STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome) – Tammy Abraham is back. Or at least, the AS Roma striker is starting to look like his old self again.
Abraham has had a difficult campaign so far and his dip in form during the first half of 2022/23 cost him a place in England’s World Cup squad.
It must have hurt. A year earlier, during Abraham’s superb debut season in the Italian capital, it would’ve been difficult for Gareth Southgate to deny the former Chelsea man his major tournament dream.
But by the end of 2022, he had every reason – the striker’s tally of four goals in 20 games wasn’t exactly screaming out for international selection.
The 25-year-old said after the snub that “these things make you stronger, leaving the desire to do more and improve”.
That might have sounded like a standard rent-a-quote footballer interview answer, but the striker has delivered on those words since the break.
Back with a bang
Abraham was benched for Roma’s first Serie A game back against Bologna, but came on for the final half-hour to make a crucial goal-line clearance that saved the three points late on.
A few days later, he played the full 90 minutes against AC Milan and stabbed home an improbable last-gasp equaliser to take a 2-2 draw from the Stadio San Siro.
After his heroics at either end of the pitch, Abraham turned provider against Fiorentina, setting up both of Paulo Dybala’s goals with intelligent assists.
The first was a neat pop-up off the chest to give Dybala an inviting volley, and the second a well-weighted cross that made the Argentinian’s job of finishing a simple one.
It’s clear that Abraham is feeling confident again. On Sunday, he strode around the Olimpico pitch hunting for the ball rather than cutting an isolated figure up front, and was even attempting trickery by the end when his tail was up.
For all the positives about the Englishman’s recent turnaround, the same can’t be said about Nicolo Zaniolo.
The Italy international has had a week to forget. He was booed off the pitch by his own fans during the 1-0 Coppa Italia win over Genoa, and was nowhere to be seen for the visit of La Viola.
Zaniolo was said to have picked up a stomach bug that ruled him out of the game, even if the timing of the virus raised a few eyebrows.
Nevertheless, Roma did the job without him and he faces a big task to get the public back on his side.
The 23-year-old has been horrifically unlucky with injuries, rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in both of his knees so early in his career.
But sympathy clearly only goes so far, and expectations are high in the capital. Zaniolo’s tally of three Serie A goals in 41 games over the last season-and-a-half is far from reaching those expectations.
A return of just two goals and three assists in 17 appearances across all competitions this season is hardly impressive, and the performances to go with those figures haven’t been either.
It wasn’t that long ago that the former Inter prospect was Roma’s Conference League final-winning hero, but he needs to follow Abraham’s example and find a way to turn his flagging form around if he’s to avoid turning villain before the season’s out.
Problem is, as with most of these ‘strikers’ (I’m talking Zanilio here) is that they’re really attacking midfielders/wingers who want to be strikers. A classic example was Theo Walcott, another, more recent example, would be Kai Havertz. Bottom line is they aren’t strikers but they just don’t want to play their role, as they want the exposure and attention that strikers get. Results speak for themselves. If players like Zanilio and Havertz put up and just played their role as attacking and creative midfielders to the full they would help their teams so much more, but they don’t and thus the team, as a whole, suffers.