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Roma Season Preview: The Forwards

Remember how sometimes you’d download an update, only for it to sit at 99% and never finish? That’s what watching Roma’s forward corps develop feels like at the moment.

Partizani Tirana v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

What a difference a year makes. This is how we described the best-case scenario for Roma’s attack heading into the 2022-2023 season (apologies, Steve, for pulling up the freezing cold take):

A Year From Now, We’ll Say... 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.

I’m gonna let my good pal Dr. Perry Cox of Sacred Heart take this one:

Instead of being the most lethal attack European football has seen since the heyday of Messi-Suarez-Neymar, Roma’s attack last season was perhaps the most disappointing part of the 2022-2023 season. Nicolò Zaniolo, once the crown jewel of the Stadio Olimpico and a potential heir to Francesco Totti’s number 10, was off to Bournemouth Galatasaray. Andrea Belotti, a player who for nearly a decade was a guaranteed double-digit goalscorer, didn’t score a single league goal. Even Tammy Abraham, who after his first season in Rome looked to be on the path to becoming the Giallorossi’s best striker since Gabriel Batistuta, had a pedestrian season... which was then derailed by an ACL tear that will keep him off the pitch until next spring. Thankfully Paulo Dybala was still Paulo Dybala, but beyond that, the Giallorossi attack was one big disappointment.

The disappointment last season’s forward corps brought is now being rivaled by Tiago Pinto’s inability to complete a deal to shore up Roma’s attack with Abraham out and Belotti looking like a shell of himself. I Lupi’s quest for a new striker this summer was practically a telenovela; each week, without fail, a new striker solution would be presented in the media, only for the deal to fall apart despite rumors indicating that the player “only wanted Roma” and that a deal was “imminent.” Gianluca Scamacca, Alvaro Morata, Willy Gnonto, you name ‘em, Roma was linked to ‘em.

All that digital ink spilled on transfers that never amounted to anything means that a lot of you will chuckle when you see Duván Zapata and Marcos Leonardo on this list. “Sure, Corriere Dello Sport and Di Marzio say the deals for those two will be closed on Monday, but that and $5.99 will get me a subscription to Paramount+.”

My response?

I don’t have one.

Just let me hope that this club will actually sign these players sooner rather than later. Please?

The Forwards

Tammy Abraham, Andrea Belotti, Ola Solbakken, Paulo Dybala, Stephan El Shaarawy, Duván Zapata*, Marcos Leonardo**

*Rumored signing, not yet official

**Rumored January signing, not yet official

Key Player: Paulo Dybala

Toulouse FC v AS Roma - Friendly Match Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Surprise, surprise: as goes Paulo Dybala, so goes A.S. Roma. La Joya turned in a world-class first season with the Giallorossi, punctuated by a World Cup win (although I will always grumble that he should’ve gotten more minutes in Qatar). All Roma needs from him now is the exact same thing, and maybe with a little more injury luck. No pressure, right?

More seriously, it’s abundantly clear that in terms of talent, no other available Roma forward compares to Dybala. For Roma to succeed in Serie A and the Europa League, Dybala will have to both score goals on his own and find a way to resuscitate Andrea Belotti’s career (or at the very least turn Ola Solbakken, Stephan El Shaarawy, and maybe Duvàn Zapata into studs).

It’s almost Totti-esque how much this club is going to depend on Dybala this season, even if the Zapata and Marcos Leonardo signings are confirmed. Just like last season, he’ll have to be managed wisely to avoid injuries, but if he can stay fit, he makes Roma’s chances of silverware or a spot in the Champions League that much better.

Player Under Pressure: Andrea Belotti

As Roma Training Session Photo by Luciano Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Il Gallo has had a rough year. From his Roma free agent signing taking forever last summer to scoring zero goals in league play, Andrea Belotti is in need of the footballing career equivalent of CPR. It was so frustrating to watch Belotti last season because you could still see the star striker from previous years under the surface; he was just out of sync or invisible at the wrong moments, making it impossible for him to contribute to Roma’s attack.

The pressure is certainly on Belotti now. Even if Roma finally reinforces its striker contingent, Belotti will be the only out-and-out striker who went through training camp with the club. That could work to his advantage; it did take a full training camp for Edin Džeko to go from zero to hero in his second season at the Stadio Olimpico. That lack of competition means two things: first, that Belotti will get a second chance with I Lupi as soon as the first match of the season, and second, that if he fails again this season, his career is most likely over as a player who can hang at a big club.

If he’s signed for January, you can bet your bottom dollar that Marcos Leonardo will be hungry to become Roma’s starting striker as soon as possible and that he’ll see Belotti as a roadblock on the way to pairing up with Tammy Abraham once he returns from his ACL tear. The question is: will Belotti find his second wind?

The X-Factor: Ola Solbakken

SC Farense v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Ola Solbakken’s time in Rome has been strange. Signed as a free agent last January, the Norwegian forward hasn’t been able to make much of an impact for the Giallorossi, even though he’s shown glimpses here and there of being quite the intriguing player. There were even rumors that mid-table Serie A clubs were interested in prying Solbakken away from Roma for nearly €10 million, and while those moves never came to fruition, they do indicate that there’s a belief league-wide that Solbakken could become something in the immediate future.

The immediate future really needs to become tomorrow, both for Solbakken’s sake and for Roma’s. If Solbakken can start banging in goals at a decent clip, he takes the pressure off of Paulo Dybala, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Andrea Belotti to be Roma’s only true forward weapons. Seeing him in training camp gave me hope that he’s destined for interesting things, and with a start likely on the cards for him against Salernitana as the league opens, you can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of Romanisti eyes will be paying attention to Solbakken, trying to figure out just what kind of forward he’s going to be.

A Year From Now, We’ll Say...

Even though Roma’s forwards came in with less hype than the 2022-2023 season, they soldiered on and successfully integrated new signings throughout the campaign. By the end of the season, Belotti, Solbakken, and Roma’s new signings all showed their worth, while Paulo Dybala continued being the best player to wear a Roma kit since Francesco Totti.