Recent patchy form in Serie A has seen Roma drop out of the Champions League spots. While the last two games have been better, what happened before that could prove to be disastrous in the long-run for the giallorossi. As disappointing as that would be, it will serve as a constant reminder to Paulo Fonseca and the fans about how crucial Amadou Diawara is to them.
It is no surprise that Diawara’s true value to the club wasn’t felt before he was out. During the recent injury-ridden period for the Guinean, Fonseca’s men have won only two games out of possible six. They have lost three, drawing once. They did beat Cagliari in what would go onto be Rolando Maran’s last game in-charge, but Roma did concede three goals in a 4-3 win, a match that many an online betting service felt would go the other way.
But it just shows how defensive midfielders are an underrated bunch in general. The impact that Diawara has brought was sorely missing last season, when a mess of a transfer window under Monchi had left them reeling. It is hardly a coincidence that last season saw them let in 48 goals- more than anyone else in the top-six.
Steven N’Zonzi’s transfer had failed. While Bryan Cristante is hardly a defensive midfielder. Daniele de Rossi left this past summer, leaving them without a proper sitting midfielder. Jordan Veretout came from Fiorentina as more of a box-to-box midfielder, but Diawara came in to prove a point and lay down a marker for himself.
Since joining Napoli under Maurizio Sarri in the summer of 2016, Diawara was hardly seen as a regular by the partenopei. The constant presence of either Marek Hamsik, Jorginho or later Allan led to him making only 74 appearances in three seasons for Napoli. He was constantly seen as surplus to requirements, as others were seen to be higher in the pecking order than him.
In that sense, Diawara came to Rome as a man on a mission. He had the boots of De Rossi to fill and last season’s problems to solve. Those were big responsibilities to live upto. And the defensive midfielder has done his job exceptionally.
A part of the job for players of his position is to make the CBs behind him look top-class. That is exactly what Diawara did, making Chris Smalling’s loan signing from Manchester United look like a stroke of genius from Gianluca Petrachi.
But the security Diawara brings to the defence is irreplaceable. In his absence, Fonseca has often played Gianluca Mancini in the defensive midfield position. But Diawara’s ability on the ball and reading of the game is second to none in that team.
He completes 7.2 recoveries per game, as per Soccement. Diawara also completes 47.3 passes per game, setting the tempo for Fonseca’s fluid, attacking football in a 4-2-3-1 shape. His ability to sit in and sweep things allows Lorenzo Pellegrini to play key passes and the likes of Cengiz Under, Justin Kluivert, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nicolo Zaniolo (out for the season) to play with freedom.
Diawara’s passing accuracy in his own-half is at an impressive 91.5 percent, making him a reliable man to play out from the back. He is key in switching play from one side to another, with his long-ball accuracy at 66.3 percent too. For a team that relies on attacking football, he shows on a consistent basis that he is very much upto the task.
That dispels the myth that many had about him under Sarri. While Jorginho was a regular and is one of the rare players who fits into Sarri’s anchor-man role, developing Diawara in that role could have helped both parties. In what might sound like butterfly effect , Diawara could have been at Napoli and wouldn’t have had their midfield overrun regularly under Carlo Ancelotti.
He makes 1.9 interceptions per game- something Roma missed last season. That is also the same thing Ancelotti missed this season before his eventual axing after a Champions League game. His presence makes it tough for opposition attacking players to go past him. He gets dribbled past only 0.9 times per game- a very good stat for a defensive midfielder.
Roma had young Gonzalo Villar make his debut in defensive midfield recently, despite Cristante being in the side. Cristante has come under criticism, while the position is unnatural for Mancini. The fact that Fonseca had to rely on a debutant against Cagliari isn’t just proof of how neither Cristante, Mancini or Veretout are able enough. It is a reflection of why Diawara is a rare player in the La Lupa ranks.
It is hardly a coincidence that 2020 has started on a rough note for Smalling. The game against a Musa Barrow-led Bologna was particularly poor for the Englishman. But there is no chance he’d have come up with a harrowing performance with Diawara around him.
For a player who came for just €21 million, it is certainly proving to be a bargain. It is also easy to forget that he’s still only 21- very much a young player with immense potential. But the manner in which he’s taken over responsibilities shows his mental maturity. He had a chip on his shoulders and he’s proven many people wrong.
Without him, Roma may not have been close at all to a Champions League challenge. In fact, the best football betting tips have written them off completely. It is arguable if they could have been worse than last season. But that is just how defensive midfielders work- you don’t know what you’ve got, until they’re gone.