There was a moment yesterday—okay, many moments—when it felt like Roma would follow up their strong showing/moral victory against Napoli last weekend with an absolute clunker against 19th place Cagliari. You tend to throw the rules of logic out the window anytime Roma sails the seven seas to face Cagliari—the two sides have combined to score 22 goals over their past six fixtures, including several strikes after the 80th minute—but even with the specter of the unexpected hanging over their head, Roma were the heavy favorites yesterday in Sardinia.
So when the Giallorossi looked fatigued and fresh out of ideas early in the first half, yesterday's match had all the classic Roma Happened trappings: an uneven record coming into the match, heavy legs, missed chances, and an opposing striker and keeper who tend to play out of their minds against Roma, among other ominous signs.
Despite Cagliari keeping things close, Roma prevailed in the end, keeping their wits about them even after going down 1-0 early in the second half. Thanks to a clever header from Roger Ibañez and an extraordinary free-kick from Lorenzo Pellegrini, Joao Sacramento's side emerged victorious.
And, as we always do, we're here to separate the sinners from the saints!
Viña's up and down debut season in Serie A continued yesterday, with the 23-year-old left-back struggling to make an impact against Cagliari. Playing just shy of an hour last night, Viña took only 22 touches, completed 78% of his passes (four points below his season average) while failing to register a single tackle, interception, clearance, key pass, or completed cross. In that light, it wasn't surprising to see him give way to forward Felix Afena-Gyan as Roma shifted their focus to finding an equalizer after Pavoletti's 52nd-minute goal.
If ever there was one player set to test the pitfalls of Mourinho's limited rotation scheme, surely it's Mkhitaryan. The 32-year-old attacking midfielder has hit a rough patch this month, turning in sub-seven match ratings in three consecutive fixtures, according to both WhoScored and SofaScore. In yesterday's match, Mkhitaryan was a step behind from the jump, losing possession six times in only 26 touches while frequently getting overrun by the Cagliari defense. And much like Viña, Mkhitaryan went oh-for across the board: zero shots, zero dribbles, zero key passes, and zero crosses completed.
Mourinho may be able to lean heavily on players like Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham, but he may need some load management suggestions from LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard—Mkhitaryan cannot sustain this pace at this point in his career.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. LORENZO PELLEGIRINI. WHAT A FREE-KICK pic.twitter.com/SKIAil0Eii— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 27, 2021
If that clip isn't enough to convince you of his sainthood, try these numbers on for size: six shots, four key passes, two dribbles, 3-8 on crosses, 3-4 on long balls, and 6-11 on duels. We really can't say it enough: Lorenzo Pellegrini is coming into his own and is quickly making a case as one of the best midfielders in Serie A, if not the whole of Europe.
Ibañez scored the equalizing goal with a brilliant header that somehow bounced off the pitch, striking the upright before deflecting across the face of the goal and tucking inside the far post—just like he planned it!
Apart from his set-piece heroics, Ibañez was masterful against Cagliari: 9-13 on duels, 95% passing, four clearances, three interceptions, four tackles, and one key pass. We've written so much about this kid since he arrived in 2020 that it's hard to forget that he's still only 22-years-old—he is going to be a special player someday real soon.
The Toyota Prius of Roma midfielders turned in another solid performance yesterday, at times looking like the best player on the pitch. Going the full 90 once again, Cristante concocted his usual melange of attacking prowess and defensive acumen, racking up four shots, two key passes, and completing 84% of his passes (including 67% of his crosses and 57% of his long passes) while also winning two tackles, intercepting two passes, clearing three balls, and winning an impressive eight aerials
What else needs to be said? He isn’t perfect, but he's damn good.
One of our Picks to Click ahead of the match, Roma's goalkeeper didn't disappoint. While he wasn't bombarded with shots (only seven total), Patricio was polished, poised, and aggressive, making four saves and snaring one high claim while also hitting on five of eight long passes.
At times, Zaniolo was a one-man wrecking crew against Cagliari, firing six shots at Alessio Cragno, chipping in three key passes, and pulling off two dribbles. Mega Kaka also completed an impressive 91% of his passes (10% higher than his season rate) while winning eight of seventeen duels. There were still a few rough edges, namely some imprecise crossing and a few moments where he may have held onto the ball too long, but his size, strength, and aggression are incredibly hard to match and make him a threat on presence alone.
In addition to running more miles than an off-leash labrador on a weekend hiking excursion, Veretout was Roma's handyman yesterday, doing a bit of everything to ensure Mourinho's house was in proper order in his absence. Veretout completed 92% of his passes (including 50% of his crosses and 80% of his long passes), chipped in two key passes, one tackle, two interceptions, two clearances while losing possession only seven times in over 60 touches.
Stuck In Between
- Tammy Abraham: Two shots on goal and one key pass but once again he just seemed a bit... off. You get the feeling that once he finds his groove he'll explode, but he's having trouble shifting into high gear lately.
- Stephan El Shaarawy: The birthday boy was pretty solid in his second-half stint, creating two scoring chances and taking one shot on goal. As Roma's de facto sixth man (to borrow a basketball term), you'd like to see SES be more aggressive running at goal, but he should be pleased with his effort yesterday...though the same can't be said for the post-match fruit cake he was given. Who wants that on their birthday!?
- Rick Karsdorp: The Dutchman was effective passing the ball (two key passes, three completed crosses) but wasn't nearly as destructive going forward as we'd hoped.
Picks to Click Revisited
Our new series, in which we tab a few select players as those most likely to excel in any given match, continued yesterday, so let's see how we did in our second stab at it.
- Tammy Abraham (So-So)
- Rick Karsdorp (So-So)
- Bryan Cristante (Clicked)
- Rui Patricio (Clicked)
Hey, two outta four—not bad!
We’ll end this with a special shout-out to Felix Afena-Gyan for making his professional debut in the second half yesterday. He’s scoring regularly at the Primavera level and looked incredibly lively yesterday. Keep an eye on him; he may force his way into the equation sooner rather than later.