When I make any large purchase like a car, furniture or even just a new mattress, I usually do a fair amount of research before hitting the stores. Armed with my mother's Consumer Reports password, I can get a reasonable idea of price, reliability, comfort, and longevity before I venture out to the dealer/store. But a funny thing happens once I'm there; annoyed by the whole I process I usually just saw “fuck it, my saggy mattress and/or rusty car is fine. I don't need to put up with the hassle or spend the money on a new one.” And based on the actions of the past few months, or lack thereof, I think Gianluca Petrachi takes that same approach when shopping for strikers.
We're exaggerating of course, but the Serie A striker market is in a definite state of flux at the moment: Inter can't seem to pry Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United and they're reluctant to pay Roma the €20 million or so they want for Dzeko, Gonzalo Higuain is reluctant to leave Juventus while Mauro and Wanda Icardi are finding it hard to unburn bridges.
All of which may be pushing Roma towards that “ah, fuck it” moment with Edin Dzeko. Yeah, Higuain was good once upon a time and Belotti or Icardi could do well in Rome, but at this point, I’m sick of looking, Dzeko is fine. We’ll just change his oil and buy a new steering wheel cover. Good as new.
While I'm sure Petrachi is a more patient and measured man than I am, if Edin Dzeko does indeed stick around, we'd have no choice but to make the best of it, and in order to do that, we have to figure out what went wrong last season.
Dzeko Dos and Don'ts
As we've discussed several times this summer, by any measure Edin Dzeko is one of the greatest and most prolific strikers the club has ever had: with more than 80 goals to his credit, his name is firmly etched in Roma history already. And although he only managed 14 goals for Roma last year (all comps), Dzeko was a warhorse, logging over 3,000 minutes for the third consecutive season.
While the goal haul was disappointing, Dzeko did a lot of things quite well. Among Serie A forwards, Dzeko was top ten in total shots per game, third in shots in the penalty area per game, third in on target shots per game, third in total assists, ninth in expected goals and ninth in expected chain, which is the expected goals for every possession in which a player is involved.
In sum, Dzeko did the dirty work in the buildup portion of attack and was among the most prolific shooters (in terms of gross attempts and on-target attempts) in the league, so what the hell happened?
Well, when you take a lot of shots (as he did), you miss a lot of shots (as he did). Dzeko may have averaged four shots per match, and he may have put 1.5 of those on target, but the remaining 2.5 shots were either off target, hit the woodwork or were blocked. All told, Dzeko only put 39% of his shots on target, with a woeful (and I mean woeful) 7% conversion rate, both of which were well, well behind the league's other top strikers—Ronaldo, Piatek and Immobile all had accuracy rates at or above 40%, while their conversion rates were double, and in the case of Piatek, triple Dzeko's.
And that's really the long and short of it—Dzeko is as good as they come in terms of buildup play (which remains an underappreciated facet of his game), but as a volume shooter the negatives are starting to outweigh the positives. In each of the past three seasons, Dzeko has seen a decrease in his on-target attempts and his expected goals, while his blocked attempts have also increased. Now, I don't know that we can necessarily make a causal link there, but the proof is in the pudding—he's just not making good use of his attempts.
So, What's Roma to Do?
Dzeko may not be as quick as a traditional forward in Paulo Fonseca's system, but he still has the necessary intuition to make well-timed runs into the penalty area, as well as the playmaking ability to switch play back out wide, or to hold up play and lay it off to an advancing midfielder, so he could theoretically function in Fonseca's freewheeling attack. And indeed, if we draw tangential connections between Fonseca's 4-2-3-1 and the similar system used by Luciano Spalletti, then we might see a mini resurgence from Dzeko.
In some ways, Roma's desire to jettison Dzeko has as much to do with money as it does tactical fit. With only one year remaining on his contract, Roma risk losing Dzeko for nothing next June, but with five years and 80+ goals to his name, Roma have recouped their investment in the Bosnian Batistuta, so I'm not sure that should be the prime concern.
I'm on the record as saying getting rid of Dzeko a year too early is better than a year too late, and sure an additional €15 to €20 million in the books would be nice, but if the choice is simply Dzeko or Higuain, Roma should act like a Black Jack player on a hard 17.