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Džeko, Zaniolo Highlights of Roma’s Attacking Corps This Season

Roma certainly has stars up front, but expect major changes to the front line in the near future.

FBL-EUR-C3-ROMA-BASAKSEHIR Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

With some exceptions, the attacking players at a club are the stars of the show week in and week out. Kids buy their kits the most; they have the highest salaries; they’re the ones that might cause 10,000 fans to congregate to celebrate their signing. Some might say that they prefer tactical cohesion and a 1-0 squeaker win to an attacking masterpiece, but they’re typically lying, at least to themselves. Attackers justify the price of admission.

Given that, there’s a lot more scrutiny put on the performances on attackers. If the star doesn’t perform, the fans who were adoring them moments ago will want them gone just as fast. Add in the fact that even a casual fan can attempt to figure out who the best attackers are by reviewing goals scored and assists tallied, and there’s no doubt that attackers receive the most praise and the most flak over the course of a season (or even over the course of a match). It’s a cruel game, but the highest highs have to be balanced out by the lowest lows.

And now, allow me to add to that by dividing Roma’s attacking corps into two groups: The Stars and The Exes. Being on The Exes list doesn’t mean that you’re not a talented player, far from it. It simply means that your future is most likely not in Rome, or your performances need to drastically improve in Fonseca’s system for your stay to be much longer. You might notice that there are only two players in The Stars section; quite simply, that’s because as of right there looks to be only two Roma players with a future at the Olimpico. As for the others, I hope to be proven wrong.

The Stars

Edin Džeko

AS Roma v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Appearances: 43 | Goals: 19 | Assists: 9 | Shots per game: 3.5

Barring his compatriot in The Stars group, Edin Džeko was arguably Roma’s most talented player this season. The easy counting stats back me up here; The Bosnian Diamond scored 19 and assisted 8 in all competitions, garnering him an average WhoScored rating of 7.43. Those tallies resulted in Džeko ending up tied for sixth in most goals and most assists league-wide, and if things had gone differently here and there, he could have been Roma’s first player to record a league double-double in quite some time. In addition, Džeko reached a major club milestone, becoming Roma’s fourth-highest goalscorer.

Yet Džeko’s season can’t be summed up just with goals scored and assists made. The fact that Džeko creates such a clear point of attack for the Giallorossi enables him to flick balls in just the right way, not always creating assists for himself but often creating goal-scoring chances nevertheless. In addition, his off-the-ball movement forces defenders to pay him mind, opening up chances for other Roma players pushing forward.

If you haven’t gotten on the Džeko train already, there’s little chance that you’ll get on now. He does display exasperation on the field more than some of his teammates, it’s true, and the continuous rumors of him wanting a move to Inter are disconcerting to say the least. Regardless, five seasons into Džeko’s time with the Giallorossi, it’s clear that the Bosnian will be viewed as a major star of Roma’s 2010s. Here’s hoping he can get some silverware with the club before calling it a day.

Grade: A, A+ in context of his contributions to Roma on the whole.

Nicolò Zaniolo

Nicolo Zaniolo of AS Roma celebrates after scoring the goal... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

Appearances: 33 | Goals: 8| Assists: 4| Shots per game: 1.9

Even if you’re meandering over to Chiesa di Totti for the first time, you probably know who this is. Nicolò Zaniolo is the most hyped Italian prospect going right now, and it’s one of the few situations where the hype is deserved. Despite losing a significant amount of time to an ACL tear this season, the Italian international continued to develop into more and more of a star for the Giallorossi.

In 35 appearances across all competitions, Zaniolo scored eight goals and assisted four, becoming almost as much of a key cog in Roma’s attack as Edin Džeko before he would be able to buy a beer in the United States. Add in his averages of a key pass per match and 2.3 dribbles per match, and the talent level on display is clear. He’s not another Džeko in terms of goals scored, but he’s also not expected to be another Džeko. That’s fine, and good in fact.

Steven has an article coming out soon going more in-depth into Zaniolo’s performance this season, but suffice it to say that despite a horrific ACL tear against Juventus, The Kid showed himself to be the future of the Giallorossi, if they can keep their hands on him. Dan Friedkin, if you’re reading this: give Zaniolo whatever he wants to stay in Rome for as long as possible.

Grade: A+. Moving up to the accelerated track next season.

The Exes

Cengiz Ünder

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Appearances: 23 | Goals: 3| Assists: 0 | Shots per game: 1.5

A player who many thought could be the future of Roma disappeared, particularly after the restart. Ünder’s lack of defensive tracking ability probably doomed him in Fonseca’s Roma, but four goals in 24 appearances this season still isn’t enough justification to keep him around into the future. His most impressive overall performance came in January’s 1-1 draw to Lazio, yet even then he didn’t score a goal.

Grade: C+. Probably needs a change of scenery (and manager) more than anything else.

Justin Kluivert

Justin Kluivert of AS Roma looks on during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Appearances: 31 | Goals: 7| Assists: 1 | Shots per game: 1.5

The promising Dutchman remained just that: promising. Seven goals and one assist across all competitions isn’t bad, but the way he literally disappeared once Fonseca shifted tactics in the restart doesn’t bode well for his future in Rome. It would be easier to cut Kluivert some slack if Nicolò Zaniolo didn’t exist, but Zaniolo does exist and has found stardom with the Giallorossi, while Kluivert has not found that just yet. Compared to Ünder, I would say there’s definitely still a chance Kluivert hangs around the Giallorossi for a while longer, and he may even still become a key cog in Roma’s attack. He’ll have to find a new level of play if he’s to do that, however.

Grade: B. Great expectations are heavy on anyone’s shoulders, but time may be running out.

Nikola Kalinic

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

Appearances: 19 | Goals: 5 | Assists: 2 | Shots per game: 1.3

Being Edin Džeko’s understudy seems like it’s one of the most difficult jobs in Serie A. Patrik Schick found no success in that role, and barring a three goal finish to the restart, neither did Nikola Kalinic. A collective groan typically spouted up on Twitter and in the Chiesa Di Totti comments section when he played, and for good reason: the Croatian striker was nearly invisible most of the time he was on the field. For his kind of player, five goals in a season is a bit of a disappointment, to say the least.

Thankfully, Kalinic was only a one-season loan with no obligation, and reports indicate that Roma are going fishing for the second coming of Lautaro Martinez as Kalinic’s replacement. We’ll see if the role of Džeko’s understudy continues to chew up strikers, or if someone might finally make the big time off of the opportunities.

Grade: C-. Let’s hope Nahuel Bustos can make more of an impression.

Diego Perotti

Diego Perotti of AS Roma looks on during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Appearances: 26 | Goals: 6| Assists: 4 | Shots per game: 0.7

One of the longest-tenured players in Rome at the moment, Perotti was never expected to be anything other than a backup this season, and the Argentinian performed decently in that role. His final tally of six goals and four assists was helped out mightily by his brace against Juventus in the last game of Serie A’s season, but this won’t be the season Giallorossi fans remember Perotti for.

Grade: B. Thank you for your service, though, Diego, and best of luck in the future.

Carles Perez

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Appearances: 17 | Goals: 2 | Assists: 3 | Shots per game: 1.5

Perez was a mid-season acquisition, so it’s not exactly fair to give him a real grade or lump him in with either The Stars group or The Exes. The Spanish forward scored twice for the Giallorossi and definitely showed glimpses of promise, and at the very least looks to be an upgrade on Cengiz Ünder. Once the new season starts in a month or so, we’ll hopefully get a better sense of how and where Perez can fit into The Friedkin Group’s Roma. Hopefully he can cut the mustard.

Grade: Incomplete, but signs of promise are there.

There you have it, our season-ending review of Roma’s forwards. What do you think? Is there anyone you would give a better grade, or is there someone deserving of a time-out? Be sure to let us know in the comments!