‘Two Pharoahs’ Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy reshaping AS Roma
They are being dubbed the two Pharoahs, a neat nickname for the influential tandem of strikers who have inspired Roma to seven successive wins in Serie A and reignited a tilt at the scudetto that seemed utterly derailed at the turn of the year.
Roma still trail the pacesetters in Italy, Juventus and Napoli, by a significant margin, but the sound of the Egyptian express behind the leaders has got louder and louder lately.
Through the run of victories, Mohammed Salah has contributed six goals and set up another four. Stephan El Shaarawy has five goals and a pair of assists from his six starts in the same sequence.
Salah scored twice in Friday’s 4-1 rout of Fiorentina, who sit just one spot beneath third-placed Roma.
El Shaarawy scored once.
That is handy form to be taking to the Bernabeu with a steep mountain to climb, as Roma are 2-0 down from the first leg of their Uefa Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid.
Salah’s chief asset is his acceleration. His bursts of speed that are usually launched from a position on the right of a Roma attack reshaped and has considerably sharpened since Luciano Spalletti returned to the club for his second spell as coach, replacing Rudi Garcia in January.
Spalletti arrived during an open transfer window that gave him El Shaarawy, formerly of AC Milan and, for the first half of the season, of Monaco.
Spalletti told the attacker, 23, with the cockatoo hairstyle to express himself from his starting role wide on the left.
Salah, the Egypt international, is Roma’s leading scorer this campaign with 11 league goals since he signed a one-season loan from Chelsea, and in doing so disappointed Fiorentina, where he had been on loan in 2015.
Fiorentina appealed to Fifa to investigate their claims he reneged on an agreement to join them, not Roma.
The outcome of the probe by the world governing body is still pending, though evidently it is not putting the player off his rapid stride.
El Shaarawy, who has a goal celebration that evokes a pyramid, his arms pointing up in a triangle, the fingers of his hands meeting at the top, is not quite the full Pharaoh in a technical sense because he plays his international football not for the country his father was born in, Egypt, but his native Italy.
Antonio Conte, coach of the Italians, is delighted to see him back in Serie A.
Conte continued to make use of El Shaarawy while he laboured at Monaco during the autumn.
His form with Roma boosts his chances of a leading role at this summer’s European Championship in France.
His fitness seems good, too. El Shaarawy, whom Milan signed as a teenager from Genoa, had his apparently prodigious rise interrupted by muscular and metatarsal problems, and lost his place in the Milan hierarchy.
Hence the move to Monaco last summer.
But when Gervinho left Roma in the winter transfer window, bound for China, a vacancy for a quick, skilful support striker arose in the Italian capital.
El Shaarawy ticked the right boxes.
“He had lost his way a little,” Spalletti said, “but any player can have periods where he produces less than he is capable of. But he has pace, technique and good finishing.
“He has a chance now to secure his place in the Italy squad for the Euros.”
As for Salah, Spalletti beamed after the Fiorentina match: “He is hard to stop at the moment.”
Roma will look to their pair of Pharoahs to hurt Madrid on the break as early as possible, as Madrid offer space behind the full-backs, one of whom, left-back Marcelo, is only just returning from injury.
In the first leg, Salah, and “Elsha” as the Italo-Egyptian is known, asked some awkward questions, and Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas needed to advance urgently from his line to makes saves at the feet of both of them.
The odds are heavily with the Spanish club, but Roma have it in them to stage an ambush.
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Published: March 7, 2016 04:00 AM