Not to be outdone by Bren in what’s becoming the freestyle writing column of the Chiesa, I ingested DMT and smoked as much Ayahuasca as I could for this Sinners and Saints opening. No, not really though. I’ve never done either in my life, and I’ll wait until a mid-life crisis hits to change that fact. But it’s hard to take the spectacle of football seriously, given what’s happening in the backdrop of Italian (and world) life at the moment.
“Nolockdown” riots in Naples are just the latest tip of a never-ending iceberg hitting in 2020 but, even though the moral righteousness of some would claim that football is duty-bound to pull the curtains on the show, we have to remember that football—as a business and an industry—is just trying to keep its own neck above water like everyone else. There are plenty of employees within the sport who aren’t millionaires, who don’t take the pitch and will never know fame, who live cheque-to-cheque and need the game to keep rolling to a scheduled conclusion. On the other hand, those who do enjoy the spotlight in front of the camera have done little to reward our faith that “we’re all in this together.”
A show of unity, a reason to give people to tune in and come together during the lockdown. Weren’t these the “virtuous” reasons why football was meant to re-start to begin with?
What this season has shown is that no one trusts Napoli, if anyone trusts Juventus it is begrudgingly so, and that the world’s leading clubs are (once again) working off a completely different European Super League page to the majority of football’s pyramid scheme. So yeah, if anyone were to shut down football tomorrow, we wouldn’t have “unity” as a defence for not doing so. The people who are meant to be setting an example are not.
That sounds like a good segue to talk about Ibrahimovic’s moping around the pitch yesterday. But nah, let’s just get to this weekend’s Sinners and Saints.
He took top honours in our CdT Man of the Match poll overnight, and collect the best individual match ratings in all but two of the Italian papers this morning. Even when he ranked behind either Dzeko or Pellegrini in the remaining two papers, Mirante still ranked in the top two highest rated Roma players in every single publication, both in Central and North Italy. So it’s only natural that Antonio Mirante lead our Saints list this morning.
What more can we say about the Italian veteran? Beyond being a safe pair of hands in goal, he pulled some saves out of the top drawer yesterday, and doesn’t spend time admiring his good work, instead immediately clearing the ball to put Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pedro into a 2 vs 2 counter attack, just like Mirante did previously against Benevento.
This is full, 360-degree, modern goalkeeping from the 37-year old. Shouldn’t we be talking about yet another good job from keeper coach Marco Savorani? Or is it all down to Mirante’s pedigree and the fact he’s just that good?
Who knew Lorenzo had this performance in him? I mistakenly claimed on the latest podcast episode that we want Pellegrini to take more time on the ball, when that’s actually been the problem while he was playing at trequartista. At mediano, however, you want Pellegrini to play fast enough but not rush it, work at holding onto possession and play simple passes when his teammates are in better positions to advance the ball. In short: Don’t always look to go vertical.
We got exactly that from Pellegrini yesterday and more. Steven made an excellent point while we were talking on the podcast yesterday that I’m really glad he brought up: It looks like playing deeper has erased Pellegrini’s penchant of running wide off the ball. Could this be a newly mature Lorenzo, who’s put his tutelage days under EDF behind him? A team-high five interceptions in midfield, 2 aerial duels won, the second-most touches of the ball in the team (behind only Ibanez), and the most passes completed of any Roma player on the night says so.
To top if off, the stellar set-piece taking we saw from Lorenzo all the way back in 2018-ish is back again. He racked up two key passes from two exquisitely executed corners, one of which provided Roma with their opening goal yesterday. Now it’s up to Pellegrini to manage the one thing he’s never done in a Roma jersey: Go a season injury-free and not let any spells on the sidelines disrupt this momentum.
We were willing to get Young Fazio off the hook for Milan’s first goal last night, but since Kumbulla openly blamed himself in the post-match interviews then... there’s that. Nonetheless, Max could have easily let his head drop for the rest of the game but did exactly what O.G. Fazio does to bounce back: Push up high, win aerial duels, cut out the ball early, and get involved with play on the ball.
Oh, and score at the other end. Boom.
With 56 touches of the ball last night, Kumbulla (like Ibanez) made the most of Gianluca Mancini provided the deep cover behind them. Kumbulla and Ibanez racked up the numbers, but most telling was how much Leao got joy on Ibanez’s side of the pitch, whereas Alexis Saelemaekers struggled to make himself known against Kumbulla before Saelaemakers had to temporarily switch flanks, and pop up on the right side to get time to breath away from Kumbulla’s presence.
Make no mistake, Kumbulla is not a cheap signing for Roma by any means. We don’t know how the three players Roma gave away in his transfer will pan out, but it’s not unreasonable to think they may all go for 10 million euros a piece in a few years time, minimum. Mert Cetin could eventually get a move for at least twice, if not three times as much.
So Roma needed Kumbulla to hit the ground running and BE this good at a minimum. And it’s credit to Max that he’s delivering.
Roma’s Set Pieces
You can play swashbuckling football or you can muscle your way to grinding out wins by attrition. The choice is yours. But one trait universally binds all trophy-winning teams in all competitions: Breaking your way into the scoreline through set-pieces.
It’s the same trait that had Roma leading the league in this category, back in Eusebio Di Francesco’s sophomore season of 2018/19 and virtually the only reason Roma had a shot at a top 4 finish that season. So it’s all the better that Roma have found killer deliveries from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Jordan Veretout in recent games, as well as finishes from Kumbulla and Dzeko.
Life is that much easier when you can put away dead-ball situations, and even Milan coach Stefano Pioli was left crediting Roma as “the better team” on set pieces last night. Maybe Roma could do with defending dead-ball situations better though, after seeing Kjaer hit the post, Leao denied at the last minute by Mirante from point-blank range, and Alessio Romagnoli gifted a wide-open chance at the very death that only Romagnoli knows how he got that one off target.
The French dynamo has rightfully earned a lot of benefit of the doubt in these corners, but we can’t keep beating around the bush with these Veretout performances. They are so poor it’s hard to believe.
I’m sure we’ll even do mental gymnastics to somehow explain away Veretout’s no-shows as (once again) the fault of his midfield partner, but you can’t keep pinning the questions on Pellegrini, Diawara, Cristante etc. before you just face facts. These are Veretout mistakes, plain and simple.
That the Frenchman has yet to make things work with a regular midfield partner is partly down to him, and partly down to Fonseca constantly changing Veretout’s tactical role from game to game. But there’s no long explanations needed for Veretout leaving a wide open gap for Leao to cut inside and drop a ball over the backline for Milan’s opening goal, and even less to be said about Veretout just letting Saelemaekers run in uncontested for Milan’s early goal in the second half.
Roma’s backline could be faulted for their defending at set-pieces yesterday but, as far as the ACTUAL goals conceeded, what they suffered from was a lack of protection from midfield, and the wide open gaps left from Jordan Veretout. Maybe he’s been run into the ground, but the Frenchman has been out of sorts for a few games now.
Karsdorp did some good stuff early in the match - sometimes a lot better than Spinazzola on the other flank when it comes to giving Roma’s attack the width early, and his actual use the ball - but what little momentum Karsdorp was picking up for himself quickly fizzled out, drowned out under all the bad as the game went on.
This team is now stripped of both Strootman and Kluivert, and we’re guessing Karsdorp still doesn’t speak much Italian. So they either need to find a way to communicate “nice move” from the touchlines in braille, or “now get back and cover your opponent” in Morse code, if this Karsdorp rejuvenation project is really going to get underway.
We’ve seen Bruno Peres re-model himself under Fonseca, and we saw Lorenzo Pellegrini complete his rise like a phoenix from the ashes yesterday evening, but it’s going to take more than 5 games for Rick to follow a similar path. It should be said that Karsdorp did actually keep Theo Hernandez quiet thanks to Karsdorp willingness to gamble high and early, but unfortunately Leao was largely the beneficiary of that mindset.
Rick was burned badly by Leao for Milan’s second goal, but the games are coming thick and fast this period, so Rick has to bounce back.
Like his counterpart on the other flank, Spinazzola started off average and got progressively worse as the game went on. His checking the ball with his right foot on the left flank makes his role largely redundant, and he looks slow on the ball. It’s different when you see a young Nicolo Zaniolo holding up play so much, thinking “it’s ok he’s young, he will get sharper and more decisive with time.”
But Spinazzola is 27 years old. He will be 28 next March. He’s our best wide back by virtue of being the only Roma wide back who knows how to defend, but offensively? Lascia stare.
Racking up four losses of possession in less than ten second-half minutes tells its own story, let alone the six losses of the ball over ninety minutes. And this isn’t from pressure situations in the final third, or from being pressured out wide - in which case you’d just say, OK he’s a wide player and if we lose the ball in those situations, no big deal - but these were from simple, bad touches of the ball, waiting for opponents to double-up on him before deciding to take them on all by himself... and failing.
There’ll be no let-up in the Roma coverage this week, as the Giallorossi now gear up to CSKA Sofia at home in the Europa League this Thursday, before welcoming Fiorentina to the Olimpico on Sunday.
We’ve also seen some Stadio statements of intent from Virginia Raggi away from the pitch this morning that may get the presses moving even faster; all the while Roma are in that weird football twilight zone of remaining undefeated on the pitch, yet badly needing a win to get up the league table. Stick with us through it all, we’re happy to have you, and happy to be the English-speaking home of the Romaverse.