Last week was yet another whirlwind for AS Roma. With a chance to move into second place with a win over Napoli last Sunday, Roma were embarrassed at the grounds now officially known as the Stadio Maradona in a 4-0 thrashing. Maybe the weight and the emotion of being the first club to face Napoli after Maradona's death meant Roma never really stood a chance, but they were thoroughly defeated in mind, body and spirit by Napoli.
Fortunately, Roma managed to rebound quickly enough to dispatch BSC Young Boys 3-1 in the Europa League, but last week was a lesson in extremes torn straight from the pages of Zdenek Zeman. So much so, that not many of us knew what to expect when Roma ran smack against third place Sassuolo yesterday.
With the always demanding and in no way ludicrous Thursday to Sunday turn around imposed on them by the Europa League, Roma were already fighting fatigue prior their match against Sassuolo but were dealt further blows thanks to the absences of Chris Smalling, Jordan Veretout and Gianluca Mancini.
And when they finally managed to get to the Olimpico, they were greeted by a deluge from the heavens that threatened to slow down Roma's quick transition game, dulling the sharpest arrow in Fonseca's quiver.
The conditions and precursors in yesterday's match were far from ideal, but Roma didn't rely on excuses, instead turning in a rather remarkable performance, showing more aggression, organization and composure than their full-strength opponents for the final 50 minutes yesterday.
It wasn't a sterling 3-0 victory or a 5-1 laugher, so I'm afraid there will be a few pitchforks in addition to our usual parade of halos. But that's life, right?
Pedro, Pedro, Pedro. What are we going to do with you? After starting the season in fine form, the 33-year-old Pedro Rodriguez has come crashing back to Earth. While he still does most of the little things right, the player who scored four goals and provided one assist in his first 10 matches with Roma has hit a bit of a rough patch, looking increasingly tired and ineffective the past three weeks.
Pedro is the club's second oldest outfield player behind only Edin Dzeko but has logged more minutes than all but three of them, so he was bound to slow down at some point, but yesterday may have been Lo Peor Pedro we've seen yet.
Statistically speaking, Pedro wasn't exactly awful yesterday (bar from two off-target shots) but how can you excuse a player with his resume getting booked twice in the first 40 minutes?
You can't, so he'll take the L here, but one would imagine getting a proper reinforcement behind or alongside him will be job number one this January. Pedro from the fall was a transformative figure in Fonseca Football 2.0 ® and Roma will need that player to finish in the top four.
The rest of Fonseca's starting eleven was average to good, and Nuno Campos didn't make a sub until after the 80th minute, so Pedro stands alone among the sinners from yesterday.
Now, onto the good stuff...
Yes, I'm as confused as you are why he passed the ball back to Dzeko after receiving it with acres of space on the right, setting the stage for Dzeko to commit the foul that negated Henrikh Mkhitaryan's would-be goal. But outside of that moment of hesitation—he really should have just let ‘er rip, or at least have led Dzeko more with his ill-advised pass back—he was sublime distributing the ball and was the prime mover in Roma's surprisingly lively attack.
In 90 minutes, Pellegrini took 63 touches, completed 85% of his passes, had five key passes, two dribbles, drew two fouls, hit on three of three long balls, completed two tackles, won six of seven ground duels and intercepted four passes.
In Fonseca's 4-2-3-1, Pellegrini was an assist machine last season, but this year, sitting just a bit further back, his work has been no less instrumental. It may not be as evident as his days as an attacking midfielder, but he's doing quite well as a deep-lying playmaker.
Now, if he had just a bit more confidence and aggression in the area, I think we'd all be happier, but he's in fine form at the moment.
I can't be the only one who feels silly for ever questioning his transfer now, right? I mean, Luca Pellegrini still has a chance to be a decent player, but there's no way he'd be playing at Spinazzola's level right now if that swap never went through. If he's not the league's best left-back, he's not far off.
Spinazzola continued to impress yesterday, turning in another magnificent 90 minute shift. Taking 59 touches, completing 83% of his passes, setting up two shots, creating one big chance and hitting on two of four longballs, Spinazzola was integral in Roma's transition play yesterday, pushing the ball forward at all costs. Out of Spinazzola's 36 pass attempts, 16 were forward and 10 of those were into the final third—he picked his spots yesterday, and picked them well.
He also pulled off four dribbles and won five of eight ground duels, so another well-rounded performance from the man with the best patchy beard in the league.
Outside of Spinazzola and Pellegrini, there weren't really any other standouts, but let's give a special shout to Rick Karsdorp, who really dug deep down the stretch, saving some of his best efforts for the final 10 to 15 minutes of the match, including one crucial slide tackle in the 89th minute to dislodge the ball from Manuel Locatelli. One look at Karsdorp's face and you knew he was gassed, but his efforts in the waning moments didn't go unnoticed.