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Season Preview: The Forwards

A talented mix of veterans and youngsters will try to increase Roma’s goal scoring output.

AS Roma v Tottenham Hotspur - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

Just two seasons ago, under the guidance of Luciano Spalletti, Roma scored an outstanding 90 league goals. Edin Dzeko was in sizzling form, scoring nearly a third of the team’s goals, as he won capocannoniere with 29 tallies to his name. Fast forward twelve months to the end of last season, and the output wasn’t nearly as impressive.

Last season, in Eusebio Di Francesco’s first in charge of Roma, the Giallorossi managed just 61 league goals, which equated to a significant drop in goal scoring. The team went from scoring nearly 2.4 goals per game under Spalleti to just over 1.6 goals a game under Di Francesco.

New coach, and new system certainly had an effect on the output. For example, with Radja Nainggolan playing less as attacking midfielder his goal production dropped from 11 goals under Spalletti to just 4 under EdF. In addition to the change in coach and system, the sale of Mohamed Salah to Liverpool deprived the club of a key member of their attack. Salah contributed 15 goals and created countless opportunities with his blistering pace, something that Roma sorely missed last season. It became a season of transition at the forward position and the effects could be seen in the numbers.

However, the team showed flashes of the potential that the attack possesses, most notably in the Champions League. It was in Europe where Di Francesco’s attack was most lethal. The Giallorossi twice scored three on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, another three in their miracle comeback against Barca, and four in their last gasp second leg effort against Liverpool. EdF and company will try and transfer their European form into Serie A this season, as they look to improve on their 61 goal output from last season.

The Center Forwards

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Edin Dzeko

Age: 32

Roma Appearances: 139

Serie A Appearances: 104

As noted earlier, Dzeko’s goal scoring in the league dropped off significantly last season from 29 to 16. However, he showed that he still has the ability to make opponents pay with his eight goals in 12 Champions League matches. There’s no question that Dzeko scoring goals is essential to Roma’s attack hitting top gear. Dzeko, being a presence in the box, often relies on service from the wings and midfield but he’s more than capable of creating his own shot. For a big striker he’s a solid dribbler and can score some real gems at times.

However, the big Bosnian does so much more for the squad than score goals. Dzeko is a force in the air both on set pieces and long clearances, where he wins countless headers for the squad. Dzeko’s hold up play is also invaluable to the squad, especially when Roma are playing stronger opponents and possession is not as easy to come by. He works hard for the team and fights to the very end; just remember how important that late goal at the Camp Nou turned out to be. As evidenced by his three seasons in the capital, as Dzeko goes, often so does the Roma attack. If Dzeko can have another big season then Roma’s attack could be on par with the best in Serie A by season’s end.

FC Barcelona v AS Roma - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Patrik Schick

Age: 22

Roma Appearances: 26

Serie A Appearances: 54

Last season, his first in the Capital, turned into a bit of a lost season for the young Czech, after arriving from Sampdoria with big expectations. Between his early season health issues and often being employed out of position when he was on the field, Schick failed to produce the goods. This preseason Schick looks to be regaining the form that made him one of Serie A’s hottest prospect two seasons ago at Samp.

Still just 22 years old, Schick is one of Roma’s hottest prospects. If the ICC is any indication, he should begin to show why a bit more this season. Dzeko isn’t getting any younger and Schick’s development is essential in allowing Roma to get the big Bosnian some days off. If things go right for Schick, he should be a reliable understudy to Dzeko this season before eventually succeeding him as Roma’s primary striker in the not too distant future.

The Wingers

AS Roma v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Stephan El Shaarawy

Age: 25

Roma Appearances: 106

Serie A Appearances: 167

Il Faraone is an interesting case study. He’s still just 25 years old, even though he feels older, after making his Serie A debut with Genoa almost a decade ago. There’s no doubt that El Shaarawy possesses plenty of talent. He has shown it in bits and pieces since his January 2016 arrival. However, he has yet to truly display what he’s capable of often enough to become a consistent starter for Roma.

This inconsistency can be maddening at times, but when it all comes together he can create moments of ecstasy for I Lupi; most notably his performance against Chelsea in the Champions League last season. This could be Il Faraone’s make or break season with Roma because of these inconsistencies. He’s been a 7-8 goal man since his arrival, so that should be the minimum expectation. However, for this attack to really produce Roma will likely need a bit more from El Shaarawy. If he sees enough time at his preferred left wing position and finds his top form consistently then a dozen tallies is certainly with the realm of possibility.

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Cengiz Ünder

Age: 21

Roma Appearances: 32

Serie A Appearances: 26

Ünder came to Roma as a completely unknown commodity with nothing more than a nickname “The Turkish Dybala” to go off of. Early on it was rough sledding for the young Turk, as he tried to get acclimated to the quality of Serie A. As the calendar turned to 2018, Ünder began to show his qualities. During the second half of the season he scored seven league goals as he began to feature more on the right side of the attack. This could be the breakthrough season which puts Ünder on the map in both Italy and Europe. As he continues to hone his talents and killer left foot, Ünder could become a real star for Roma.

FC Barcelona v AS Roma - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Diego Perotti

Age: 30

Roma Appearances: 97

Serie A Appearances: 115

Along with Dzeko, Perotti is a veteran presence in a very young forward group. Also, like his peer at left wing, El Shaarawy, Perotti has also been inconsistent in his time in the capital. Never known for his goal scoring, Perotti is more of a creator than El Shaarawy on the wing. When he’s on his game, he will run at defenders and create for his teammates; something that Roma could use on a more consistent basis from the Argentine. Perotti has also been invaluable as a penalty kick taker for Roma, and most of his goals come from the spot. For a player like Dzeko to reach his true goal scoring potential then players like Perotti need to create opportunities for him. Perotti could be a key to Roma’s hitting it’s top gear with so many young players in the fold.

AS Roma v Avellino - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Justin Kluivert

Age: 19

Roma Appearances: 0

Serie A Appearances: 0

Kluivert is the wild card of the group. The youngster arrived from Ajax at the beginning of the summer, bringing with him a famous name and plenty of talent. Glimpses of that talent have already been seen in Roma’s first two ICC matches this summer. Kluivert will likely cut his teeth in Serie A off the bench, while perhaps picking up some starts against some of the lesser sides early in the season. However, once he becomes acclimated, he could become a consistent contributor for Roma later in the season, similar to Ünder last season. He’s young and raw, but seems to have all the tools to become a real star like his father.

Predictions

Given the amount of talent in this group and the fact that 5/6 of it will be entering their second season together under EdF, more goals should be expected than last season. Dzeko will again be relied on to do the majority of the scoring. However, more will be expected from youngsters, Ünder and Schick, in their second full seasons to help ease the burden on the Bosnian. El Shaarawy and Perotti will likely be their usual selves, providing moments of magic with plenty of frustration in between. Meanwhile, Kluivert will likely be worked in slowly, much like Ünder last season.

To begin the year, I’d expect a starting trio of El Shaarawy or Perotti on the left, Dzeko in the middle, and Ünder on the right. However, I expect Schick to get more starts in the middle this season, and spell Dzeko more often to keep him fresh for Roma’s big matches. If Kluivert develops along the same path as Ünder last season, then a starting trio of Kluivert, Dzeko, and Ünder wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility late in the season. Meanwhile, a potential future starting trident of Kluivert, Schick, and Ünder will certainly excite Roma fans.

It’s still possible that Monchi brings in another winger before the end of the transfer window after the Malcom fiasco. However, it seems that the main position of need is in the midfield, so this group may very well be the one that EdF has at his disposal to open the season. If no one else arrives, I would still expect an uptick in the goal scoring total after last season’s disappointing 61. Roma have some potential stars on their hands in Ünder, Schick, and Kluivert, which could make for some mesmerizing attacking play at the Olimpico this season.