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Sinners & Saints: Cagliari vs. Roma

With seven goals in yesterday's match, there's plenty to discuss.

UEFA Europa League”KAA Gent v AS Roma”

Yesterday's 4-3 victory over Cagliari in Sardinia was neither the best nor the worst we've seen from Roma this season. What it was, however, was a shining example of Roma in their current state: a lumbering beast slowly waking up from hibernation, moving with slightly more purpose but still clearly groggy. You can see shades of the Roma we saw during their best periods in late fall, but they haven't quite sewn up all the edges yet, resulting in an uneven and sloppy match.

Roma's four-goal performance yesterday was (fittingly) their fourth of the season, the last two of which have come over the last two weekends. Yesterday's victory over Cagliari was also the fourth time they've conceded at least three goals, and three of those have happened in the past month alone.

Like we said—uneven. Roma's attack may be rounding to form, but there are still several other issues in need of addressing.

But that's a worry for another day, let's shift our focus back to yesterday's victory over Cagliari, Roma's second straight.

The Sinners

Chris Smalling

You know, in the flow of the match, it seemed like Smalling had another smart and solid game, but upon further review, this looks like one of his few sour notes this season. He wasn't terribly active in any one category, he gave up the ball five times, committed three fouls and missed on all three of his long ball attempts.

None of that is particularly egregious, but his 90 minutes will likely be remembered for this:

During our match review, I painted this as sort of an innocent handball, and while it's not the most boneheaded error we've ever seen, he's sticking his right arm out there awfully brazenly....but, if Simeone actually headed the ball, we wouldn't be having his discussion.

Throw in Smalling (and Fazio's) questionable decision making on the Pereiro goal and you have one of Chris Smalling's few appearances on our list of sinners.

Federico Fazio

With Roma leaking in three goals, it's only right that both of the squad's center-backs make this list. While Fazio was able to avoid the glaring errors yesterday, he was pretty wasteful with the ball (losing six possessions) and not terribly effective in defense, throwing up a big donut in blocks, interceptions and tackles.

Fazio and Smalling were fortunate the attack was so effective today because their combined performance was rather subpar.

The Saints

UEFA Europa League”KAA Gent v AS Roma”

Nikola Kalinic

Hey, it wasn't flashy, but a brace is a brace is a brace. Sitting on the bench for much of the season, Kalinic broke through in a big way in Sardinia, turning in his finest performance in years. By scoring twice yesterday, Kalinic, in one broad stroke, equaled his entire scoring output with Atletico last season. Yeah, it has been that rough for Kalinic since leaving Fiorentina in 2017.

In 90 minutes yesterday, Kalinic nearly turned in a perfect 10 match rating. In addition to his two goals, Kalinic had two key passes, one assist, won six aerials and drew four fouls. And he did all that with only 37 touches, or one more than Smalling. Kalinic isn't the swiftest striker you'll ever see, but he was all over the pitch yesterday, showing good timing, anticipation and movement.

If Paulo Fonseca has another option behind Edin Dzeko, particularly one who may be finding his form, the fight for fourth may not be dead just yet.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

What more can we say about Mkhitaryan? He has been an absolute blessing. With Roma missing Nicolo Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini, Fonseca had no other choice but to lean on the 31-year-old as his chief play-maker, and with two goals and three assists in his last three matches, Mkhitaryan has reminded us all of what spectacular player he was back in his younger days.

In 90 minutes yesterday, Mkhi had three on-target attempts, three key passes, five successful dribbles and scored a goal off Aleksandar Kolarov's late free-kick. Mkhitaryan probably can't do this every single week, but he's proving the value of having experienced attacking talent behind your young prospects and certainly making a claim to return to Rome next season.

Cengiz Ünder

If Cengiz's early attempt on goal hadn't cracked the woodwork, yesterday's match could have been markedly different. But, as it was, Ünder continued to use his pace, acceleration and agility to his benefit, carving up Cagliari for 75 minutes yesterday, pulling off five successful dribbles, setting up five key passes and hitting on 40% of his crosses.

He faded a bit down the stretch, but he's really putting together a nice run of matches lately. Fonseca seems to have settled on some combo of Ünder and Carles Perez on that right flank and it seems like a 60/40 split in favor of Ünder might be the path forward.

Justin Kluivert

Roma's other gazelle-like winger makes our list of saints. With 84 minutes of action yesterday, Kluivert managed five shot attempts (40% accuracy), one key pass and one beautiful left-footed goal against Robin Olsen, while his 32.21 km/h sprint speed was surpassed only by Ünder.

Kluivert is a fitful player at times, but you can't argue with that athleticism. If he and Ünder can ever manage to put it together at the same time, Roma could be unstoppable.

Bruno Peres

While Kolarov put in a good shift yesterday, scoring a goal or setting up an assist depending on your take, let's shine a light on perhaps the biggest Roma surprise of 2020: The Bruno Peres Renaissance.

Since returning to the club from the Brazilian second-tier, Peres has stepped into Roma's gaping hole at right-back, providing Fonseca with surprisingly steady play over the past month, a trend that continued yesterday in Cagliari.

Peres put in 83 solid minutes yesterday before coming off for Davide Santon, attempting three shots on goal, winning three tackles, making four interceptions and putting in one successful cross. Teaming up with Ünder, Peres was a menace on the right flank, averaging 32.16 km/h on his sprints and completing 75% of his passes.

We haven't yet reached the point where we can say Peres’ career has been completely resurrected, but when you consider he's essentially spent the past 18 months in purgatory, his 2020 form has been nothing short of miraculous.

That's it for this round of S&S, who made your list?