Roma thriving under Di Francesco as Dzeko finds form and Kolarov thrives
After Roma's fraught goalless draw with Atletico Madrid last week, Edin Dzeko spoke honestly with Mediaset about the struggles he was having adapting to the formation and playing style preferred by new coach Eusebio Di Francesco.
Dzeko said he was suffering a lack of service and players like Radja Nainggolan, dropped back into a more generic midfield role, weren't offering the support they did last season, when he scored 39 goals in all competitions and grabbed the Capocannoniere crown with 29 league strikes. Above all, he said, he was missing his partner Mohamed Salah, who had left for Liverpool.
But life moves on and, with Salah gone and after Di Francesco told his star striker to learn when to keep his mouth shut, a new relationship is developing between Dzeko, who has scored four goals in the last two games, and a former teammate.
Starring alongside and supplying man-of-the-match Dzeko in Wednesday night's four-goal spanking of Benevento was full-back Aleksandar Kolarov, a former Lazio man who has quickly worked his way into Romanista hearts with a series of outstanding displays on the left.
Signed from Manchester City for just €5 million, Kolarov looks like one of the Serie A signings of the summer, having netted a late winner at Atalanta on the opening day and adding two assists to his name. He has played every minute of the current campaign -- the only outfield player to do so -- and looks like an integral part of Di Francesco's system, which features heavy use of overlapping full-backs.
Last weekend, Kolarov set up Dzeko for a difficult finish vs. Verona with a brilliant through ball from the flank and the Bosnian striker's opener on Wednesday was testament to how the coach's team have adapted and are now providing its front man with the support he needs.
Against Benevento, with left-winger Diego Perotti having slipped into midfield, Kolarov burst down the flank and was found by Kevin Strootman. After easily shrugging off Ledian Memushaj's weak challenge, the left-back pushed into the box before calmly rolling the ball into the path of Dzeko, who gobbled up his little treat.
Kolarov could have already equalled his assist record of three, set in 2009-10 -- his final season at Lazio -- had Benevento centre-back Lorenzo Venuti not turned a cross into his own goal, denying Dzeko a hat trick. In fact, Dzeko was unlucky not to score six; he hit the post twice and was denied certain goals by the unfortunate Venuti and Fabio Lucioni, who sliced right-back Bruno Peres' cross, which followed a sensational pass from debutant Maxime Gonalons, into his own net.
Dzeko's mini-revival comes just as Roma are slipping into gear, which has also been helped by a simpler run of fixtures after a brutal start. Udinese are next up at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday afternoon, before a long trip to Baku to take on Champions League Group C minnows Qarabag. Upon their return to Italy next weekend there is a true test: Milan at the San Siro.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the heavy turnover, Roma were a much more fluid outfit than against Atleti or even Inter, against whom they played very well despite losing 3-1. The key features have been constant bursts from midfield, wingers alongside Dzeko supporting their centre-forward and helping the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Strootman to quickly get the ball back once lost, plus those darts from the full-backs.
Dzeko's first against Verona came from a fine cross from right-back-cum-winger Alessandro Florenzi, who will start on Saturday after his quiet 15-minute cameo at Benevento, and he is sure to feature heavily against Udinese, who having lost three of their opening four games and are only a mild step up from Verona and Benevento.
On current form they will be lucky to get away from the Olimpico with anything but a heavy beating and the play from the flanks will be key to stretching a team that is sure to close up and try to block service to the revitalised Dzeko, who is back in his coach's good books and ready to defend his title as Serie A's deadliest striker.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley