After suffering the ignominy of losing the Derby della Capitale last weekend, Roma were in dire need of a resounding win as they turned their attention back to the Europa Conference League. While Roma let Zorya hang around longer than any of us anticipated, thanks to a second-half brace from the club's Englishmen, the Giallorossi made light work of their Ukrainian hosts in a resounding three-nil victory.
Fueled by the likes of Riccardo Calafiori and Ebrima Darboe, José Mourinho received a helping hand from his backups, who put on a brilliant display at the Slavutych Arena last night, helping to erase the pain of the derby defeat and potentially opening up new lineup options for The Special One.
But, before we worry about that, let's run through last night's Sinners and Saints.
Making only his fourth start of the season, all but one of which have come in the Conference League, the 26-year-old Uzbekistani international had a chance to impress as Roma's starting center forward; an opportunity he failed to seize. Playing just over an hour yesterday, Shomurodov did some nice work off the ball but failed to make a dent in the Zorya defense. In 62 minutes, Shomurodov managed only one shot on goal, a somewhat glaring miss in the first half, while failing to register any key passes or dribbles and going 0-8 on duels.
Shomurodov was bigger, stronger, and faster than nearly every Zorya player on the pitch last night, so it’s hard to paint his performance as anything other than a disappointment.
Stephan El Shaarawy
After starting and playing 63 minutes against Lazio in the derby, El Shaarawy reprised his role as Roma's first-choice left-winger and he did not disappoint in his second Conference League start. On the pitch for 78 minutes, SES was electric, brushing past and dancing around any and all comers. With four shots, one goal, six successful dribbles, and two key passes, El Shaarawy was arguably Roma's most effective attacker last night.
While I'm sure he'd rather be a no questions asked starter every match, the 28-year-old is settling in nicely as Roma's spark plug. Start him and let him run for 65 minutes or bring him on down the stretch and let him hunt for goals, either way, El Shaarawy is one of the league's most unique weapons, one that Mourinho is growing increasingly shrewd at utilizing.
Yes, Zorya isn't exactly the second coming of Pep Guardiola's old Barcelona sides, but it was hard not to be impressed by Ebrima Darboe's efforts yesterday. In 70 minutes, Darboe displayed the same class, composure, and technique he flashed under Paulo Fonseca late last season. Taking 54 touches while completing 93% of his passes, Darboe, to borrow a term from Ricky Bobby, pissed excellence against Zorya.
In addition to his possession work, Darboe chipped in two key passes, including a sublime assist to El Shaarawy, completed three of five long balls while also winning 12 duels and drawing two fouls.
Darboe has barely played 400 minutes in a Roma shirt, but he's seldom looked overmatched in any of them. Roma may really...like, really...have something with this kid.
Smalldini's Roma career has seen more than its fair share of peaks and valleys (mostly due to a string of minor injuries), but the veteran defender was all aces against Zorya. Running the full 90, Smalling scored Roma's second goal with an incredibly tight-angled header off a set-piece while completing 87% of his passes, winning 50% of his duels, clearing three balls, and blocking two shots.
The impact a fit and up to speed Smalling has on Roma's defense cannot be understated. Without him, advancing in the Conference League and vying for a spot in Serie A's top four may be impossible.
I know, I'm as surprised as anyone, but Cristante was excellent last night. In 90 minutes, Cristante took 76 touches, completed 83% of his passes, provided three key passes, played three accurate long balls (out of five), won 60% of his duels, cleared three balls, picked off two more, and did a phenomenal job setting up Smalling's goal by flicking the ball with the back of his head towards the far post.
I'm not sure we'll ever figure out precisely what kind of player Cristante is, but even without an exact position, there’s no denying his skill on the ball. Matches like these show exactly how valuable a guy like Cristante is.
If you followed our live Tweeting yesterday, the 19-year-old Roman's inclusion on this list comes as no surprise. Calafiori took 89 touches yesterday (second-most on either side) while completing 91% of his passes, including 33% of his crosses (though they all seemed to be played correctly, even if the recipients were out of position) and 100% of his long passes.
Defensively, Calafiori was equally impressive, clearing three balls, intercepting one pass, and completing three tackles. He was also incredibly efficient sweeping up, winning five of seven ground duels.
Second half subs typically don't make much noise in our S&S series, but despite playing only 28 minutes, Abraham made his presence known. Roma's €45 million man had only two attempts last night, one that struck the post (again) and one that found the back of the net—how's that for efficiency? In addition to his goal, Abraham won 50% of his duels, won two tackles, and completed 80% of his passes.
It's hard to imagine a better start to Abraham's career with Roma than this. He's the real deal.
Stuck In Between
- Roger Ibañez: Playing out of position, Ibañez managed three clearances, two interceptions, and one key pass but lost the ball 19 times.
- Marash Kumbulla: A saint for simply taking the pitch, Kumbulla had a rather quiet evening but still managed to contribute seven defensive actions (blocks, tackles, and interceptions).
- Lorenzo Pellegrini: The good (three key passes, two tackles) and the bad (match-high 20 times losing possession, only 71% passing, and won only five of fifteen duels)