The debate over Roma’s dependence on Edin Dzeko is nothing new.
Despite his advancing years – he’ll be 35 before the season is out – the Bosnian has consistently provided the Giallorossi’s main goal threat since arriving in the capital four years ago.
Dzeko’s return has been impressive, netting roughly a goal every second game for the Lupi, but leaning on a star player isn’t exactly a situation unique to Roma: the same could be said for Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, Romelu Lukaku at Inter, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at AC Milan or Ciro Immobile at Lazio, for example.
But with Borja Mayoral still needing time to settle in the Italian capital, there were some nerves around how Paulo Fonseca’s side would cope when Dzeko tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of November.
As it turns out, there was no need to worry. The Roma talisman’s absence hasn’t been felt thanks to the spectacular form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Armenian is having an excellent season, combining well with Pedro Rodriguez in a free roaming role behind the striker. Until recently, he was playing the provider as the 31-year-old notched five assists in his first eight games.
But as soon as Dzeko was out of the team, firstly to be rested against Cluj before his coronavirus diagnosis made him unavailable for Serie A games against Genoa and Parma, Mkhitaryan stepped up to shoulder the additional responsibility of putting the ball in the net.
His strike in the 5-0 Europa League win over the Romanians opened the floodgates, as the former Arsenal man then went on to net a hat-trick against the Grifone before scoring a superb double in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Parma.
A return of six goals in three games would be admirable for a striker, but for a midfielder it is sensational.
Mkhitaryan’s form shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though. His season on loan in Rome last term was heavily disrupted by injury, as he suffered two lengthy spells on the sidelines.
But when he did reach full fitness and started earning regular minutes, the signs were there that he could flourish in Serie A and the Armenian ended the campaign with a more-than respectable tally of nine goals and five assists.
In his first 30 games for the club, Mkhitaryan has been involved in 23 goals – scoring 14 and setting up nine. Of the players to have debuted for Roma from 2004/05 onwards, nobody has made a more devastating impact.
It’s now starting to look like the free transfer that took the attacking midfielder from Arsenal to Rome could be one of the best deals of the summer.
Roma’s front three of Dzeko, Pedro and Mkhitaryan may not exactly scream of future planning, but they’ve been ruthlessly efficient in front of goal and have so far suggested that the Lupi will be well in the mix for the Champions League places this season.
It’s worth remembering that Roma’s only ‘defeat’ so far in 2020/21 was handed to them by the league body because of an administrative error, after they failed to take Amadou Diawara off the Under-23 list for the opening game of the season.
Considering that game finished as a 0-0 draw on the pitch, Fonseca’s side are now on a 16-match unbeaten run in Serie A stretching back to last season.
However, an intriguing test of the mettle of Fonseca’s team is just around the corner. So far this season the Lupi have only faced two of the traditional big teams, Juventus and Milan, and earned draws against both of them.
In the next two weeks they face a trip to Napoli and a home clash against high-flying, unbeaten Sassuolo. In between those matches they travel to Cluj in the Europa League and face Young Boys at home.
It’s a run of games that will prove a test of Fonseca’s judgment of how best to rotate his squad – and ensure Mkhitaryan is at full power when they need him most.