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Roma’s Forwards Produced Mixed Results in 2022-2023

There was some real good and some real bad from the guys expected to score the goals this season.

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

With only 59 league goals and an innumerable amount of shots hitting the post, the 2021-22 season saw Roma struggle to score goals. The Giallorossi would need better production from its forward group if they were going to truly reach new heights under Jose Mourinho.

To do that, Tiago Pinto worked magic on the free agent market to bring in Paulo Dybala and Andrea Belotti—two of the most decorated goalscorers over the last decade in Italy’s top flight. Throw in Tammy Abraham in his second season in the Italian capital, a finally healthy Nicoló Zaniolo, and veteran Stephan El Shaarawy, and it looked like Roma’s attack could pack quite the punch.

Now that the 2022-23 season has come and gone, we can revisit our preseason predictions for Roma’s most hyped position group. And as you’ve probably realized by now, the end product didn’t meet the lofty expectations laid out for the men up top.

The Key Player: Paulo Dybala

Football, Italian Serie A: AS Roma vs Spezia Calcio Photo by Elianton/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

What We Said in August

With all due respect to Tammy Abraham and all he brings to Roma’s frontline, Dybala adds an entirely new dimension to the attack and immediately becomes its key man. The Argentine is a pure fantasista—one the Italian Capital hasn’t seen since Francesco Totti hung up the #10 jersey for the last time five years ago. Dybala declined the number 10 shirt out of respect for Totti’s legacy, but make no mistake; he has the skill set to carry on that tradition.

Dybala can do it all in attack. He can score. He can thread the needle. He can create chances for others. He can beat his man off the dribble. And, of course, just like Totti, he can pull a rabbit out of his hat when his team needs a hero. You name it, and he can do it. And he’s done it in Serie A for a decade now, first with Palermo and then Juventus—and at just 28-years-old, he’s still in his prime.

His presence alone should take Roma’s attack to the next level, giving the club another goalscoring threat to take some pressure off Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini. He’ll also be an asset off set pieces, providing a sublime southpaw to complement Pellegrini’s precise right foot. Meanwhile, his creativity and passing should create a plethora of chances for Abraham, Zaniolo, Pellegrini, and Belotti to punish opposing defenses.

His injury history is concerning, so Mourinho must manage his minutes wisely. But, if Dybala can stay relatively healthy, then Roma’s attack should drive opposing defenses crazy.

How the Season Unfolded

Dybala lived up to all that hype and more. La Joya completely transformed Roma’s attack when he played and, by most accounts, was Roma’s MVP. Dybala was the engine that made Roma’s attack go to the tune of 12 goals and six assists in Serie A, with another five goals and an assist in the Europa League and one more goal in the Coppa Italia for good measure.

Plus, Dybala came up big in the biggest matches for Roma. His goal to force extra time against Feyenoord in the Europa League quarterfinals, the go-ahead goal in the Europa League Final, and Sunday’s winning penalty against Spezia spring to mind.

Unfortunately for Roma and Dybala, as has been the case for much of his career, the Argentine missed long spells through injury. His injuries limited him to 25 Serie A matches, but his goal return was fourth best in the league when weighed per 90 minutes (0.62).

And when he wasn’t on the pitch, Roma had a very difficult time scoring goals: When Dybala played, Roma scored 1.46 goals per match and averaged 1.81 points in the table. When he didn’t, it was 1.15 goals and 1.38 points per match. This hammers home just how important he was for Roma this season.

Player Under Pressure: Tammy Abraham

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

What We Said in August

Tammy isn’t under the same kind of pressure that, say, Rick Karsdorp is as he tries to hold onto his starting role. No, Abraham is firmly entrenched as Roma’s starting striker after scoring 17 league goals and 27 in all competitions last season. Still, he’s under a different sort of pressure: the pressure to outperform himself and prove that last year was no fluke.

With the addition of Dybala, Tammy should find himself with even juicier chances this season. Plus, Belotti’s impending arrival should afford Abraham more rest than last year, which is a good thing in the long run, as he was run ragged due to the lack of a proper backup striker.

Adding Belotti will also introduce some friendly competition in the Roma striker ranks. If Tammy goes into a cold spell and Belotti stays hot, Mourinho could be faced with a tough decision. Ultimately, this friendly competition should push Abraham to new heights. If not, and things start slowly, he may feel more pressure than expected.

How the Season Unfolded

After a stellar debut season that had us all dreaming of even bigger things, this season couldn’t have gone much worse for Abraham. The Englishman struggled to find the back of the net all season long, with just eight league goals and one in the Europa League. It was the epitome of a sophomore slump, one that cost the Giallorossi big time.

If Tammy could’ve produced anywhere near last season’s level, then Roma may have been able to keep themselves in the top-four race to the very end. Instead, the Giallorossi attack struggled to score and ended up being the worst of all the sides that fought for European places. And if the Serie A production was bad, the European production was worse. Tammy followed a Conference League golden boot with just one Europa League goal.

There’s no doubting Tammy’s work rate and fight for the team, but for whatever reason, the goals just didn’t flow like last season. The worst part is that Abraham blew his ACL just 10 minutes from full-time in Roma’s final match and will now be on the shelf for approximately 6-9 months—it’ll be some time before the real Tammy Abraham stands up and shows himself on the pitch again.

X-Factor: Stephan El Shaarawy

AS Roma v Spezia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

What We Said in August

Quickly approaching his 30th birthday, Il Faraone is far from the hot shot prospect he was coming up with Milan as an 18-year-old and probably isn’t even the 11-goal scorer that left the Capital for China after the 2018-19 season. However, the man in the #92 shirt can contribute, even if it’s in a reduced role.

Last season, El Shaarawy played just over 1,000 minutes and scored three league goals. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but two of the three salvaged points (four, in fact) for the Giallorossi last season—even if his contributions are limited, Roma will need that El Shaarawy this season. If El Shaarawy can again show a penchant for scoring late in matches, he could become Mourinho’s favorite last roll of the dice.

How the Season Unfolded

The preseason assessment of El Shaarawy ended up being fairly accurate, and he actually increased his production this season. Il Faraone scored seven league goals (nine in all comps) and scored some of his trademark big goals in the process. Given the lack of production from Abraham and Belotti, there’s no telling what Roma’s goalscoring numbers would’ve looked like without El Shaarawy.

With his contract expiring, it’s expected that Roma will try to bring El Shaarawy back. And it seems like a wise move, as Il Faraone still has plenty to give in a rotational role.

Final Thoughts

Last August, we concluded our Forward preview by making sort of a prediction in reverse, attempting to forecast what we’d say a year from now:

This was one of the most lethal attacks in the league. Abraham will be in the mix for Serie A’s top goalscorer, while Dybala and Belotti add two more double-digit goal scorers to a team that sorely lacked secondary scoring last season.

While Dybala more than lived up to expectations, the forward group was an overall disappointment. Not only did Abraham struggle to replicate his 2021-22 form and live up to lofty preseason expectations, but his backup Andrea Belotti struggled mightily as well. Belotti’s signing on a free transfer looked like it would be an absolute coup for Roma. Instead, he scored zero league goals and just four in all competitions.

When you throw in the mess that the Zaniolo transfer saga turned into, it just adds to the disappointment of this position group. Before the season, the talk was of the Fab Four, with Abraham supported by Dybala, Zaniolo, and Lorenzo Pellegrini. Instead, we ended up with Zaniolo out the door in January, Abraham and Belotti struggling to score, and Dybala missing some key stretches.

In the end, we ended up with a mixed bag of results. Dybala and El Shaarawy shined, while Belotti and Abraham tarnished. The addition of Ola Solbakken in January gives some optimism for the future, but with Abraham’s injury, Roma will need much more from Belotti next season if Roma is to be better than a mid-table side in the scoring charts.