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Facing Injuries to Dzeko and Kalinic, Could Roma Turn to Zaniolo at Forward?

Injuries to Edin Dzeko and Nikola Kalinic may force Paulo Fonseca to get inventive.

AS Roma v Istanbul Basaksehir - UEFA Europa League Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yesterday's scoreless draw against Sampdoria was a golden opportunity for Roma's reserve forward, Nikola Kalinic, to stake a claim in Paulo Fonseca's rotation. With Edin Dzeko out with, you know, a broken face, Kalinic was primed for some serious minutes over the next couple of weeks, an opportunity to silence the critics that have followed him everywhere from Milan to Atletico Madrid to the 2018 World Cup.

However, all of that disappeared like dust in the wind when he was subbed off in the 47th minute following a leg injury, forcing Edin Dzeko into an awkward and uncomfortable 45 minutes at the Marassi on Sunday afternoon. Dzeko, with visible swelling and discoloration still underneath his eyes, never really got into rhythm yesterday, seemingly unable to grow accustomed to his new facial accessories—though he did look pretty fucking cool if we're being honest.

Roma weathered the storm (somewhat), but these pair of injuries exposed Roma's soft underbelly; they have no depth at striker. With Zan Celar toiling away in Serie B (one goal in six matches), Roma has no third option behind their two Balkan forwards, potentially putting Paulo Fonseca in an awkward position if either of them remains sidelined for even a week—Roma have three matches before the end of October.

All of which brings us to a speculative and somewhat awkward junction, one that should make those of you clamoring to see Nicolo Zaniolo as a forward grin with delight; Roma's injuries woes could be your blessing in disguise.

We're talking, of course, about a return to the 4-6-0, a/k/a the false nine, a/k/a Luciano Spalletti's greatest gift to football. No one can say for certain, but back in 2007, facing his own injury crisis, Spalletti conjured this formation out of thin air, overloading the midfield with four players (two of whom were wingers), while Francesco Totti worked his magic in the pocket of space between the opposition’s defense and midfield.

Someone else may have tinkered with this tactic at some point in the game's grand history, but Spalletti's tactical twerk was perhaps the most impactful innovation in the past 15 years. It was a razor's edge for sure, but the false nine's ability to keep opponents off kilter produced some beautiful football and paved the way further tactical innovation in the ensuing decade.

Fonseca leans on the same base 4-2-3-1 that Spallletti morphed back in ‘07, so should Dzeko or Kalinic face extended stays on the sideline, it wouldn't require that great a leap of faith for the Portuguese tactician.

Try this on for size:

It wouldn't be a like-for-like replica of that glorious 2007 team, particularly since Zaniolo, as we just discussed yesterday, doesn't have the most deft touch in the final third, so he wouldn't be able to recreate Totti's creativity in this role. The Kid is, however, a physical specimen, so if Fonseca used him purely as a hit man, this could work. It wouldn't be a false nine in the purest sense (more like a 4-5-1), but it would accentuate Zaniolo’s size, strength and ability to run into space, particularly if Lorenzo Pellegrini or Henrikh Mkhitaryan return sooner than expected from their injuries, and if all else fails, a two "striker” system with Pastore and Zaniolo could be a joy to watch.

This could prove to be a moot point if Dzeko and Kalinic are good to go for Thursday's Europa League match and beyond, but with Roma's offense looking stagnant lately, perhaps a little creativity is just what they need.

We still don't really know what Zaniolo is, but perhaps this change would awaken the goal-scoring beast inside him.