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Sinners & Saints: Roma 2, Fiorentina 0

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When Chris Smalling plays, Roma rack up the clean sheets. It’s that simple.

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Have you heard the news? The latest Swiss Ramble report it out on Roma’s finances, and it’s a sea of red numbers. Essentially there was more confirmation that Roma are up to their neck in losses (though it’s nothing like the headline that Barcelona are on the verge of bankruptcy—there’s a club I hope no one bails out and lets disappear off the face of the Earth), even though it was interesting to find out Roma’s new sleeve sponsor pays almost as much as the old kit sponsorship with Nike. No wonder why both sides couldn’t wait to walk about from that kit deal.

Retracing Roma’s steps over renewed partnerships was a theme on display at the Olimpico yesterday evening, with a performance at the heart of the team from a returned face that feels damn good to count him amongst the Roma first-team lineup again. It’s an old/new name that leads our list of Saints this Monday.

The Saints

Chris Smalling (feat. Ibañez and Mancini)

AS Roma v CSKA Sofia - UEFA Europa League Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Roma’s win against Fiorentina definitely felt like more of a team performance than any kind of individual brilliance so, while we’re taking a moment to praise Roma’s good fortune that Chris Smalling is back to lead the line, we’re more than happy to share that praise around to this centre-half partners Roger Ibañez and Gianluca Mancini, too.

It was leader Chris Smalling who collected the average highest ratings among all the papers this morning, even though - as far as volume goes - he had the lowest performance numbers (aside from aerial duels) of all three Roma central defenders on the night. But that just goes to a repeated S & S theme in how statistics are interpreted.

Numbers couldn’t tell you how reassured the team looked, taking their cues from Smalling’s presence on the pitch. It also couldn’t tell you how much calm and serenity, in Paulo Fonseca’s own words post-match, Smalling brought to the performances of younger teammates Mancini and Ibañez.

Of the latter two, Ibañez racked up the usual monster numbers; including 8 clearances (by far the most of any player in the game), the most blocks, the most interceptions, the most touches of the ball of all Roma centre-backs. And Ibañez even attempted the most tackles, even if he won only half of them. The Brazilian just never stops going for it, and even dribbled past Fiorentina players as he began to push up and offer Roma greater density in midfield as the match called for it.

For Gianluca Mancini’s part, he had a major role in Roma’s possession spells during the course of the game, and he kept Franck Ribery quiet all evening long. Which is no small feat in itself.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (feat. Pedro and Dzeko)

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

As we touched on earlier, there was a collective quality stamped all over Roma’s performance yesterday and the kind of Roma side I’ve been searching to be a fan of for at least three or four seasons now. That might not be to everyone’s taste, as some people prefer a Roma side that will make one or two players shine week-in-week-out. It really is subjective and a matter of taste but, all things being said, that makes it hard to single out any individual member of Roma’s front three for praise. For my money, though, the best of the lot is Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The Armenian can change the pace and dynamic of the match at will, either by dribbling through three opponents at a time (while exchanging 1-2s with teammates all the way through his path to goal), and his speed of thought in the final third is world class. Does Mkhitaryan even feel pressure in the final third?

Occassionally Miki may drag a close-range chance wide or over, that’s true, but that’s far outweighed by the sheer quality and work-rate he brings to Rome. Mkhitaryan is already on four assists for the new season, and is bound to challenge the usual names of Gomez and Alberto for best creator in Serie A by the time the 20/21 season is done. He’s taken over from Lorenzo Pellegrini’s former role, and hopefully Pellegrini can learn from Miki’s example if ever Lorenzo is to be moved back up the pitch in the long-term future.

Meanwhile, Pedro racked up more well-deserved praise and admiration for his overall movement and performance, not to mention his third goal in Roma colours. And Edin Dzeko made his presence known in a way we’ve long since gotten used to taking for granted. Though I do still ask myself, after seeing the Roma passing map last night (above), how much better Roma could be if Dzeko (or Mayoral) simply pushed up front instead of dropping deep.

Do Roma really need to be switching FOUR players in-and-out of that space in the hole where Dzeko/Miki/Pedro/Pellegrini all venture into? It’s no knock on Dzeko, but I’m still ready for a traditional, out-and-out number 9 to push up and alter this team’s shape well, well away from the False 9 era of Rome. Borja, can you hear me?

Lorenzo Pellegrini

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

He won our CdT Man of the Match poll this past weekend, so we’d be amiss not to mention Pellegrini high enough in our Saints list. Pellegrini racked up the joint-second most passes in the team (level with Ibanez and behind only Mancini), while showing inventiveness and desire to keep Roma pushing for the second goal while the Giallorossi were 1-0 up.

The two most notably improved areas of Pellegrini’s recent performances are his aerial game (where he’s not just winning contested headers but headed balls are a new source of his defensive interceptions in midfield overall) and the rejuvenation of his dead-ball delivery from corners, where he yet again racked up a key pass from a corner that Roma should have buried yesterday.

Leonardo Spinazzola

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

Leo was not just a goal-getter yesterday, but a surprising source of interceptions, as he led all 22 players on the evening in that category alone, with 6 interceptions during the game. That was a legacy of Fiorentina’s attempt to spread the play from side-to-side, which Beppe Iachini admitted after the match was the Viola’s attempt to try and tire Roma and pounce on them in the second-half, but Leonardo Spinazzola wasn’t having any of that.

If Roma were so good at making Fiorentina look so sub-par, it was largely down to Spinazzola’s defending and anticipation, turning Fiorentina’s own tactics against them and getting Roma back on the front foot whenever possible. And then there’s the fact Spinazzola opened the scoring for Roma yesterday.

All in all, a great day for Spinny.

Rick Karsdorp

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

Last but not least, is it officially OK to like Rick Karsdorp? Another Roma rejuvention project is underway on the right flank, and it looks like the Dutchman is beginning to turn it around in a giallorosso jersey.

His lack of initiative in getting into position or filling the spaces, once an attack has broken down and he’s caught up field or away from his natural position, is still atrocious. Karsdorp literally standing there and ball-watching, in a way that says “my work is done”, has to be seen to be believed. But if you’re a Roma fan you’ve seen more than enough of it for Bruno Peres’ own career, let alone Karsdorp.

That being said, I’ve always been in Karsdorp’s corner, and he brought more of what we know he can bring to this team. He doesn’t shy away from crafting inventive passes but doesn’t force the issue when a simpler pass can be made for the team to find the edge elsewhere, Karsdorp can drive the ball and isn’t afraid of physically taking on opponents when needed, and his general drive to get himself between ball and man may still be lacking but it is improving. Onwards and upwards.

Up Next

Roma have their third consecutive home game this Thursday, against CFR Cluj. The side from the Eternal City really need to be topping this group after Thursday, having played the majority of their group games at home by the time this round is over.

You don’t want to be leaving your Europa League fate in the hands of away trips to Romania and Bulgaria, waiting for that Mayoral winner to come in the 89th minute. Life can be easier if you want it to be.