If Roma was a school child stricken with strep throat over the past six weeks, yesterday was the first peak of daylight. The antibiotics have done their job, but Roma weren't quite 100% yet, but mom is sick of them and sent them to school anyway. It wasn't an ideal situation, but compared to the dregs of the prior month and a half, Roma looked...not quite healthy, but well enough to stand on their own two feet.
Despite looking somewhat sluggish, Roma managed their first victory in over a month and will carry an advantage, slim though it might be, into the return fixture in Gent next week.
So, come with me as we relive the highs and lows of yesterday's 1-0 win over AA Gent.
I'm as big a fan of the next capitano futuro as you'll likely find in the Romaverse, but the local boy was not great in yesterday's victory. In 78 minutes of action, Pellegrini was passive and far removed from the center of action. His only statistics of note were hitting on two of two long balls; he had only one key pass, zero successful dribbles and what's worse, he was dispossessed twice and had three unsustainable touches—in essence, he was responsible for five turnovers and/or losses of possession.
And then there's this:
I'm not sure I've ever seen such a limited and severely restricted heat map from a club's supposed free-roaming play-maker. Given how confined he was to that one particular area of the pitch, it's not surprising he did very little creatively.
Lorenzo's in a funk, there's no debating that, but as Roma's chief play-maker, as he goes, so goes the club.
While Spinazzola had a few more hot spots in his heat map, his performance largely mirrored Pellegrini's yesterday. Before being subbed off in the 68th minute for Davide Santon, and then heading straight for the locker room rather than the bench, Spinazzola was pretty absent from yesterday's action, creating zero chances, zero dribbles and zero accurate crosses.
Spinazzola is a versatile player, but at this point it's pretty evident that he's more effective on the left hand side of the pitch. But with so little creativity coming from Pellegrini and Spinazzola, it’s not surprising that Roma managed only nine attempts yesterday.
With Roma's only goal of the evening, Perez gets an automatic berth into sainthood. In his first start and first full 90 for the club, Perez attempted 33% of Roma's shots, scoring on his only on-target attempt, while completing two successful dribbles and hitting on two of two long balls.
It wasn't the most prolific performance, and he was dispossessed six times, but his 13th minute strike halted one of the worst losing skids Roma have seen in years, so we have to give him props for that, but generally speaking, he was Roma's only real threat in attack yesterday.
Pau Lopez and Justin Kluivert are two of the most confounding players I've ever seen in my time covering the club. Both are blessed with superior athleticism and look the part of star players, but they each have this small wrinkle of nonchalance that can seemingly torpedo their careers at any moment.
That was not the case for Lopez yesterday. Lopez faced 14 shots on goal, turning away all five of Gent's on-target attempts, but his work with the ball was truly impressive. In an odd twist, Lopez saw more touches yesterday than Pellegrini, Perez and Jordan Veretout. With his 58 touches, Lopez hit on 10 of 20 long balls while completing 71% of all his passes. Lopez was also quite aggressive off his line yesterday, winning one aerial duel and making four clearances.
In the wake of Roma's Alisson experience, I think we're all still struggling to reset our expectations for goalkeepers (he was simply that great), so in that light Lopez will always be judged harshly, but he has all the tools to be an above average keeper.
We'll save the most controversial choice for last...
While Cristante provided absolutely nothing in attack, he was active and efficient in his defensive duties against Gent. In 90 minutes, Cristante led Roma in tackles and interceptions while also completing 90% of his 58 passes, which included an impressive six-for-seven performance on long balls—the only miss was on a gorgeous lofted ball from 50 yards out that was barely tipped away at the last second.
When you look at his heat map, Cristante essentially worked the center channel between the edge of the 18-yard-box and the midfield line, so perhaps for just this one evening that limited role suited him.
It's looking increasingly likely that, despite signing a contract extension this season, Cristante's long-term future rests elsewhere, particularly if Paulo Fonseca remains Roma's manager, but at least for one night, Cristante was an asset.