It’s been an odd season for Edin Dzeko. The Roma striker has seemingly taken an aversion to scoring in Serie A, as seven league goals with two thirds of the season completed is a poor return for a player who netted 24 in all competitions last season. At this stage last year, he was near the top of the Capocannoniere charts with 13 goals.
Such is his languid demeanor, Dzeko can often give off the appearance of a player not overly bothered by what’s going on around him. Watch him manoeuvre around the pitch, head dropped, shoulders slouched, trudging along. It must be an infuriating sight for Roma fans at times, so used to the warrior-like spirit of Daniele De Rossi.
But when Roma play under the lights in midweek, and the Champions League music bellows out, Dzeko suddenly transforms, like a werewolf catching a glimpse of the moon at midnight.
Five goals in as many games – not to mention four assists – in this season’s competition speaks to Dzeko’s affinity for Europe. Whilst the stats are impressive, it’s been his overall play that’s set him apart from his team-mates. Dzeko has led the line with a vim and zest that’s scarcely seen in the league.
The argument could be made that the Bosnian thrives in the more open environment of the Champions League, as opposed to the more tactically rigid Serie A. Dzeko is more involved in Roma’s link-up play on Champions League nights, where his understated technique can be put to good use.
Roma are going to need every drop of Dzeko’s experience if they are to make it into the quarter-final of Europe’s premiere competition for only the fourth time. Adrian Lopez’s 79th-minute goal has given Porto a real chance of reversing the scoreline in the second leg.
Roma’s away record in Europe in recent seasons has been nothing short of disastrous. A tally of two wins since the 2014-15 season hardly screams of confidence away from the Stadio Olimpico, even in last year’s marvellous run to the semi-final, they lost every away leg in the knockout phase, conceding a ludicrous 10 goals.
Both sides are going into this game under enormous pressure, with Roma on the end of a richly deserved 3-0 loss to city neighbors Lazio, and Porto losing at the Dragao to Benfica in O Clàssico. This game truly couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for both sides.
Eusebio Di Francesco is increasingly under scrutiny, missing the chance to close the gap on Inter for the much coveted fourth Champions League spot with defeat in the derby. For many, it was the way in which Lazio mercilessly cut through the Roma defence time and again that should be the biggest concern for Di Francesco. Last season’s shaky defence looks beyond fragile 12 months on, especially if Kostas Manolas isn’t available.
It looks likely that this season will be his last on the Roma bench, but an exit to Porto on Wednesday night just might hasten his departure.
History doesn’t bode well for the Romans. Pitted together in the Champions League Playoff in August 2016, Roma walked away with a valuable 1-1 draw in Porto, before succumbing to the mother of all Roma capitulations in the second leg in Rome. They lost 3-0, with both Daniele De Rossi and Emerson Palmieri sent off.
It might also be Dzeko’s final season in the capital, with speculation that the soon-to-be 33-year-old might be discarded in favour of a younger model. If that is to be the case, Dzeko will want to remind one or two potential suitors of how good he can be, with a final towering European performance.