After a tame week on the football news front, the jampacked weekend of football action sneaks up on you out of nowhere. Sort of like growing up in the nineties, when all you had to get through the week was Ceefax updates on TV, and then suddenly you were watching the game, in living colour, by the week’s end. Yeah, simpler times.
All this to say I admit to taking a shortcut in this week’s men’s Sinners & Saints feature, basing the ratings below on the different match phases like I usually do, but also relying heavily on this morning’s ratings from around the papers and websites, too. There was just no time to watch the game back on full and map it out against Whoscored touches, which is fitting since Edin Dzeko ripped right back into form to prove I don’t what I’m talking about when it comes to football anyway.
So let’s get to it.
You’ve never seen a guy win so many plaudits after a game and yet do so little on the stats sheet. Pedro is one of those guys I’ve spend a good chunk of my adult life avoiding, in part because I don’t like Barcelona, but mostly because he’s one of those players that tactics boffins will wax lyrical about how the rest of us “don’t appreciate the finer side of the game.” I may come across like one of those writers myself at times but, trust me, I hate that mindset.
Next time you see an “analyst” on twitter rewind some Barcelona circa-2010 footage for the umpteenth time and claiming it’s proof that Barca knew how to play “pure” football, ask said analyst where Barcelona weren’t - in fact - 3 or 4 goals up on the scoreline at the time. It’s a completely different game when you’re trying to pass your way through a team sitting back at 0-0, as opposed to hitting the same team on the break when they’re desperately trying to get a goal back themselves at the other end.
Just ask Benevento.
Anyway, now Pedro is a Roma player, I’m all ready to love him. He does provide some more of what Roma’s been missing in the opposition half.
He scored Roma’s first goal of the game to make it 2 goals in his last 2 Roma appearances. Even Diego Perotti took to Instagram after the match to praise Pedro. All the papers this morning have Pedro as their standout man of the match (though our Chiesa di Totti MOTM poll has Edin Dzeko winning it with clear daylight between him and the rest of the team).
Which is why you’d never expect that the Spaniard took the fewest touches of the ball among all Roma starters yesterday (33), made just 11 forward passes all game (including 1 key pass), lost possession 4 times, and lost 6 out of his total 8 tackle attempts when trying to trap Benevento’s play down his flank.
So yeah, I was wrong. It turns out three world-class players like Pedro, Mkhitaryan and Dzeko can make it work between them as a fluid front three. Who knew?
By now, Dzeko is comfortably on Francesco Totti’s level at the same age in their respective careers. That being said, Totti was playing alongside the likes of Marco Borriello, Mirko Vucinic and even a young Gianluca Caprari when Totti was a 34-year old captain. I genuinely don’t know which man had the better teammates. There are pros and cons for both.
Like Pedro’s performance yesterday, though, Dzeko took the second-fewest touches in the starting eleven (37), made 14 forward passes and 1 key pass. But the amount of times he dropped deep to play a teammate in behind the Benevento backline told a lot more than stats could, and there’s the small matter of Dzeko’s Roma goal tally rising to 108.
Dzeko is now just 3 goals away from breaking into the top 3 all-time goalscorers in the club’s history. Maicon just called and says you could have done it sooner, Edin.
Is Mkhitaryan under-appreciated or does he make life too hard for himself? I can’t decide, but I love him all the same.
Miki took the second-most touches of the ball in the Roma team, behind only Bryan Cristante, made the third-most passes in the team (behind Cristante and Mancini) including 3 key passes, never lost possession even one time (unlike Pedro and Dzeko), and got in 3 blocks (Pedro and Dzeko got none).
The only glaring blot on Miki’s performance was losing out on all 4 of his tackle attempts but, more importantly, only getting one of his three goal attempts on target. Perhaps Henrikh simply works too hard, and doesn’t leave enough in the tank to stay lucid in the final third. Or maybe he’s just a brilliant player. Again, I can’t decide.
What I do know is I could watch Mkhitaryan’s assist for Roma’s second goal several times over. He was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet when Roma’s third goal was chalked off for offside.
Roma are playing very, very fluid football right now. And it’s hard to tell whether that’s by design, or merely organised chaos. I guess we won’t have to wait long to find out, given that Roma’s next domestic trip is to table-topping AC Milan. Yet the player rising among the Roma midfield waters yesterday was rock-solid Bryan Cristante.
Not that Bryan Cristante was playing any kind of fixed role in the lineup yesterday. He was everywhere. He took the most touches of the ball, made (and completed) the most passes, committed the least fouls of anyone in midfield (1), his aerial presence paid off at the back with 2 headed clearances out of total 4 clearances Cristante made inside Roma’s penalty area, he made two intercepts and lost the ball just once over 90 minutes.
Cristante even found time to dribble and dance around Benevento players at the death of the game. If he was robbed of a pinpoint assist in the first half, Cristante can console himself with the fact he “officially” assisted Carles Perez for the game’s ultimate goal.
After openly being talked about on Roma radio, and our podcast, as the one risking a drop to the bench, Mancini needed a performance like this one under his belt to remind us how he can change a game.
With Roma down 0-1 on the night and constantly outnumbered inside Benevento’s half, labouring to put together anything like a fast, coordinated counter attack in the first half, it was Gianluca Mancini who gave Roma the initiative by pushing up and stealing the ball of Benevento at the half-way line. That gave Roma the most balanced attacking move all half, and the Pedro equalizer inevitably followed in the very same sequence.
Mancini also made the second-most passes in the team yesterday, and made 5 intercepts, won 2 aerial duels, 1 clearance, 1 block, and he only fouled once all game.
There was talk from Paulo Fonseca of Antonio Mirante being Roma’s starting keeper for now, but when you say “for now” do you really mean forever?
I’m not one of those who’s rushed to praise Mirante in the absence of the dream keeper we all hoped for since one of those dreams walked out in the summer of 2018. I have appreciated Mirante’s character since he walked into the club, and how much he does to talk up teammates (including Pau Lopez), but this is different.
Mirante is no longer just a nice guy. With performances like this, he’s everything you want.
You want a ball-playing keeper? His initiative in helping Roma to go up 2-1 on the night was crucial (again in the post-match he was quick to talk up how good Mkhitaryan and Dzeko did to finish off a move started by Mirante). You want a keeper who can do the traditional keeper stuff? Pau Lopez has never come close to saving a penalty. Mirante did so yesterday, even if Lapadula won the follow-up.
It’s impossible to drop the Italian on current form.
So, no Sinners this week. You could have knocked Jordan Veretout’s performance if you really wanted, but he mostly looked tired and oddly resigned to playing deep from the very beginning of the game. Early in the second half he was labouring to close down a loose ball, and when Fonseca subs off Veretout then you know something’s out of place.
Roma will now have to collectively reharvest their energy for a Thursday evening trip to Switzerland, facing the Young Boys of Bern in the Europa League opening round. They are blessed by the news thar Rick Karsdorp is back to full training this morning, while the Roma squad is in full-on lockdown mode after Riccardo Calafiori’s positive Covid-19 test this past weekend.