In recent weeks, we've been discussing retooling our post-match coverage, shifting from a blow-by-blow rehashing of the match to a more bird's eye view of things, looking at the bigger picture and themes of the day rather than an overall accounting. And since this is the Chiesa di Totti, we thought we'd run with the church theme, casting the players, moments, and decisions into two lots: sinners and saints. I'm not the pontiff, so consider these pieces merely a measurement of a single match and not an eternal judgement of their time on Earth.
The format and tone of these will likely get tweaked along the way, but may I present to you our first official Sinners & Saints.
Bryan Cristante's Groin
I mean, an eighth minute injury coming off the international break is so on-brand for Roma, isn't it? With the match barely underway, Bryan Cristante, while attempting to win a tackle, got stuck in a bit too much, seemingly over extending his planted leg and tweaking his groin in the process. The grimace on Cristante's face, as well as immediately clutching of his most private areas, told us all we needed to know: this wasn't your run of the mill twinge.
Cristante was immediately subbed off for Javier Pastore, who was forced to play out of position for nearly the entire match. I'm not sure this injury fits within the broader Trigoria turf conspiracy, but, I mean, come on. Why does this keep happening!?
Nikola Kalinic’s Leg
You know what they say, when it rains it pours. Some 30 minutes after losing Cristante, Kalinic suffered his own tackle-induced injury, pulling up lame after being taken down by a Sampdoria defender. Kalinic tried to solider on, but he was moving with all the grace and fluidity of a new-born calf, making whatever measures the trainer's took null and void, forcing Roma to make yet another unplanned substitution, bringing on Edin Dzeko and his fractured cheek bones moments before half time.
Kalinic hasn't really been asked to do much in his brief Roma career, but you had to feel for him here—he was well and truly hobbled after that tackle. With two matches this coming week and both of their strikers injured, Paulo Fonseca could be forced to get creative.
Nicolo Zaniolo's Passing in the Final Third
Listen, Zaniolo is a Golden Boy nominee for a reason—he's one of the best young talents around—but if we can nitpick one part of his game through the first 30 or so games of his career, it's his touch passing, which may have cost Roma the match today. Midway through the first half—with Roma struggling to do anything offensively—they finally managed to string together a series of passes.
With Javier Pastore taking possession right around midfield, he caught a streaking Zaniolo with a quick flick, springing Zaniolo into space in the right-center channel. The beauty of this move was that Kalinic was breaking the lines just as Zaniolo made his move, setting up a potential one-v-one with the keeper—all he needed was a gently threaded through ball from Zaniolo and he'd be in the clear.
It was perfectly orchestrated and should have lead to a tap-in goal from Kalinic, but Zaniolo's final ball was just a touch too heavy, drifting into no man's land, giving Emil Audero enough time to smother the ball and leaving Kalinic frustrated.
It may have been a scoreless match, but there were a few players worthy of praise today...
I had hoped our debut of this piece would follow a more exciting match, but plaudits are hard to come by in a scoreless match. Nevertheless, there were a few saints wearing giallo e rosso today.
The Defense as a Whole
I hope the irony of these past two months isn't lost on you. Roma were supposed to be an attacking machine with a suspect defense, but through eight matches it's almost been the exact reverse. Sure, Fonseca Football looked like heaven incarnate in the first few matches, but that free-flowing attack has been replaced by a barrage of sideways passing and tentative attacking play, with Roma finding the back of the net only three times in their past five matches.
Fortunately for us, the quintet of Pau Lopez, Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, Aleksandar Kolarov and Leonardo Spinazzola have coalesced into a tight and efficient defensive unit, conceding only two goals in their past four matches.
Mancini and Smalling were particularly effective today, teaming up for six interceptions, three blocked shots and an impressive 16 clearances. They weren't the central pairing we envisioned back in August, but the new Crockett and Tubbs have developed a chemistry we haven't seen since Leandro Castan and Marquinhos were stemming the tide during Zeman's second tenure in the capital.
Man of the match?
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