma’s forward attack, but as we all know, football seldom goes according to plan, so let’s take a quick, holistic look at Roma’s forwards.
Well, no one really. Dzeko, Salah, El Shaarawy, Perotti and Francesco Totti are all back and should reassume their respective roles. The only outgoing pieces—Ezequiel Ponce and Umar Sadiq—were always meant for loan spells this season anyway, so this is one area in which Roma is actually blessed with continuity, and as we saw over the weekend, it’s already paying dividends.
In the technical sense, Roma purchased the full contractual rights of El Shaarawy, Perotti and Salah this summer, but those transactions were never really in doubt, though the SES negotiations gave some of us heart palpitations anyway. However, despite all our effusive praise, you can’t help but notice a glaring hole; there is no nominal backup for Dzeko, no traditional striker on the bench. That could be worrisome at some point this season, so we’ll keep an eye on that for the remainder of the transfer season.
Who Will Struggle
The easy answer is Dzeko, so we’ll go with that. His struggles down the stretch were well documented, but suffice it to say, Dzeko was more of a decoy than a goal scorer at several points last season. You could see it on his face and in his body language, he was lacking confidence, and with each successive miss, he only slipped further down the rabbit hole.
Considering how fluid, how dangerous and how successful the Salah-Perotti-SES trio was last season, if Dzeko starts flubbing shots again, he may struggle to find meaningful minutes. But—and this is crucial—he has Spalletti’s confidence and you have to say, through the preseason and the opener against Udinese, he looks different; more active and more confident.
Beyond that we should keep an eye on El Shaarawy and Perotti, each of whom turned in nearly unprecedented (for them) performances last spring, so we’ll have to see if they can take the next step forward.
Who Will Shine
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for El Shaarawy, but Salah is Roma’s most dangerous weapon up front. He doesn’t always make the right decision and can at times be a little selfish, but his speed, his left foot and his tenacity should enable him to exceed 15 goals this season. Quite simply, there is no other player quite like him in Serie A at the moment; his speed is otherworldly and more important than that, he has an understanding with Perotti, the hand that feeds him.
Speaking of which, if the Udinese match was any indication, expect a major, major breakthrough campaign from Perotti, who should cement himself as one of the league’s most complete and dynamic forwards.
Really, we’re talking about a crew here that took the league by storm once Spalletti took over, so big things are expected from each and everyone of them.
Confidence Factor: 11/10
Roma scored 83 goals last season, 47 of which came after Spalletti took over. Of those league leading 83 goals, 57% were scored by forwards. Like we said, the expectations were high. The interplay between El Shaarawy, Perotti and Salah is a sight to behold and the trio could account for 40 goals alone, while Dzeko allows Spalletti to change the pace and structure of Roma’s attack when needed.
And of course, lurking behind them all is Serie A’s greatest weapon, Francesco Totti the supersub. As we saw down the stretch last spring, Totti can do what no other man in the league can; change the tide of a match in mere minutes. Totti’s retirement tour will be interesting to watch, at some point you figure it has to dawn on Spalletti that Totti isn’t coming back, so perhaps he’ll put the pedal to the metal and let Totti loose.
Whatever the case may ultimately be, Roma’s attack will be fast and loose. There is no defense in the league that can contain these guys for a full 90 minutes, so sit back and enjoy the show.