Roma's round 13 fixture against Genoa could have been the stuff of nightmares. From the brutal run of results that made it seem like they were on the verge of coming undone to another patented press conference from José Mourinho to the simple fact that they were playing on the road (in the rain) against a near-winless club with a new manager, yesterday could have been a complete catastrophe for the Giallorossi.
No matter how much we try to remind ourselves that we remain in the early days of the club's latest project, it's been tough to shake the feeling that Roma was searching for something: the right tactical formula, a remedy for their recent malaise, narrower goalposts, a bit of luck, and maybe, just maybe, a new hero.
They haven't found solutions for all those problems yet, but thanks to his stunning brace last night in Liguria, Roma definitely has a new hero: Felix Afena-Gyan. The young Ghanian striker deserves every bit of praise he received over the past 24 hours, but who else will join Afena-Gyan on our list of saints?
Before we find out, we have to start on a (quick) dour note.
Making only his fifth start of the season in all competitions, and working alongside fellow striker Tammy Abraham, Shomurodov seemed poised for a big match against his former club. However, rather than seizing the opportunity and silencing his doubters, the 26-year-old forward was arguably Roma's least effective attacking player.
With five shot attempts in 74 minutes, Shomurodov was certainly active against Genoa, but with only one on-target attempt and two big chances missed (per SofaScore), Roma's number 14 was incredibly wasteful yesterday. On top of his shooting woes, Shomurodov completed only 67% of his passes and failed to register any dribbles, key passes, or accurate crosses.
Playing for a notoriously fickle manager, Shomurodov can ill-afford to waste opportunities like this—he simply has to be better.
The teenaged striker may have saved Roma's bacon yesterday, but that he managed to fry it up so quickly was perhaps the most impressive part of his performance. Coming on in the 74th minute for Shomurodov, Afena-Gyan made the most of his late cameo, scoring two goals on two attempts, winning two of three duels, completing his only dribble attempt, while going a perfect 7-for-7 passing, including one key pass for good measure.
It's still far too early to tell how, when, and where he'll fit into Roma's crowded forward rotation—to say nothing of repeating last night’s performance—but he proved one critical thing last night: he's ready for this.
Just imagine how hard it must be for a kid his age to bounce back and forth between the Primavera and senior teams, dominating the former and barely existing in the latter, never knowing weekend-to-weekend where you'll travel. And then, with only 15 minutes to spare in an incredibly important match, he's thrown to the wolves (or griffins, to be more precise) and not only does he look like he belongs, but he wins the damn match.
Simply remarkable. He's an easy kid to root for, so let's hope this is the start of a long and fruitful career.
Whether or not he leaves in January, Mkhitaryan proved once again how instrumental he can be for Roma. He's fallen short of his usual standards this season, but Mkhitaryan dialed back the clock in Genoa Sunday evening. In 90 minutes, the 32-year-old midfielder took five shots (though none were on target to be fair), set up Afena-Gyan's first goal, completed 91% of his passes (including all five long balls), pulled off four of five dribble attempts, and lost possession only eight times in 76 touches.
We don't know what kind of dynamics are at play between Mkhitaryan, his agent Mino Raiola, José Mourinho, and the club, but Roma are at their best when Mkhitaryan plays like this, so there is ample reason to work on this marriage.
Sitting on the left side of the defense in Roma's new 3-1-4-2, Big Rog had another saintly performance, completing 91% of his passes, winning 10 of 11 duels, completing three tackles, intercepting one ball, and chipping in one key pass. He's definitely had flashier evenings than this, but he's continually raising the bar on his baseline performance—and to think he's only turning 23.
As the last line of (midfield) defense, Veretout dazzled under the bright lights of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris last night. Taking 74 touches and completing 95% of his passes, Veretout was clean and precise against Genoa. In addition to his passing prowess, Veretout won six of eight duels, intercepted two passes, won three tackles, completed seven of eight long balls and two of three crosses while providing two key passes. Throw in the three fouls he drew against Genoa and this was another classic Veretout performance.
Stephan El Shaarawy
While he didn't find the back of the net, El Shaarawy was remarkably effective last night. Playing from whistle to whistle, SES was incisive in attack, putting two shots on goal, completing two dribbles, two key passes, and even four of his five long passes. The Pharaoh even got his hands slightly dirty in defense, completing one tackle and clearing one ball.
He’s definitely in Mourinho's warm graces now, and it's a lovely thing to watch.
While his new role wasn't an extreme adjustment, Pellegrini adapted effectively to his slightly more withdrawn position (on paper, at least) last night. Before he was removed in stoppage time, Pellegrini had another inspiring performance yesterday, chipping in four key passes to go along with one shot on goal, one dribble, four fouls drawn, one interception, three clearances and four completed crosses. His passing, in general, could have been a bit cleaner, but Pellegrini once again excelled as Roma's master playmaker.
Talk about a guy who needed a halo! After a string of tepid performances, Mancini was up to his old tricks yesterday. Going gavel to gavel, Mancini won five of eight duels, completed 89% of his passes (including six of eleven long balls), completed one tackle, and cleared one ball while intercepting three more.
It wasn't the most dominant performance we’ve ever witnessed from Mancini, but it was certainly enough to forgive him for nearly decapitating Afena-Gyan while celebrating Roma's victory.
Stuck In Between
Our post-match purgatory is a bit busier than usual, so let's take a quick look at the guys who neither flourished nor floundered against Genoa
- Tammy Abraham: Only one shot on goal, which was off-target, but Abraham still did a lot of good, including two key passes, one tackle, and one cleared ball. The guy definitely needs to start scoring more, but he's contributing well enough in the ancillary areas of attack.
- Rick Karsdorp: A pretty quiet evening for the Dutchman, but he completed an impressive eight of nine long passes and provided in one key pass
- Marash Kumbulla: 92% passing, two clearances, one tackle, and five duels won. Maybe he is better in a three-man defense after all.
- Rui Patricio: He wasn't really called into action much, but he still kept that sheet clean!
- Edoardo Bove/Chris Smalling: Only a handful of minutes between the two of them, but it was good to simply see them on the pitch.
Picks to Click Revisited
In case you're a bit new to us, we recently implemented a new matchday series, Picks to Click, where we try to predict which players will excel in any given match—think of it like a Man of the Match poll in the Minority Report universe.
- Eldor Shomurodov (Definitely did not click)
- Stephan El Shaarawy (Clicked)
- Roger Ibañez (Clicked)
- Nicolo Zaniolo (DNP)
That's it for this rendition of Sinners and Saints. We'll see you back here midweek after Roma's Conference League tilt against Zorya.