If you polled Serie A aficionados in the summer who they thought would be Capocannoniere at this point of this season, you’d receive answers of ‘Higuain’, ‘Icardi’, perhaps even a ‘Belotti’. Would you receive an answer of ‘Edin Dzeko’? Probably only from an optimistic Romanisti.
Alas, here we are. After 12 rounds of gruelling Serie A action, Edin Dzeko, the butt of many Twitter jokes and scorer of 8 league goals last year, is the joint-top Capocannoniere of Serie A with ten goals. Who would have expected such a resurgence from what looked like – a finished striker last year?
Man. Dzeko had a rough season last time around, especially when compared to the strikers of other top Serie A teams. It’s rough to think his conversion rate was less than half of what the average conversion rate should be (around 17%) and it’s even worse when you compare it to the likes of Icardi.
His shot numbers weren’t awful and he certainly wasn’t starved of shots like Carlos Bacca and Mauro Icardi. So what was going wrong?
There were some questions of his ‘fit’ in this counter attacking Roma team and Spalletti seemed to struggle on how to use the Bosnian. By the end of the season, Spalletti was utilising a trident of El Shaarawy, Perotti (as a false nine) and Salah. Roma’s fast paced counter attacking seemed to leave Dzeko out in the cold.
As we’ve seen, his conversion rate was down right awful. But even then, the quality of shots he was taking wasn’t exactly great. Using expected goals, he was well, expected to score 12 goals, and underperformed with a mere 7 non-penalty goals. It was a concoction of things gone wrong for Dzeko.
Edin Dzeko’s monster 2016/17
You can view the interactive version of this graphic here.
Already his improvement in goalscoring seems to be inevitable with an almost doubling number of shots. But importantly, those shots are coming in vital areas (penalty box and six yard) and are not just seemingly ‘throwaway’ shots.
— Ste Mc (@SteMc74) October 29, 2016
Yup. Dzeko’s shots are quality. This is genuinely mindblowing.
Unfortunately, this graph is now two matchdays out of date (and I don’t possess the necessary data to update it), but you get the picture.
Conversion rates are a patchy way of assessing of a striker’s finishing ability, but a quick look at expected goals per 90 should be enough to make your jaw drop.
Dzeko is smashing every other Serie A striker out of the ballpark and you know what is even more incredible? At that point (matchday 10), he was actually underperforming his xG total by a goal or so (1.41). So he should’ve been even further ahead in the scoring charts! After playing 90 minutes against Bologna and not scoring last weekend, he’s near enough performing at his expected goals rate.
So, what the hell is going on?! Well as we’ve discussed his shot total has absolutely skyrocketed, which will naturally lead to a high goal scoring total and his conversion rates have doubled. As well as this, Dzeko underperformed his expected goals tally by around four goals last year. So a slight regression to the mean aids his transformation.
But mostly, it’s down to Roma’s improved play. They’re the ones creating the shots for him.
Last year Roma averaged 13.8 shots per game, this year they’re averaging 19.8. Yeah Dzeko had a down year last season, but Spalletti’s reinvention of Roma’s offensive has led to a revitalised Edin Dzeko. I unfortunately don’t have the data to back this up. But Dzeko seems to be thriving in Roma’s counter attacking style.
With Roma counter attacking, they’re catching opposing defenses off-guard and thus creating better quality shots for their players. Last year, the Roma players seemed to struggle to adjust to this after Garcia’s sacking, but this year, they’re fully engrossed in it.
The former City man isn’t the only one benefiting, though. Mohamed Salah is looking like he’s in for a career year with 0.71 non-penalty goals/90 and 0.35 assists/90.
Over the course of a season? That’s 13 goals for Salah and 35 for Dzeko. Of course the latter isn’t likely to keep up with this current pace. Spalletti’s philosophy of outscoring teams may just be a viable one.
Can he keep it up?
I don’t see why not. Roma have had injuries to the likes of Alessandro Florenzi, who was a key cog in their offensive system, but even his injury hasn’t slowed them down. Naturally strikers who start the season off hot seem to cool down in the second half. But to be honest, Dzeko’s shot numbers rival that of Gonzalo Higuain last year, Roma are an offensive machine, his expected goals tally matches his real life tally near enough. There’s no reason the Bosnian can’t make Serie A critics the butt of his jokes this year.