Adem Ljajic's exile from the starting eleven for Roma in recent months is a tale that has been covered before, but this past weekend against Atalanta, a new chapter was written. Ljajic, in fact, put in a rather comprehensive performance that may change manager Rudi Garcia's mind. But was it enough?
First, the obvious: Ljajic played nearly the entire match, lasting 87 minutes before coming off for the very young Federico Ricci. In that time he proved to be the undoing of the visitors, scoring once thanks to a layoff from Daniele De Rossi, inside of the box, and assisting Gervinho's goal in the second half. Without those two goals, Roma would not have won, so it's fair to say that for the first time in quite a long time, Ljajic was perhaps the pivotal performer for the home side.
The fact that he did so playing alongside Francesco Totti is curious and worth a note. It would not be crazy to state that the duo are perhaps the most similar forwards Roma have, both tending to excel when given the freedom to roam forward in a trequartista role. At times, Ljajic struggled this season without Totti, even with two hard runners helping to exploit the channels around him, like Gervinho and Alessandro Florenzi. Yet, Totti truly seems to make everyone better, such is the light that the captain emits, so perhaps it is not surprising that a welcome renaissance from the man that came from Florence was alongside Roma’s greatest ever.
To quantify his performance, Ljajic completed 72 out of the 77 passes he attempted last match (94% completion, higher than his already-impressive season average of 91%) and even reached a team-mate with the one corner he took. His crossing was less impressive: 0-for-3, with two attempted in the first sixteen minutes and not again until the 81st. Besides scoring, however, he hit the post from outside the box in the 72nd minute and shot over the bar after the first third of the match was over.
Of course, he was benched for his failure to track back in the loss to Napoli on March 9th. It's encouraging to see him taking to heart Garcia's lesson, as he covered quite a bit of ground and hustled back to perform defensive duties, as well.
After the match, Ljajic was not ambivalent about his hopes for next season: "I hope to remain and be a protagonist even in the Champions League. Tonight I gave my all for my teammates. I'm here to play. Let's wait until the end of the season, and then we'll see about the future."
Though it's indubitably been a season of ups-and-downs for Ljajic, with European competition in the mix next season, Roma will certainly need players who can fill in for the creativity and driving force of Totti. The Serbian has a long way to go to prove himself to Garcia but performances like his against Atalanta will go a long way in securing his future in the capital.