If there’s one word I would use to describe this current form of the Giallorossi, it’d be resilient. The Goddess of Injuries has ransacked Trigoria, referees have sent off players for no good reason, and nevertheless, I Lupi have persisted. The 2-1 win over Milan was a signal of intent against one of Serie A’s big boys (confused as they may be); the 4-0 drubbing of Udinese with 10 men went even further. This match showed that on its best days, Roma can shake off even the most stupid of officiating decisions and beat a minnow the way a big club should. It’s always nice to see a grinta masterclass, and when you get to see one with as fun of a scoreline as 4-0, well, count your blessings.
Without further ado:
Man, what a poor showing by the referee. Roma have certainly not received the benefit of the doubt this season from any Serie A referee, but Massimiliano Irrati lowered the bar in this match, sending Federico Fazio off for an action that seemed to be neither a foul nor a direct scoring opportunity for Stefano Okaka. Roma won this match handily, sure, but it was despite an incredibly shoddy display of refereeing. Serie A needs to fix its refereeing structure fast, because displays like this only legitimize the claims that the refs are, uh, not exactly unbiased.
Fortunately, I’d say that Irrati was one of the only sinners in this match, so let’s move on to lighter subjects, shall we?
Nicolo Zaniolo... The Kid Was Good
At this point, it doesn’t feel like there’s much more to say about the Zan Man. It certainly seems like he’s been pushed by Fabio Capello’s wrong-headed comments to a whole other level these past few weeks, scoring three goals in three matches. The way he scored this most recent goal, by cheekily hitting the ball through Juan Musso’s legs, only amplifies the idea that this is Nicolo’s world and we’re just living in it.
Yet beyond the obvious counting statistics showing that Zaniolo’s star is only just beginning to shine, Zaniolo’s involvement until his substitution shows that he is not just putting up empty stats; he’s acting as a key cog in Paulo Fonseca’s tactical set-up, meshing well with everybody from Aleksandar Kolarov to Gianluca Mancini to Justin Kluivert. We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again, but if Zaniolo can make his first touch as good as the rest of his game, watch out.
Chris Smalling, Hadrian’s Wall (and a goalscorer too!)
Chris Smalling scored his first goal for Roma against Udinese, a classic center-back goal off of a corner kick. Sure, this wasn’t his best defensive match in a Roma shirt, but even so, I’m giving him a spot on the Saints list for being Roma’s best defender by far this season. The fact that we can even call this match Smalling’s worst defensive performance in a Roma kit, when he was saddled with having to be the sole center-back on the field following Fazio’s sending off, is a testament to his performances to date.
The key here is that Smalling has provided a sense of security in the back that few center-backs have afforded Roma in recent years. Even though his performances have been best when paired with Gianluca Mancini, it hasn’t particularly mattered who he’s played with. Even playing Juan Jesus hasn’t meant disaster for Roma if Smalling is also on the field. If the Englishman continues to play this way, while scoring a spare corner kick goal here and there, he may even end up being seen as an improvement over Kostas Manolas. Suffice to say that Manchester United’s supposed €20 million asking price for Smalling may seem like a steal sooner rather than later.
Gianluca Mancini... Midfielder
I’ll be honest, Paulo Fonseca shifting Gianluca Mancini into the midfield confused me. Mancini had been playing excellently in defense, forming a strong partnership with Chris Smalling and looking like another worthy investment by Gianluca Petrachi. Why mess with success? Why not call up Alessio Riccardi, or shift Alessandro Florenzi back to midfield, or, I don’t know, give Amadou Diawara titanium legs?
Well, Mancini has certainly proved me wrong in the last two matches. Despite being under pressure, he was able to make the pinpoint passes when necessary, provided defensive cover despite Fazio’s sending off, and whispers quietly maybe, just maybe, played better than Bryan Cristante or even Lorenzo Pellegrini in Fonseca’s midfield system. There’s no doubt that when the midfield injury nightmare has passed, Mancini will be back in the defense - he’s just too good as a center-back, and Roma’s just too deep in the midfield when healthy. Even so, wow. Mancini might not get as much love in the press because he doesn’t score flashy goals, but he’s looking like one of the few Atalanta players who continues to show excellent form following a big-money transfer.