Yesterday could have been a calamity for Roma. Not only were they still licking their wounds after being pummeled by Bodø in the Europa Conference League on Thursday, but they had the unenviable task of facing their former manager Luciano Spalletti and the now previously perfect Partenopei. We say previously simply because, well, because Roma ended Napoli's perfect run to start the 2021-2022 season, though they technically remain unbeaten. A definitive Roma victory would have been great, but the spirit Mourinho's men showed, even after he was sent off in the second half, was enough to buoy the spirits of even the most pessimistic fans.
Roma came close to breaking the deadlock a few times, as did Napoli, and with both clubs suffering from the same shortcomings, sharing the spoils was a fair result after a nearly 100-minute long tussle. And if you choose to take solace from moral victories, they don't get much sweeter than this. Brushing off the ghosts of Bodø while also holding the league's best team in check is quite an achievement for a team that, a mere 24 hours prior, was facing a storm of scrutiny.
So, after a more positive result, and definitely a more nuanced match, Sinners & Saints has returned to its normal format...plus one quick postscript.
In our new Picks to Click series, we tabbed Mkhitaryan as a likely standout against Napoli. Given his all-round approach, Mkhitaryan figured to influence this match with his passing, positioning, movement and attacking play. But in 65 minutes last night, Mkhitaryan failed to make his mark, registering little more than one shot on goal. Zero key passes, zero dribbles, and no crosses (attempted or completed). Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bubkiss.
He wasn't deplorable but he was the lone down note among Roma's starters.
Bryan Reynolds may have brought the Big Bad Bryan nickname with him to Italy, but yesterday Cristante stole that moniker from his young American teammate. In 90 minutes, Cristante was sensational, pulling the strings from deep and hitting on 87% of his passes, including one key pass (a big chance per Sofascore) and 5-9 long balls. Cristante was also a popular pressing target for Napoli, who swarmed him 54% of the time he received the ball, yet he was only dispossessed eight times in 58 touches, the fourth-fewest among Roma's starters.
In addition to his inspired play on the ball, Cristante chipped in four tackles, two clearances, and seven duels won (out of 10). Criticize Cristante's athleticism all you want, but matches like these show just how effective and influential he can be when he plays his game: calmly distributing from deep, not letting himself get overrun, and generally limiting his touches between the edge of the 18 and the halfway line.
It's a specific job description to be sure, but Cristante worked it to perfection last night.
After missing out on Euro 2020 and suffering some early-season ups and downs, Gianluca Mancini's star appeared like it was fading this season. But not yesterday. In 90 minutes against Roma's bitter southern rivals, Mancini was a one-man wrecking crew, racking up five clearances (including one off the line), two blocked shots, one interception, one tackle, and four duels won (out of 8), all while giving Napoli's star striker Victor Osimhen the business at nearly every turn.
He also had a scary moment of his own, striking the back of his neck/shoulder area against the woodwork but emerged unscathed in the end. Tough as nails, this kid is.
But Mancini wasn't alone in his defensive masterstroke yesterday. Joining the Italian international was a kid who may someday be an Italian international himself: Roger Ibañez. Going the full 90 (and then some), Ibañez had three clearances, one block, one interception, four tackles, and won six of eight duels. He also teamed up with Mancini to make Osimhen's life miserable last night, limiting the star striker to only one on-target attempt and 29 touches, the lowest mark among Napoli starters.
While it would have been nice if he victimized Napoli for the second time in his young career, Zaniolo was perhaps Roma's most effective forward yesterday. In 90 minutes, Zaniolo not only looked fit as can be but he ravaged the Napoli backline to the tune of five successful dribbles, one shot on goal, and one key pass. His passing left a little to be desired (okay, a lot: 68% and 0-6 on crosses) but he made up for it with a strong defensive effort: four clearances, two aerials won (out of two) and 11 of 20 duels won overall.
There were some cringy moments, including that shaky passing and losing the ball 24 times, but the aggression he showed going forward outweighed those negatives. On presence alone, he commanded more attention than nearly any other Roma player.
Pretty Ricky had a fantastic Sunday night at the Olimpico, pulling off one dribble, providing three key passes, completing five of six long balls, one through ball, and 84% of his passes overall. He also overtook an average of three players per forward pass against Napoli—the most of any Roma outfield player. Defensively speaking, Karsdorp added two tackles, three interceptions, and one blocked shot while winning three of six ground duels.
Stuck In Between
These guys toed the line between sinner and saint in yesterday's scoreless draw against Napoli.
- Lorenzo Pellegrini: The good (three key passes, four dribbles, 3-5 crosses), the bad (no on-target attempts, dribbled past seven times). It happens, but if he buried that flying volley... well, there's your hero.
- Tammy Abraham: Noticeably bothered by a knock he took in the first half, Abraham looked, at best, like 85% of his usual self. He dribbled past two opponents and won nine of fourteen duels but just couldn't find that final breakthrough in the attacking end. Let's just hope these injuries aren't anything serious—Roma can ill afford to lose him.
Picks to Click Revisited
In case you missed it, over the weekend we introduced a new series, Picks to Click, where we ask you to vote on which players are likeliest to succeed in any given match. So let's see how we fared in the first rendition.
- Jordan Veretout (Meh)
- Nicolo Zaniolo (Clicked)
- Roger Ibañez (Clicked)
- Tammy Abraham (Meh)
Until next time, Forza Roma!