We have a subtle tweak in mind for our day after player rating series (Sinners & Saints, in case you weren't aware by now), but it doesn't seem appropriate to roll it out after such a meaningless and washed out match. With a spot in the Europa League Round of 32 already secured and the group honors won last week against BSC Young Boys, Roma had nothing at stake yesterday and it showed: the match didn't necessarily lack intensity, but the men in those beautiful cream-colored shirts weren't exactly teeming with enthusiasm on a damp and dreary Bulgarian evening.
Nevertheless, it wouldn't be a Roma match (particularly a European one) if a Roma didn't happen in some fashion. And with two unsightly errors that led directly (and we mean directly) to Sofia's goals, you can guess who's leading our list of sinners.
Amadou Diawara & Federico Fazio
The tandem of Diawara and Fazio may have done some good yesterday, but whatever contributions they made on the pitch (Diawara and two key passes and three dribbles while Fazio had three interceptions and four clearances) were quickly undone by these critical errors. It's one thing to make a mental error on the pitch or to slightly miss-hit a pass or be a split second late closing down an attacker, but these errors were so glaring and so disastrous that they almost defy description. At least Diawara had the plausible excuse of being under duress, but I'm not sure what the hell was going through Fazio's head on that pass.
Under any other circumstance, the Romaverse would be spewing venom at these two, so they should consider themselves lucky that this match didn’t matter. But in the broader context, neither player did much to bolster their case for a larger role in Fonseca Football®.
Talk about seizing the moment. In his first-ever Roma start, 18-year-old Tommaso Milanese didn't shrink on the big stage. In just over an hour of match time, Milanese took 57 touches, completed 88% of his passes, had one successful dribble, won three of four ground duels, and, of course, scored Roma's only goal of the evening.
Pretty solid debut start, right? Milanese seems to have a bright future in front of him and could be one of several Primavera stars making a name for himself with the senior club very soon.
Where Diawara and Fazio failed in their claim for more playing time, Mayoral continued to make a case for significant minutes in meaningful matches. In 90 minutes yesterday, Mayoral was Roma's most consistent and effective attacking threat, firing off five shots on goal (two on target), dishing out two key passes, completing 84% of his passes, drawing three fouls and, of course, setting up Milanese's first-ever goal with a beautiful turn/settle/flick move.
Mayoral has largely been reserved for Europa League action and Serie A mop-up minutes, but he continues to impress with his movement, intuition, finishing, and, as of late, playmaking and passing. If he keeps this up, Fonseca may soon have some difficult lineup decisions to make in Serie A.
Our dear friend Rruan put in a surprisingly effective shift in Bulgaria yesterday. Taking a match-high 112 touches, Jesus completed 88% of his passes, had two shots on goal, two key passes, one accurate cross (on his only attempt), and hit on an impressive 7 of 12 long balls. Defensively, Jesus had three tackles, one interception, one clearance, one blocked shot, and won four of eight ground duels and three of four aerial duels.
This is precisely the sort of performance you want to see out of your fourth/fifth center-back when called upon. CSKA Sofia isn't a great club, but Jesus stepped up to the plate like he was pocketing Messi in the Champions League again.
And with that, we'll officially close our coverage of Roma's Europa League group stage. It was a pretty easy group all things considered, but it's oh so Roma that the weakest team in the group (CSKA Sofia) gave them fits in both matches.