After their midweek disappointment in Ukraine, many around the various Roma circles began clamoring for a change in Eusebio Di Francesco’s starting lineup. While the switch to the 4-2-3-1 unleashed Cengiz Ünder, and pacified the teeming masses in the process, it’s still left a bit to be desired in terms of increased efficiency and actual output. Not that we should read too much into Wednesday’s match, given the weather conditions etc., but many have pointed to last season’s capocannoniere, and would be Chelsea striker Edin Dzeko, as the scapegoat for Roma’s struggles.
In some ways, Dzeko stands as the ideal case study for the current debate between modern analytics and what one sees with one’s peepers; results. Last year Dzeko perfectly strode the line between expectations and results, leading Serie A in both expected goals and, you know, actual goals. Dzeko was simultaneously a poster child for the classic striker (score goals now, ask questions later) and a darling of analytics (high shot quality, high conversion and high efficiency)—everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
This year, not so much. While Dzeko remains in the top ten in both categories, he’s fallen some three goals short of his expected total. While Dzeko remains a voluminous shooter—his 4.7 shots per match is tops in the league—he’s not necessarily getting and/or taking high quality shots, as his 43% shot accuracy ranks 39th among all Serie A forwards. All of this amounts to a guy who looks like he’s doing alright on the surface (11 goals and nearly five attempts a game) but is struggling to make the most of those chances. To be fair, some of this is beyond his control as he’s dependent on service from his teammates.
Nevertheless, this has led to calls for Patrik Schick, Roma’s soon-to-be €42 million man, to get more run. On the prospect of Schick starting, EDF was rather ambiguous:
All the players are ready and Schick is one of many who could be in the starting XI. In normal squad rotation, there will be some changes.
We tried Schick with Dzeko and it didn’t go well, but other times it could work. Schick and Dzeko are the two centre-forwards in this squad, whereas Gregoire Defrel is a bit more of a Joker in the pack who can have different roles.
You see, to EDF, Shick and Dzeko are like Skinner and Krabappel.
That’s from the classic episode of The Simpsons were the PTA disbands, but it’s relevant to this discussion: in their brief experimentation, Schick and Dzeko have repelled rather than attracted.
Di Francesco expanded his rotational discussions to include Radja Nainggolan and Stephan El Shaarawy:
I always said that we could return to 4-3-3. It makes me smile that you ask me about Radja Nainggolan, as you harassed me to make him play trequartista and you’re still not happy. Aside from the system, Radja needs to rediscover the strength and determination. Attitude makes the difference and I am convinced he’ll get back to being the Nainggolan we all know.
First off, nailed it! I called that in yesterday’s discussion of AC Milan’s tactics—don’t assume EDF has permanently turned his back on the 4-3-3. It will most definitely rear its ugly head again. But something about that accusatory tone makes me think EDF has a bit of Spalletti in him, at least in terms of his ability to weather the Roma press...keep an eye on that, we all know how that story ends.
On El Shaarawy:
More than the pedigree of what someone did in their career, the current form is more important, Stephan has been in these Champions League ties before, but physically and psychologically he was not on top form. As Alessandro Florenzi wasn’t well and we needed someone versatile like Gerson, with Schick capable of changing a game off the bench, I had no more room.
In a way, SES’s exclusion on Wednesday shows just how deep this squad is, but as I’ve always maintained, form or not, El Shaarawy is a game changer based on pure athleticism alone, so, to me, that seems like a card you want to keep in the deck at all times.
EDF as also correct in his assertion that, at this stage in the season, the margin for error is practically non-existent, so while he has a plethora of options at his disposal, now isn’t really the optimal time for experimentation.
So with only three months remaining on the schedule, and a dog fight for third and fourth places ahead of them, what’s the wiser gamble: Schick catching fire or Dzeko out performing his underlying stats?
Who should start tomorrow against Milan?
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