Apart from it being only Roma's third league win in 2015, yesterday was noteworthy for a slightly different, slightly harrier reason, the full debut of Salih Uçan. Roma's string bean of an €11m Turkish midfielder received his first serious taste of Serie A action yesterday, earning a start and playing 67 minutes in Roma's 1-0 victory over Cesena.
Given the protracted nature of his transfer and the fact that he's been buried on the bench since August, speculation has run rampant in both directions; he's the next Zidane one minute, but oh, let's hurry up and lend him to Novara. In a way, his experience been emblematic of how this club and its fans view their youth; in the absence of actual opportunities, the cult of obsession has only grown, causing many to overestimate his still unrefined capabilities.
With that in mind, let's take a quick glance at our first actual glimpse of Salih Uçan.
This goes without saying, but let me make it clear; we're talking about 67 minutes of action from a 21-year-old kid who had been buried on the bench since signing with Roma, so take all of the praise and criticism with a grain of salt.
Credit young Uçan with this much; he didn't look phased or uncomfortable out there at all, but his passing was far from crisp, particularly where it was needed most, further up the pitch. Have a look:
Uçan only attempted 30 passes yesterday, so there's only so much we can intuit, but you'll notice how his accuracy waned as he moved up the pitch, particularly as he strafed outwards, but then again, Roma isn't a prolific crossing team, so perhaps he'll fit right in. Whatever it was, as Roma moved up the pitch, Uçan couldn't seem to link up with Adem Ljajic or Daniele De Rossi, and given how wing-focused Roma has become lately, this could be an issue going forward, which is an issue in and of itself. I'm getting a headache.
Outside of that, the only real blemish I could find (statistically speaking) was his poor tackling, as he was 0-2 on actual attempts, while committing three fouls and drawing a yellow card, but given how little he played, his judgement and timing was bound to be a bit off, so we'll chalk that up to simple rust.
Although his passing went a bit astray, Uçan fit seamlessly into Rudi Garcia's midfield, looking composed and covering a decent amount of the pitch in his 67 minutes:
Again, I'd caution you not to take too much from that, but Uçan did make 45 touches in 67 minutes which, as you can see, where spread across the pitch laterally and vertically, so he certainly wasn't afraid to get involved or to stick his nose in the action. We certainly can't quantify this, of course, but he has a way about him; there's just something about the way he glides on the pitch that draws your eye and makes all the hype seem possible.
But it was what he did without the ball that was truly impressive. Poor tackling aside, Uçan made his presence known in the defensive phase of the game, as he chipped in three clearances, three interceptions and won 60% of his headed duels; an area in which Roma needs dire help. Uçan has the size, mobility and agility to be a nuisance to opponents when tracking back, which he certainly was yesterday.
We joked yesterday on Twitter that, in order for his debut to be considered a success based on our outlandish standards, he needed to score two goals, but I think we should be satisfied with what we saw yesterday. Uçan, only 21-years-old, and facing live action for really the first time since leaving Turkey, was composed, mobile and active in all aspects of the game. We won't know for several years just what he'll become, but over the course of the next two months, he should give Garcia another option in midfield, spelling or perhaps even deposing Miralem Pjanic in midfield.
If nothing else, it was nice to see Garcia roll the dice on one of Roma's most prized assets...finally.
graphics via squawka.com