The “Salah Void” has been filled
The way Stephan El Shaarawy has gotten back to his free-flowing best under the stewardship of Eusebio Di Francesco has been one of the highlights of AS Roma’s promising season so far.
Sitting fourth in Serie A, with a game in hand, and having secured qualification from their extremely challenging Champions League group by finishing first, that featured Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, the opening months of their crusade have definitely been full of positivity. And El Shaarawy’s contribution towards this has been unmistakable.
The scorer of six goals and provider of four assists so far has done a tremendous job of filling the void left by Mohamed Salah, who departed for Liverpool in a deal worth £34.3 million in the summer, as he’s resoundingly repaid the faith Di Francesco has placed in him.
A superb brace against Udinese got the ball rolling nicely for him, with his man of the match display endearing himself perfectly to his newly installed manager. A vital assist then followed in Roma’s dogged away win over Qarabag in the Champions League. Then, having been goalless in October, he quickly changed this by celebrating his 25th birthday by scoring a crucial winner against Bologna.
His crowning performance to date came immediately after, however, where he bagged a scintillating brace vs. the reigning English champions in Chelsea, with his sharp movement and overall elusiveness proving too much to handle for Antonio Conte’s men throughout the Giallorossi’s stunning 3-0 UCL triumph.
Another goal in Roma’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Genoa yet again highlighted his importance, where his wonderfully timed diagonal, blindside run saw him latch onto Alessandro Florenzi’s cross and finish home with a slick one-touch finish. The match also underlined his versatility, for he switched from his initial right-wing station to the left with great effect, plus took turns occupying the centre-forward role at times too.
Blessed with speed, technical proficiency and a fantastic shot, El Shaarawy’s quality in one-on-one duels has notably been served beautifully by Di Francesco’s tactics. Indeed, his influence has been heightened by the way he’s been instructed to persistently venture infield to get into more dangerous central locations to make the most of his attacking arsenal.
While his remarkable upturn in form this term has been built on his offensive play, his defensive exertions have also been an essential element, as he’s adhered admirably to Di Francesco’s demanding pressing regime. When speaking on El Shaarawy’s encouraging form, his manager duly noted this, explaining: “His offensive qualities were never in question, but now he’s added a new dimension by contributing defensively. He’s doing what he’s been asked to. He’s not remaining isolated for long periods. He’s getting involved in the play more.”
The player himself then divulged what a significant impact his manager has had on him. “Di Francesco takes a really detailed approach, especially in attack but also in defence. He does a lot of tactical work out on the pitch,” he said.
“As I’ve said before, the movement he wants from the wide players works really well for me, because it really slots in nicely with my attributes – things like timing your runs forward and cutting inside. That’s the kind of thing I like to do anyway, so it’s good for me. On a personal level, you’re able to have a proper dialogue and relationship with him.”
Selection for the Italian national team justifiably rewarded his form, but unfortunately, his dreams of going to next year’s World Cup in Russia were shattered by the Azzurri’s shocking play-off loss to Sweden.
After enduring plenty of turbulence during his career already, whether it be through injury or tough periods at AC Milan (where he initially announced himself to the world at just 16) and AS Monaco, the resolute 25-year-old is certainly well equipped at dealing with setbacks these days.
Having put all that behind him, the instinctive attacker will just be looking to keep up his exemplary level, which he’s slightly struggled to do in the last month. But if he can recapture his early season form, though, there’s no reason why he can’t help Roma challenge for titles both domestically and in Europe.
Without question, his relationship with the tactically sophisticated Di Francesco has been the perfect catalyst to take his game to the next level and has enabled him to finally fulfil his enormous potential.
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