We talked a little bit about the expected restart of Serie A on June 20th, and although I’m still comfortably in the “wait and see if this actually happens” camp, at the very least, we now have a chance to write more about the Roma of the here and now. When the league does return, Roma will find herself in a precarious situation. Currently sitting in fifth place in the table, three points behind Atalanta, the Giallorossi will need to find form fast if they want to leapfrog La Dea and find space in the Champions League for next season. To do that, they’re going to need a lightning-fast restart from a couple key Roma players.
Roma’s Flying Dutchman was putting together quite a good season for himself before coronavirus stopped Serie A (and the world) in its tracks. In all competitions, Kluivert scored seven and assisted two in a shade under 2,000 minutes of play. When you consider that he was never viewed as a primary attacking option while on the field for the Giallorossi to date, that’s a nice tally.
If Roma’s match against Juventus on January 12th had gone a little differently, Kluivert probably wouldn’t be on this list. Yet Nicolò Zaniolo’s ACL tear has effectively forced the freshly-minted 21-year-old to take a much larger role in Roma’s attacking lineup. Zaniolo may be able to return before the end of the season; he’s shown quite a lot of progress in training. Yet if Paulo Fonseca wants to avoid a repeat of The Kevin Strootman Injury Experience, he’d be wise to slowly bring the Italian international into the team, while letting Kluivert have a much larger role in the side. He has just as much, if not more talent than Cengiz Ünder, and his ability to track back defensively fits with Fonseca’s tactical style.
You never want your star player to go down, particularly when he’s as young as Zaniolo. But if the Giallorossi are smart, they can use the restart of Serie A to help launch Justin Kluivert into superstardom.
When Lorenzo Pellegrini returned to Roma after a successful spell with Sassuolo, expectations were high. He was expected to follow in the footsteps of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, and Alessandro Florenzi, becoming a stalwart of both Roma and the Azzurri, representing the incredible footballing history of Roman-born talent.
To a certain extent, that’s happened. Pellegrini is arguably Roma’s second-most important player in terms of future potential, behind only Nicolò Zaniolo; similarly, although he hasn’t banged in the goals at the rate he did with the Neroverdi, Pellegrini has fit in well with both Eusebio Di Francesco’s and Paulo Fonseca’s tactics. However, there’s a sense among many Romanisti that Pellegrini is still unfinished, that he is impressive but not a star like De Rossi and Totti. His eleven assists in all competitions so far this season are quite impressive, but his goalscoring ability has gone missing.
If Pellegrini wants Roma fans to develop half as much affection for him as they did for Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, he needs to find that next level of play. Beyond that, Roma needs more midfield talent that can be a goalscoring threat. The sales of Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman certainly changed the dynamics of the Giallorossi midfield, and although Amadou Diawara, Gonzalo Villar, and Jordan Veretout can impress on their days, Pellegrini is the player with the most potential to break double-digits in the scorer’s table one day. If he can even come close to doing that in 2020, Roma’s quest for the Champions League will become much, much simpler.
Edin Džeko is the fulcrum of Roma’s attack, there’s no other way to put it. Looking within the current Roma squad, there’s nobody who compares. Zaniolo has plenty of promise and the air of a fantasista, but in terms of consistent goalscoring ability, Roma needs Džeko to perform. Even if rumors of a Nahuel Bustos or Moise Kean signing come to fruition, neither player would be a Džeko replacement in the short term. They would simply help Roma as Džeko inches closer and closer to retirement.
As for what Džeko and Roma have right now, the Bosnian has certainly delivered so far this season. Fifteen goals in all competitions over the course of 2,719 minutes, or a goal just about every other match, is nothing to sneeze at. Yet if Roma wants to reach the Champions League, the Bosnian Diamond can’t rest on his laurels. Expecting anything from Nikola Kalinic is an exercise in futility, and although Roma’s many wingers can help bang them in when necessary, for Roma to win, Džeko must be at the top of his game. That’s been true since his capocannoniere season, and it will remain true until Roma finds a long-term replacement for him.
So, what do you think? Are there any other players that Roma needs to have firing on all cylinders to reach her goal of Champions League football this season?