Roma had every excuse in the bag for yesterday's match against Verona: a thin squad thanks to some lingering transfers, a new big money signing not ready to play, a change in keeper and a midfielder playing in defense. But through the first 30 minutes or so yesterday, none of that mattered. The speed with which Roma played in attack and the extent to which they dominated possession, not to mention five shots on target in the first half, was incredibly refreshing.
This wasn't Fonseca Football® at its peak, but right away you could tell how important the inclusion of Pedro and the rebirth of Leonardo Spinazzola were to the fluid, high scoring attack we thought Roma were getting when they signed Fonseca last summer.
It didn't last the full match as Roma grew decidedly weaker as the minutes ticked away—and we have to credit Verona, they were far more aggressive in the second half—but you could see the seeds of a more defined and more fluent approach from Fonseca. He just doesn't have all the right tools yet.
Things will get better, but for now let's run through our first Sinners & Saints of the season. If you're new around here, we implemented the S&S halfway through last season to put a slightly different spin on player ratings. Rather than assigning an ambiguous number grade, we like to pull out a few top performers (the saints) and a few players who struggled (the sinners)—we are a church after all.
Alright, onto the list.
You could say that Spinazzola, Roma's 27-year-old left wing back, was the only Roma player worth a damn yesterday and I'd probably agree with you. In 90 minutes, Spinazzola had six successful dribbles, one shot on goal, four key passes and two big chances created. From the first minute to the last, he had his way with Verona's defense, blowing past their full-backs and finding the smallest bits of space in the area to set up his teammates, including a golden chance missed by Henrikh Mkhitaryan early in the first half.
I was a Spinazzola doubter last year, but I'll gladly eat crow if he keeps this up; he was fantastic yesterday. Hopefully Riccardo Calafiori is a quick study and provide Spinazzola with adequate rest this season to avoid the injury bug—Roma will need this Spinazzola more than ever.
Swapping out 41 for a more traditional shirt number (3), Ibañez picked up where he left off last season; impressing Roma fans with his smooth work at the back. In 90 minutes, Ibañez took a match high 81 touches, completed 75% of his passes, had two key passes, one big chance created, three clearances, and won 14 duels, including nine aerials.
Ibañez will likely have more growing pains this season, but tonight he looked settled, composed and incredibly effective. It will be interesting to see in which order Mancini, Ibañez, Kumbulla and hopefully Chris Smalling will settle in Fonseca's eyes, but Ibañez continues to impress with each and every opportunity he's been given.
I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There's gonna be a little rain sometime.
Taken from the oft covered country classic “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”—my favorite version is from the punk/ska outfit The Suicide Machines, which is actually pretty faithful to Lynn Anderson's more famous rendition—these lyrics perfectly encapsulate Mkhitaryan's performance yesterday.
No one ever said we were getting the Dortmund version of Mkhitaryan, so games like yesterday’s, in which he had three shots blocked and missed two big chances, are bound to happen from time to time.
So, smile for awhile and let's be jolly, love shouldn't be so melancholy, come along and share the good times while we can.
Truth be told—Spinazzola aside—not many Roma players distinguished themselves as especially great or particularly poor yesterday; call it a function of a nil-nil draw, so we'll save our final scolding for the man in the suit.
With so many players missing from his squad, Fonseca was dealt a short hand yesterday, but he didn't really do himself any favors either. With his side dragging in the second half, Fonseca's first tactical sub—Karsdorp was pulled off with cramps in the 72nd minute—didn't come until the 79th minute when he finally injected some pace into his squad, bringing Justin Kluivert on for Lorenzo Pellegrini.
In a match dying for a bit of juice, Fonseca waited until there were 11 minutes remaining before bringing arguably one of the fastest players in the league into the game, and left his other spark plug, Carles Pérez, on the bench entirely.
With his squad stripped of Edin Dzeko, Bruno Peres and starting a new keeper and a midfielder in defense, any tactical critiques of this match will carry an asterisk, but Fonseca's personnel decisions within the match were incredibly suspect.
Was he trying to send a message to his squad? Were some of his unused subs coming off poor training sessions? Was he possibly saving them for next week?
We'll never know, but with two change of pace players still on the bench, Fonseca's inaction looks even worse in retrospect—this was a match for the taking and he didn't even lift a finger until it was almost over.
When we look back on the 2020-2021 season, this will likely be a forgettable match, but it certainly won't get any easier this week against Juventus.