Luciano Spalletti said Edin Dzeko is “the only striker I have” in the aftermath of Roma’s 4-1 thrashing of Serie-B bound Pescara on Monday night. The manager was explaining why he substituted his striker — who is battling for the Capocannoniere top scorer’s title and is one goal away from his best ever season total — with 20 minutes left to play against a team that had rolled out the red carpet for the Giallorossi attack, clearly outraging the centre-forward.
Dzeko hadn’t scored, mostly thanks to Mohamed Salah’s poor passing, but Spalletti needed his 35-goal star fresh for the much bigger fish he has to fry over the coming weeks — starting with Sunday’s Rome derby against Lazio, who have their own reborn striker: on-fire forward Ciro Immobile.
After terrible experiences in Spain and Germany, Immobile has refound his mojo in the Italian capital, and is one of six attackers to reach 20 league goals this season. Since the turn of the year he has scored 16 goals for club and country, including one in each leg of Lazio’s 4-3 aggregate win over Roma in the Coppa Italia semifinals.
Dzeko has gone one better in that time but was invisible in all three of this season’s previous derbies, and has struggled to score in big matches. The former Manchester City man has scored just three times in Roma’s seven matches against the other members of Serie A’s top six, but with the derby, AC Milan and Juventus on the horizon he has the chance to score the season-defining goals that would cap his incredible renaissance.
Already robbed of their last chance of a trophy this season by Lazio, Roma now find themselves facing the nightmare prospect of having the Biancoceleste put their direct qualification for the Champions League at risk.
After the derby, Roma have to travel to the San Siro to take on AC Milan and then host champions-elect Juventus, meaning that if they don’t beat Lazio, Napoli, who are four points behind second-placed Roma and travel to Inter Milan on Sunday night in the weekend’s other big game, could consider themselves favourites for second place. Indeed their schedule after Inter sees them face just one team — Fiorentina — with anything left to play for.
Meanwhile, sixth-placed Milan are fighting with their city rivals and La Viola for the Europa League places currently held by Lazio and Atalanta — who are five points ahead of Milan but host Juve on Friday night and could easily find themselves pegged back come Monday — while Juve, who are nine points clear of Roma at the top, would relish the opportunity to seal the title at the Stadio Olimpico with three games to spare.
Derby defeat would give Napoli the chance to move just one win away from overtaking Roma, and with Napoli hosting safe Cagliari while Roma travel to Milan next week Spalletti could see all his good work up to now — a 10-point improvement on this time last season — go up in smoke.