After Roma's perfect start to the season, José Mourinho's men hit an unexpected mini tailspin in late September, losing two of their last three matches in extremely frustrating circumstances: a pair of 3-2 defeats to Hellas Verona and Lazio. So while heading into the international break on a high note was an important plotline leading into yesterday's match against Empoli, there was a far more pressing matter at hand: keeping pace with the top of the table.
While Napoli isn't likely to sustain their perfect pace, Roma already finds themselves in a position where every point counts. Napoli may be pulling away from the pack in the early stages of the season but with only six points currently separating third-place Inter Milan and ninth-place Bologna, Roma will use whatever motivation they can find to secure three difficult but important points from matches like yesterday's tilt against Empoli.
It’s not quite on par with Michael Jordan fabricating slights at his expense in order to victimize the Washington Bullets on some random February night, but the desire to win before the break gave Roma that extra something to power through a difficult match against Empoli.
And thanks to their gutty performance, it's all halos in today's Sinners & Saints.
Fans of the American version of The Office will recall the series finale where Andy Bernard laments the fact that we can't tell we're in the “good old days” until they've actually passed. Well, when it comes to Lorenzo Pellegrini, we shouldn't harbor any similar reservations: we're witnessing a career season in real-time. With six goals in all competitions and nearly two-and-a-half key passes per match to his credit, Roma's captain is growing into the role we all assumed (or hoped) he would for years: the Giallorossi's unquestioned leader and the player to whom they turn in the most difficult moments.
With six shots, three key passes, three dribbles, four fouls drawn, two completed crosses (from three), six accurate long passes (nine attempts) and the match-winning goal, Pellegrini's coming out party continues to rage on.
Not to be outdone, Roma's other attacking savant reeled off three key passes of his own, in addition to three shots, one assist and one goal scored. Mkhitaryan also completed an astounding 97% of his passes and was a perfect 1-1 on crosses and long passes. This wasn't his most overwhelming stat line, but Mkhitaryan rose to the occasion once again yesterday.
Despite leaving the pitch with an apparent muscle injury late in the match, Smalling's evening at the Olimpico couldn’t have gone much better. In 89 minutes, Smalling was the best defender on the pitch, clearing four balls, picking off two passes, and completing three tackles. In addition to those defensive actions, Smalling won three of four duels and completed 98% of his passes, including three of four long attempts.
France's newest minted international footballer turned in another solid shift yesterday against Empoli. In 90 minutes, Veretout completed 91% of his passes, chipped in two key passes, one successful dribble, and completed five of six long balls. Defensively speaking, Veretout cleared one ball, picked off two more, and covered nearly 11 kilometers—the third-highest mark on either club.
Someone please remove the crossbar/post. 6th time already this season I’ve hit it. https://t.co/Ar4ZCjLuhT— Tammy Abraham (@tammyabraham) October 3, 2021
This poor kid can't catch a break. For the SIXTH time this season, Abraham hit the woodwork, watching his 48th minute laser strike the crossbar before Mkhitaryan slammed the rebound home. Despite failing to find the back of the net, Abraham was excellent yesterday. In 90 minutes, the 24-year-old striker was incredibly busy: six shots, including four on-target, 12 duels won, four fouls drawn, and three clearances—and he did all of that despite being pressured 70% of the time he saw the ball.
Scoring a point for the rest and rotation crowd, Matías Viña returned from his mini-break with aplomb. Playing 83 minutes last night, Viña completed 91% of his passes, created one scoring chance, went 1-2 on crosses and 2-3 on long passes. Behind the ball, Viña was equally effective, completing three tackles, one interception, and one clearance while winning four of five ground duels. And with 94 touches, no player saw more of the ball than Viña yesterday, while his 3.21 players overtaken per forward pass was the fourth-best mark in the match, showing his ability to break pressure while sustaining an attack.
While Rick had a rough time crossing the ball (only 1-5), the Dutchman was otherwise pretty effective against Empoli. In 90 minutes, Karsdorp completed 94% of his passes, including two key passes and five of six long balls. Defensively, Karsdorp completed two tackles, two clearances, and one interception while winning two of three ground duels. And similar to Viña, Karsdorp was remarkably effective at breaking the press, overtaking 3.87 players per forward pass.
The Giallorossi also received good runs from Nicolo Zaniolo, Rui Patricio, and Gianluca Mancini in yesterday's victory, but they have a far more difficult task coming out of the break: an away trip against Juventus—so let's hope for three more points and a gaggle of saints.