Yesterday's victory will likely be remembered for the torrential downpour under which it was played, but despite the inclement weather, several performers stood out from the muck and the mire that threatened to derail Roma's belated New Year celebration. While Roma were frustrated by Sampdoria's “let's not play football” approach in the first half, by mixing up their schemes in the second half, Roma were able to nearly triple the offensive output and put away the visitors thanks to one brilliant bit of skill from Rick Karsdorp and Edin Dzeko.
We've certainly seen this type of defense and this kind of weather stymy Roma many times in the past, but by defeating Sampdoria 1-0, not only did Roma begin the new year on a high note, they were able to keep some distance between themselves and fourth place Napoli and fifth place Juventus, both of whom trail third-place Roma by three points, though they both have a match in hand...against each other.
So, while the rain tried its best to dampen Roma's spirits, there are plenty of halos to pass around and for the first time in several weeks, no sinners!
If you score the match-winning goal, chances are you'll end up a saint, but Dzeko was so much more than his 72nd-minute goal yesterday. Dzeko played just shy of 90 minutes and fired off five shots, including two on target, while creating two shots for his teammates. Dzeko also won five aerials, completed two dribbles, and was a perfect one-for-one on crosses.
Given the sloppy conditions, this match was practically made for a big, lumbering striker like Dzeko, who could have turned the game by simply shielding or outjumping a defender on a corner to win the game. But, as we've said so many times over the past few years, Dzeko is a sublimely skilled striker and his effort on the match-winning goal was incredible, as he one-timed/redirected Karsdorp's cross with enough weight and at a sufficient enough angle to put it over and past Emil Audero, scoring the ball all the way at the opposite post.
It was a bang-bang play not many strikers could have converted.
If we started with the man who finished the chance, it's only right that we follow that up with the creator. Karsdorp went the full 90 yesterday, completed 77% of his passes, set up three shots, and played four crosses. And while the stats show that he only completed one cross, at least two of his attempts were well-placed but lacked anyone running onto them. We can quibble with the definition of an accurate cross if we must, but this is one instance where we can safely trust our eyes—Karsdorp was whipping in some nice crosses yesterday.
Pushed further up the pitch in Pedro's absence, Pellegrini was incredibly busy. In 81 minutes, Pellegrini was in seventh heaven, firing off seven shots on goal (though only one was on target) and dished out an incredible seven key passes. Pellegrini also played seven crosses (completing four) and hit on two of three longball attempts.
Chances are Pellegrini will slide back into a more traditional midfield role when Pedro returns, but this performance proves yet again that he has what it takes to operate in the hole and/or as an attacking midfielder, which will give Fonseca further tactical options going forward.
The Pau Patrol
Hey, look at that! For the first time, we can use the collective moniker for Roma's back three and actually mean it since Lopez played! Rather than singling any one of Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, or Roger Ibañez out, we decided to group them together because they were a fully functional and nearly flawless unit yesterday.
Roma's three center-backs teamed up for four tackles, six interceptions, 10 clearances, and 13 aerials won. But what was perhaps most impressive was their work spreading play from the back, where the Pau Patrol completed 13 of 20 long-ball attempts and 91% of their passes overall.
Samp didn't see much of the ball, but when they did, the Pau Patrol kept them under wraps.
This list is getting a bit long, but we'll end with quick shout outs to Gonzalo Villar (team-high four dribbles and six fouls drawn) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (two dribbles and two on-target shots).