Adem “Nutella” Ljajić, Roma’s #22. Yes, you are very familiar with him: moments of genius and goal scoring prowess, and others of invisibility and indifference. A boy who loves his Nutella, the Playstation, but also being a focal point in his squad; these items usually don’t go hand in hand, but the Novi Pazar man has a way of making it work.
The greatest issue Adem has faced in his tenure with Roma is his positioning. Adem was bought from Fiorentina after a stellar season, which overshadowed even that of Stephan Jovetic’s. He concluded the season with having scored 11 goals and 8 assists in just 21 matches started. Vincenzo Montella’s 3-5-2 was ideal for Adem, featuring in a dynamic #10 role on the left. 2012/13 Ljajić highlights here.
In the post-Lamela Roma, Walter Sabatini believed he had the perfect solution for replacing his Argentinian youth love. Now deployed in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3, Adem was placed in a new position, forced to recover the ball down the wing, feed Totti, and then continue his work down the wing for a cross or take-on. This is a completely different style from a player who excelled in #10 role, receiving the ball closer to goal with a partner forward, and giving him the trust and responsibility of making the goals and plays happen; this is the style Adem thrived on.
Following his new position, Adem has struggled to acquire the essentials of a
winger, in that he is not an amazing crosser, doesn’t have the best endurance (I’m trying to be nice), and does not press the defenders how a winger aught to. Nevertheless, he still achieved 6 goals and 5 assists in 17 starts in his first season in Rome, and closed last season with 8 goals and 2 assists in 23 starts; part of the dip last season was due to Roma’s purge, where a win was harder to come by than a gelato in Hell.
With a loan/sale of Juan Manuel Iturbe to Sampdoria or Fiorentina seeming imminent, and Adem’s “homegrown” status, it’s almost certain that Adem will stay for this season, and onwards. His sufficiency on the wing has earned him an important place in the roster, and his creativity cannot be undervalued. However, if Rudi is to get the best out his young Bosnian-Serb, he must change Adem’s role to more central, and closer to the net.
In today’s tie against Hellas, the gialloblu tucked their midfield back and their defenders wide, forcing a more direct play from Roma, which cut off the contribution from the wingers, and forced Dzeko to drop back and out of position. The deadlock could not be broken, and this is where Ljajić could have come in handy: With Ljajić in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 behind Dzeko, he could have drawn attention to himself, freeing up the wingers and Dzeko. Another viable solution, yet unlikely for Rudi, could have been to send Falque right and Dzeko left, with Adem playing the trequartista role, behind them. It would have been a shock to the Hellas defenders, and a change of direction to a discombobulated attacking third.
I believe in Adem Ljajić, I really do. I think if Rudi figures him out, and Adem continues to push, his brains and decisiveness can play a role in Roma’s push to Scudetto glory. Daje.