Cengiz Under: The 'Undertaker' is exceeding expectations at Roma
Positives were few and far between for Eusebio Di Francesco. On a crisp, chilly Wednesday night in Kharkiv, his side subconsciously gave in to Paulo Fonseca's Samba rhythm. So did Manchester City, Napoli, and Feyenoord on their earlier visits. However, Cengiz Under's classy display offered respite. It was something to take home from Roma's Champions League collapse to Shakhtar Donetsk
Before the season's start, Cengiz wasn't a name to write into Roma's matchday squad, much less the starting XI. You could say, and you can expect many people will, that he was 'Under'-rated. The young Turk's £10 million switch from Basaksehir was overshadowed by more glamorous arrivals. Aleksandar Kolarov signed from City. Juan Jesus came over from Inter Milan. Lorenzo Pellegrini's long-awaited homecoming materialised. It was as though the diminutive winger was a footnote, an insurance policy.
Under's plight was further heightened by the club's congested flank. Di Francesco had ample top playmakers to tap on the shoulder. Pellegrini. Alessandro Florenzi. Diego Perotti. Stephan El Shaarawy. Gregoire Defrel. Skilled in their own right, all pushed him down the pecking order. Youth and inexperience also 'Under'-mined him. He was an unproven risk. He'd only had the one fantastic campaign. That's all.
As the bugle sounded to start the Serie A season, he also strove to adapt to a new culture, cooler climate, and strange language. Save the iconic buildings and exotic lifestyle, every other facet of the transition was hostile to the 20-year-old. He started only four Serie A games in 2017. He emerged with nothing tangible to show for his efforts.
The new year came with a new approach for Di Francesco. The Giallorossi were in shambles, winless in seven, losing their grip on Napoli and Juventus. Something drastic was required to spark a revival. The ex-Sassulo manager bitterly abandoned his favoured 4-3-3 for 4-2-3-1. His intention was quite simple: flood bodies into attack to ease Edin Dzeko's work. Jackpot.
Roma is now on a five-game winning streak across all competitions. Even more stunning, Under is playing and playing well. The goals are coming as naturally as your partner's cat to the sound of a can opener. Under opened his account in the very first match in the new system. His winner put paid to Hellas Verona. He didn't stop there, following up with a brace and assist in Benevento's 5-2 spanking. Then he found the net against Udinese and again at Kharkiv.
His Champions League strike, in particular, stands not only because it was his debut in the competition. Similar to his previous efforts it was a beauty. With the interval approaching, Perotti located Dzeko on the left flank. The Bosnian delivered a delicious defence-splitting ball into the onrushing Under's path. The clinical Turk took only a touch before hitting a side-footed shot beyond Andriy Pyatov.
The Undertaker as he's now affectionately called is rapidly becoming a fan favourite in Rome. He is being lauded as the next Mohamed Salah. The Turkish winger races down the right wing in similar fashion to the Egyptian. He cuts inside, playing all sorts of tricks on his markers, unravelling goalkeepers with a deadly left foot.
It's a fair comparison although Under has more work to do to be Salah's equal. That shot is his biggest asset. It makes him one-dimensional, however. Opponents will learn and he will have to develop other skills, further options.
That said, Cengir Under's extraordinary rise was never part of the plot. Eusebio di Francesco flipped the script.