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Sinners & Saints: Roma vs. Verona

Huge work rate from Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Ibañez on a night where Roma played route-one football.

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I’d love to be positive after a win, but taking all three points after a meh-penalty call isn’t a sign of punching above the norm. Roma have alternated between three straight losses and three straight wins, capped off by a hard-fought victory against a difficult Verona side, but the manner of the win suggests this is Roma’s level. This is it. The whole story. A 5th-placed side.

Perhaps the most damning point was that Paulo Fonseca admitted after the game that Roma simply didn’t trust themselves to try and pass the ball around Verona’s efficient high-pressing game. So Fonseca has given up on his ideals when looking at Roma’s basic ability to keep and use the ball.

In fairness, some would say he deserves praise for being pragmatic at this point. He brought out a Spalletti 2.0 style of play on the night, without the actual need to hire Spalletti.

Other than training the team to find that elusive killer instinct in front of goal that Roma’s chance-creation deserves, there are very little gains for Paulo Fonseca to be found in this squad as it is. Any rise back to Champions League football tilts on either the transfer market, or keeping faith with the younger names in the hope they keep raising their performance.

Some young guns answered the call last night, and some did not.

The Sinners

Lorenzo Pellegrini

If this isn’t rock bottom for Lorenzo, then it’s certainly close to it.

Before it turns into a “defending” Pellegrini vs “attacking him thing, which is a dead horse by now, the point for me is: Confidence. He has absolutely none of it, and it’s hard to see where he can find sure footing to win it back.

Pellegrini did last night what he’s been used to doing for years: opening up wide to run down the right flank. Only he didn’t complete a single dribble (losing all 3 official attempts on WhoScored) and gave the ball away officially twice (it seemed like more) including once in his own half.

To top it off, Verona usually rely on Marco Faraoni to fly down the face of their right-flank in attack. Not so yesterday, as Verona’s heat-map showed they clearly built their confidence in building up through their left side, where Lorenzo Pellegrini was meant to be defending for almost all of his 66 minutes on the pitch (except for a brief 4+5 minutes before half-time where he switched flanks with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Roma’s defending that side noticeably improved).

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

My only question with Lorenzo is: When you’re performing this bad, where do you look to regain your confidence? With all due respect, being Roman has little to do with it for me.

Daniele De Rossi never had the greatest first-touch of the ball either, but on bad weeks you could see DDR working his way back into the game by reigning supreme on defense and positioning. You’d never really doubt that DDR was just one game or one half away from finding his groove again, despite the flaws in his own game.

Meanwhile, Pellegrini regularly gets praise across Sky Italia from former Juventus and Inter players-turned pundits as “one of the best in the league.” So pro-Pellegrini fans certainly aren’t limited to Rome. While Roma’s radio pundits reserved their worst comments for Zaniolo this morning, so called Pellegrini-sceptics certainly aren’t limited to Rome either. Objectively this is just really bad football from the number 7.

We’re not asking for world-class football from Pellegrini. We’re asking how does Lorenzo find a way back from here, in this Roma side? If we’re looking at him finding the nearest defender’s leg to trip over and win soft penalties as a way to get back self-esteem, it’s a grey future for a player who’s already 24 years old.

Nicolò Zaniolo

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

At least Lorenzo Pellegrini tried, which is more than we can say for Nicolò Zaniolo last night. That being said, Zaniolo is younger and still on the long road to full fitness after a major injury. But if Pellegrini was making Roma look like they were playing with ten men, then his substitute Zaniolo looked determined to keep it that way.

A burned substitution. Back to the drawing board for Nico.

The Saints

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (feat. Jordan Veretout)


Phenomenal work-rate from an elite-level player. Franco Baldini can upset as many journalists as he wants with his working from the shadows, as long as he keeps working to bring players like Mkhitaryan to Rome.

The third-highest passer in the team last night (behind Dzeko and Veretout), the most tackles attempted (8) by some distance with 7 of them inside his own half and 6 of them won, the second-most touches in the team on the night (behind Dzeko), the most blocks in the team (4), and Miki even found time to make 3 fouls and win a header.

Don’t be fooled though, as a lot of Mkhitaryan’s aggression in winning the ball back is thanks to him striking up a beautiful understanding with Jordan Veretout in how to close down spaces, together as a wolfpack, through the middle third.

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Veretout sometimes gets left for dead when it comes to one-on-one defensive duels, but the Frenchman has a motor to make up for it, and a keen awareness of controlling space ahead of time, provided he can work with a willing teammate. Veretout has found that in Mkhitaryan.

If there’s one criticism of Miki on nights like this, it’s that he leaves himself with not enough energy to finish off chances in the penalty area. He took six shots last night - four of them inside the box - and Roma’s lack of finishing up front is sometimes symptomatic of Mkhitaryan on an off day in front of goal, rather than his teammates. But this is very reminiscent of Mohamed Salah back in the days of Rudi Garcia.

And Miki is still a mainstay as one of WhoScored’s First XI for most clinical finishers in the whole of Serie A. He just needs to not have to pick up the slack for Lorenzo Pellegrini, or Amadou Diawara on a day where the Guinean was looking to avoid a suspension before the Inter match.

The real question is will Mkhitaryan have enough in the tank for the Inter game? Or will he be on the bench?



I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the Brazilian defender prefers to be known by the mononym Ibañez, instead of Roger.

I have no basis for this, but my wider point is Ibañez looks like continuing the tradition of Roma’s Brazilian conductors at the back - from Aldair to Juan to Marquinhos.

Unlike Gianluca Mancini (who’s passing I love but defending leaves something to be desired), the younger Ibañez has a lot more controlled aggression about him. He picks his spots, and sometimes even fails badly in moments where he was left for dead against Udinese for their winning goal, and yesterday where he had to race to recover to a shoulder-to-shoulder barge at the goal-line could have proved very unlucky on a different day. But that will come with experience.

Overall, Ibañez’s performances are a big net positive so far. He’s that rare combination of aggressive defender, and gutsy football player with an eye for a pass.

Unfortunately that also means he won’t last in Rome for long under this ownership, and with even just a minimum of personal ambition to win trophies in his locker. A steal at 8+2 million, he could go for at least 5 times the fee if he keeps on at this rate.

Edin Dzeko

AS Roma v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

A huge team-performance from the captain, on a day where Roma played route-one football and simply wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

Dzeko won absolutely every single won of his 11 aerial duels last night, over double the nearest teammate (Mancini). That increases Dzeko’s reputation as Serie A’s leading target-man, getting into the most aerial duels (300) this season and also winning the most (122) of any Serie A player.

Dzeko also had the most touches of any Roma player (60), the most passes, and cleared the danger inside Roma’s box 3 times, while making 2 blocks and 1 interception.

The only blot on his copy-book? He should be level with Rodolfo Volk in the Roma all-time scorers list, but isntead sent a great opportunity into the stands in the second half.

Just the one goal on the night was enough to pull clear of Pedro Manfredini and become Roma’s outright 5th-highest goalscorer. When you look at Edin Dzeko’s assists + goals per games ratio this season, combined with his defensive effort, you can’t ask for more at 34 years old.

While that doesn’t necessarily make Dzeko the most suited for Roma’s ideals going forward (his touch with his feet is still sloppy), it’s self-explanatory as to why teams like Inter Milan are still doggedly pursuing Dzeko’s signature. He deserves to win a trophy in Italy, hopefully in Rome.

Roma stay in the capital this week, welcoming Inter Milan at home this coming Sunday. Win that game and we’re finally talking about some newfound momentum in this 3-5-2 (or 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2) direct football era of Fonseca’s first season.

But lose that game, or park the bus like Roma did away to Nerazzuri earlier this season, and the domestic season will have written itself to a conclusion.