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Analysis: How Lorenzo Pellegrini grew into key role at boyhood club

Our columnist looks at Lorenzo Pellegrini's scintillating start to the new season...

When Lorenzo Pellegrini scored his opening goal against CSKA Sofia in AS Roma's Europa Conference League game last month, he became the first player to score in all three of UEFA's current club competitions.

Having scored his first Europa League goal against Rapid Vienna when playing for Sassuolo during a two-year spell away from his boyhood club, before bagging his debut Champions League strike when back at Roma vs. CSKA Moscow, he then completed the triple (if the play-off goal against Trabzonspor was not considered part of the 'main' competition) with the clever finish against CSKA.

Developing his game steadily since returning to the Giallorossi back in 2017 under the guidance of Eusebio Di Francesco, who he shone working under at Sassuolo during the aforementioned period, he's grown into a versatile, multifaceted midfielder.

Upon returning to Roma, who he initially joined at the age of nine, his first term back at the club wasn't all plain sailing, with Pellegrini struggling to stamp his mark amid form issues and the heavy competition for places from the likes of Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman.

But he eventually began producing the goods within Di Francesco's 4-3-3 as a mezzala, going onto feature 33 times in all competitions.

"I will never get tired of saying it: playing here, for a boy born in Rome, is something that gives me both great pride and a feeling of responsibility," Pellegrini said at the time.

"When you go out there on the pitch it is like you are also representing your entire family, who all grew up wearing these colours."

Desperate to succeed with his beloved Roma, his comments epitomised how special playing for the Giallorossi is to him.

The 2018-19 campaign saw him not only prove his quality operating in a midfield double pivot, but most promisingly as a trequartista within a 4-2-3-1 shape, where his spatial awareness, creativity and driving runs from deep caught the eye.

Following a tough campaign for the club, Di Francesco was eventually relieved of his duties and replaced by Claudio Ranieri. Clearly a big fan of Pellegrini too, the genial Italian made him an integral component during his spell in charge.

"I see him behind the striker: he knows how to fit in, he makes the last pass, so for me he is an immense player. He has an ease with the football, sees the game and knows how to play both with or without the ball," Ranieri said.

Pellegrini's progression then carried on when Paulo Fonseca was installed as manager ahead of the 2019-20 campaign. Showing his class operating in an attacking midfield role in either Fonseca's 4-2-3-1 or 3-2-4-1, he really elevated his game to another level within the Portuguese's framework.

Relishing the freedom to move all over the final third to connect play, receive between the lines or in the half spaces and venture into the box, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Indeed, the fact he registered 15 goals and 16 assists in his two seasons with Fonseca illustrated his menace.

Taking on the team's playmaking burden and dictating the tempo of matches in the last 12 months particularly, Pellegrini's transferred his exceptional form into this season too.

Starting this campaign in exceptional fashion under the stewardship of new manager Jose Mourinho, who named him as captain and has been quick to make him an integral component of his plans, Pellegrini's been on fire.

Grabbing six goals and two assists already to kick off the new season, there's no doubting how much Pellegrini's enjoying life with the legendary manager.

"This is just the beginning. There is something special at Trigoria this year, a feeling since Mourinho arrived that I’ve never felt before at this club. We have to continue like this and keep improving if we want to win something," Pellegrini said.

“I can only thank the coach for what he’s done for me. He’s helped me so much. He needs to continue to do that, to continue helping us all to improve."

Looking the goods in the No. 10 slot within Mourinho's base 4-2-3-1 shape, the 25-year-old's excelled in this role.

Granted plenty of freedom to give his team control when dropping deep to form overloads (centrally and wider), which tilts the team's shape into a 4-3-3 or when occupying dangerous positions in the attacking third, he's flourished.

So dangerous with his inventive passing, the way he's manufactured numerous chances from open play and set pieces, plus kept things ticking over with his crisp exchanges in close quarters, have also been major highlights.

Mourinho's been sure to instruct him to persistently keep embarking on his devastating runs into the area that see him break forward undetected due to the speed and timing of his surges to catch out defences.

Helping set the tone for his teammates when defending with his tenacious pressing and ferocity in the challenge, this aspect of his armoury has enhanced his worth.

Unquestionably one of the key driving forces behind Roma's fantastic purple patch, which has seen them win nine of their first 11 matches, Pellegrini's tremendous contributions have been a joy to watch.

And, with his contract extension now signed and sealed, fans can look forward to seeing what more there is to come from the No. 7 in the years ahead.

Having worked with so many wonderful coaches, it's no surprise the tactically knowledgeable, versatile and adaptable Pellegrini is thriving yet again despite another managerial change at the club.

The challenge will now be maintaining his high level, which will certainly be easier said than done. But working under a manager who appreciates his talents and in a system he shines in will give him every chance to do so, as he looks destined to be Roma's next homegrown hero to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi.

 
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