Over the last few years, Roma have struggled to find the right balance of personnel in attack.
Finding a striker good enough and happy to play second fiddle to one of the club’s all-time best players in that position has not been an easy task.
On the whole, it hasn’t mattered too much, as Edin Dzeko has been prolific enough to guarantee goals. There is little need to worry about who is the backup when the first choice is of such quality.
However, as Dzeko has increased in age, it has become more important for the club to find someone capable of rotating with him when he needs a rest.
Dzeko’s style has been such an essential part of Roma’s system over the past five-and-a-half years. Hence, it can be hard to find a like-for-like replacement that would fit in seamlessly in his absence.
Hence, Roma have had to look at strikers with different profiles to fill the void. They have rarely been a success.
In 2017, Roma spent a club-record transfer fee to sign Patrik Schick from Sampdoria. Not helped by injuries or playing out of position, he did not live up to expectations.Embed from Getty Images
Even when playing as a centre-forward, he did not show a clinical edge worthy of the price Roma had paid for him. Eventually, he came under too much pressure and had to leave.
Next, Roma turned to Nikola Kalinic, signing him on loan from Atletico Madrid in 2019.
The Croatian seemed to be heading for a similar fate to Schick after his first half-season in Rome. He was missing decent chances on the rare occasions he got to impress.
Kalinic revived his form towards the latter part of the season, enough for some to consider him worthy of a permanent transfer. However, he hadn’t done enough to live up to the €11m option to buy overall.Embed from Getty Images
Hence, Roma decided to look elsewhere again in summer 2020. With rumours that Dzeko could leave as well, they had to make a good choice.
Ultimately, Dzeko stayed, but it was still important to find the right competition for him. Roma’s decision to scour the market anew now seems to have been justified.
After speculation linking them with one out-of-favour Real Madrid striker in Luka Jovic, they eventually settled on another in Borja Mayoral.
He wasn’t as famous a name as his Madrid counterpart, but perhaps that was a good thing. There would be less pressure of expectations, and he would be happy with a backup role to begin with.
Three months later, Mayoral is starting to look like the player Roma have needed for years.
With a brace against Crotone in Serie A on Wednesday, he reached six goals in all competitions for his new club. In doing so, he has surpassed any tally that Schick or Kalinic managed in a single year.
Some of his early goals in the season – and indeed the first goal he scored against Crotone – were put on a plate for him by his teammates. But he still needed to finish them well, and did.
With his second goal on Wednesday, though, he showed there are exciting hidden talents he is yet to fully express.
In space outside the box, Mayoral let rip with a powerful drive that soared into the top corner. It was expertly placed.
Mayoral had just provided a goal of the season contender for Roma, although there is already a lot of competition for that prize. This was the sign of a striker who is capable of stunning things.
The Spaniard has also stood out for his work rate when filling in for Dzeko. He refuses to be a static centre-forward and makes himself a nuisance to opponents across the pitch.
While he is of a different build to Dzeko, they have similarities in terms of how they help influence the team’s play from deeper areas of the pitch.
Hence, Mayoral is proving that he could be the solution Roma have been longing for. Whether he is good enough to succeed Dzeko as the club’s main striker in the future remains to be seen, but he is doing the job he needs to for now.Embed from Getty Images
Roma can sign Mayoral on a permanent basis at the end of this season for €15m. That would be a significant investment, but it looks like one worth taking at the moment.
Such a price tag may come with pressure, because it was the same value Roma paid for Dzeko in 2015. But the Bosnian was an extraordinary case in terms of value-for-money; Mayoral does not have to live up to everything he has done to be worth that as well.
Should Roma hesitate and sign Mayoral at the end of the second season of his loan, they would have to pay even more: €20m.
If the 23-year-old can keep up this form, though, then Roma can only consider more strongly their option to buy him this year.
At this rate, Mayoral seems on course to reach double figures of goals for just the second season in his career. At his age, he can grow and make that a more regular occurrence.
Roma will hope to benefit from that. They have not had two strikers scoring 10 or more goals in the same season since the 2012-13 season. That could be about to change.
This attack under Paulo Fonseca looks to be one of the most dangerous in Europe. With the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Mayoral – the three best strikers in the world, as Fonseca has declared – Roma have found their excitement and ambition again.