Down several players thanks to injury and suspension, today's Derby del Sole was yet another test of Roma's mettle: could they continue their winning ways despite being less than fully equipped? Fortune paid Roma a few favors as Napoli were down a couple of key players (namely Allan) and even their manager, as Carlo Ancelotti was suspended for this match, leaving the decisions to his son Davide. Nevertheless, thanks to tireless efforts from several key players, Roma staved off Napoli's late advances, securing three crucial points, temporarily vaulting Fonseca's men into third place.
As with most matches, the outcome could have been drastically different had the ball taken a few different bounces. Kolarov missed a penalty kick, Javier Pastore and Nicolo Zaniolo missed changes, Napoli struck the woodwork multiple times on one trip, Meret robbed Roma of another goal. A couple twists of fate and this 2-1 affair could have easily been a five or six goal thriller.
Despite the relative lack of goals, Roma was far more saint than sinner today, but we have to start with the only dour note of the day.
Mert Cetin's Second Half Collapse
There are a few things one must understand about Mert Cetin. He's fast, he's a good looking kid, he's built like a brick wall, he looks like he's going to be a swift and bruising defender when it all comes together, but...he's only 22-years-old, doesn't speak the language and was making his first ever start today...in a six-pointer Derby del Sole no less.
And through the first 50 minutes or so of his shift, he was perfectly benign, but as the match moved past the hour mark, Cetin's fly-under-the-radar performance became less inconspicuous and more disastrous, as he not only missed a chance to stop Milik from scoring, he drew two yellow cards in stoppage time, gifting Napoli with a golden free kick opportunity at the death.
Fortunately for us, Roma's wall papered over Cetin's mistake, but his debut was definitely not one to remember—WhoScored gave him a 4.58 rating; I don't think I've ever seen a sub-5 rating.
Cetin did manage three tackles, two blocks and completed 83% of his passes, so there is certainly a foundation to build upon, but he was clearly out of his depth in the second half today. And he manned up and apologized for his late errors, which was completely unnecessary but speaks volumes about his character.
On to the more positive news...
Whether you call him the second coming of Kevin Strootman or Radja Nainggolan reborn, Veretout has been the glue to Roma's midfield, providing the ball winning, distribution and simple hustle it was missing earlier in the season. And today was no exception.
In 90 minutes, Veretout took 55 touches, completed 92% of his passes, put 100% of his shots on target, created two scoring chances, drew two fouls, had two interceptions, three clearances, hit on 40% of his crosses and was a perfect three-for-three on long ball attempts.
He was everywhere and did everything. If and when Roma return to full health, it will be next to impossible to pull this guy off the pitch. He is that essential.
With goals in four straight competitions, not mention his general amazingness, it's almost ho-hum to praise Zaniolo these days, but he was outstanding this afternoon. In 80 minutes of action, Zaniolo ripped off three shots, including his cracking goal, completed 86% of his passes, dribbled past four players, drew two fouls and was perfect in his long-ball attempts.
People will probably always debate his proper position, but at all of 20-years-old, Zaniolo is proving the one and only thing that matters—he can ball.
El Flaco's great 2019 resurgence continued today, as he put in a solid 88 minute shift, taking two shots, setting up two scoring chances, pulling off two successful dribbles, winning three tackles and picking off two passes.
Then there's this:
11 - Javier #Pastore made 11 recoveries in #RomaNapoli: only one time he made more recoveries in a single Serie A game (15 in Fiorentina-Palermo, October 2010). Regenerated. pic.twitter.com/brcoF7msHz— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) November 2, 2019
Pastore's offensive contributions have been fantastic, but the manner in which he's covering ground and contributing in all facets has been truly astounding. I have no idea what's gotten into him, but I'm sure this is what Monchi envisioned when he spent big on Pastore last summer.
Leonardo Spinazzola & Gianluca Mancini
We'll wrap this up with Roma's Azzurri defenders, who were once again top of the mark today. Mancini and Spinazzola were integral to Roma's attack today, working together to set up Zaniolo's first half goal, while they combined to hit on 7 of 12 long ball attempts today. They were equally effective behind the ball as well, combining for three tackles, three interceptions and five clearances.
After enduring somewhat slow starts to the season, Spinazzola and Mancini are really starting to prove their worth. Spinazzola brings such balance to the full back position, never venturing too far afield and never really getting caught out of position at the back, while Mancini, well, he's starting to look like Italy's next great dynamic defender.
Roma have another two-match week before the international break, and they will need each and every one of these saints to keep this winning streak rolling.