Close your eyes and picture this scenario: Your favorite football team, in the middle of a dogfight for the top four, has a cushy home match against the 19th place club, one that conceded 27 goals in 11 matches and one that, incredibly, went down to ten men after only 14 minutes. In this dream scenario, how many goals would you expect? Three? Four? Five? Maybe even seven?
All that and more was in the cards for Roma yesterday when Wilfried Songo was sent off in only the 14th minute after drawing two yellow cards in a seven-minute span. With a one-man advantage for three-fourths of the match, Paulo Fonseca's crew could have easily shipped half a dozen goals past hapless Torino, but after building up a two-goal cushion in the first half, Roma were content to cruise to a victory and were a second-half slip up away from a clean-sheet.
Another five-goal laugher would have been great for posterity's sake, but Roma's 3-1 victory was good enough to land Roma back in the top four. With that in mind, let's turn to our now slightly altered Sinners & Saints feature.
In Roma's 5-1 win over Bologna last week, Pellegrini was practically flawless, offering Roma 90 exemplary minutes of attacking football. He wasn't quite that sterling against Torino yesterday, but Roma's capitano futuro was still pretty damn good. In 90 minutes, Pellegrini managed three shots on goal (including one goal), completed 90% of his passes, set up two shots, pulled off two dribbles, and completed 60% of his long-ball attempts. Behind the ball, Pellegrini had three tackles, two interceptions, and one clearance.
It was a bit of an odd match for Pellegrini, insofar as he was playing in a more advanced role but didn't really create any scoring chances, but Roma's #7 had a quietly effective and efficient evening.
We've really run out of superlatives for Mkhitaryan at this point. With seven goals and five assists in Serie A, Mkhitaryan is right up there with Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, and Theo Hernandez in the MVP discussion. And with another goal and an all-around awesome effort against Torino, Mkhitaryan continued to pad his case in the player of the year debates.
Mkhitaryan has been so instrumental to Roma's successes this season, both in terms of goals scoring and goal creation, that he now features in three of the league's top assist to goal scorer combinations.
Once again...what were Arsenal thinking letting him go!?
It's been a while since number 17 has featured in these spaces, but Veretout was sublime in yesterday's victory. In 90 minutes, Veretout completed an astounding 96% of his passes, including an even more impressive 8-8 on long-balls, drew two fouls, and only lost possession five times despite taking 78 touches (3rd most), while also winning 80% of his duels. In a sense, this was a typical Veretout performance, and we mean that in the best way. He didn't stuff the stat sheet, but he was cool, calm, and composed in possession, doing all the little things that make everyone else's job easier.
This wasn't a resounding victory for Roma but in the absence of any glaring errors (at least any that affected the final outcome) we're not going to get out the pitchforks...but we can finally unveil the new wrinkle to this piece, the players who are...
We've been doing the Sinners & Saints player rating pieces for about a year now, and while it's become one of my favorite features here, at times it was a bit too binary. While the intent was to offer a new wrinkle to match ratings, by casting players into only two lots, it didn't really address the full range of performances.
To some extent, that was the point. We didn't want an exhaustive list after every match—just a quick hit of the best and worst performances—but far too often there were players who just didn't fit either category. Maybe they were pretty anonymous for 90 minutes but made a great pass or a last man tackle that swung the tide in Roma's favor, or perhaps they were pretty bad for most of the match but played a perfect cross or won a decisive free-kick with moments to spare.
Whatever the case was, it was hard to justify casting them as either sinner or saint, so we've come up with this new category to account for the players who are neither sinner nor a saint; the ones lacking good deeds and transgressions; the ones who are stuck in-between.
These Stuck In-Betweens (SIBs) may not appear after every match (nor will the writeups be this extensive), but it does provide us some flexibility to honor players who made a few small contributions in any given match.
Got it? Alright, on to the first SIB...
Do you want to know how tough it's going to be to assign players to this category? I've been fretting over this paragraph for about 20 minutes already and still can't accurately surmise Spinazzola's performance yesterday.
On the one hand, he completed 90% of his passes and set up two shots, but he didn't complete a single cross, only had one dribble, and managed only one tackle while losing possession 12 times.
He was good, but not great. Not instrumental but certainly not derelict. However, in a measure of how incredibly good he's been this season, this may be his new baseline: he's a threat on presence alone, solid on the ball, and reasonably tough in defense.
You know when he surges and you know when he struggles. Yesterday he was just...stuck in-between.
I have a feeling that this kid may end up in this category more than anyone else, by simple virtue of his role/position, which seldom produces eye-popping stats. He's so calm on the ball that you might think he's injected with lithium prior to kick-off, he dribbled his way out of countless jams and past three defenders yesterday, but those were the only numbers of note...but, much like Veretout, so much of what he does well goes unseen that we can't completely dismiss him out of hand or ignore the good he did yesterday.
Plus, the fact that he was pulled after 59 minutes speaks volumes: Fonseca was saving this kid for the weekend.
We'll end it with the defender who didn't do a ton of defending yesterday. Mancini completed 93% of his passes and somehow managed two shots on target, but he had more fouls (3) than defensive actions while going 0-3 on ground duels. Granted, Torino didn't get much possession yesterday, but they still managed more shots and just as many dribble attempts as Roma. Mancini was fine yesterday...just fine; nothing remarkable either way.
This category won't necessarily appear in every S&S, but it gives us a chance to offer a small pat on the back for players who chipped in but were by no means the hero and definitely not the villain.
So, what do you think? Did we omit anyone? Should some Saints become SIBs? Vice versa perhaps?