I’m happy with the final result but not the performance; we had everything under control and then from about midway in the first half we started to give away the ball and the initiative too easily.
We didn’t create space for ourselves and it shouldn’t have been as hard as we made it look. I wasn’t happy with that, but I was happy with the way players like Ibanez dug in and gritted it out despite having a knock. But we didn’t control the match, even when it was 2-0
Those were José Mourinho's words in the immediate aftermath of his club's 2-0 victory over Spezia yesterday; a team that has frustrated Roma to no end over the past eighteen months. However, rather than pillorying Mourinho for being too dour in the face of victory, we... have to agree with him here.
With both goals coming via setpiece and no genuine threats in the run of play, apart from Tammy Abraham hitting the post again, Roma failed to really assert their superiority over Thiago Motta's club last night, so Mourinho was spot on with that assessment. However, despite that critique, Roma's attack wasn't without merit last night. While their 12 shots were below their season average, they did manage to put a full 50% of those attempts on target, which is no small feat when you consider how poorly Roma has shot the ball for most of the season.
But those are matters for another day. Here and now, we're passing out some halos and sharpening the pitchforks after Roma's two-nil win over Spezia.
With one goal, 95% pass completion, one interception, and a match-high six clearances in only 64 minutes, Smalling was back to his best yesterday. We mentioned it the minute he was subbed off last night, but Roma are infinitely better when Smalling is healthy and ready to play, which he certainly was last night. His snap decision to redirect Tammy Abraham's sixth-minute header was an unexpected stroke of genius, turning a maybe goal into a definite goal, while his defensive work was smooth, calm, and intuitive.
You know, Smalldini stuff. The challenge for Mourinho will simply be keeping him healthy, no small task when you consider he may have sustained a knock last night as well.
After spending the past few weeks in our post-match purgatory, Veretout redeemed himself in a major way. In 89 minutes, Veretout completed 86% of his passes, including three of nine crosses and two of three long balls, while chipping in five key passes and pumping 14 balls into the final third. Defensively, Veretout managed two clearances and one interception while winning 50% of his duels and recovering three balls.
Roma's star defender in the making turned in another sensational performance on Monday night. In 90 minutes, Ibañez cleared four balls, picked off four passes, completed two tackles, and won five of eight duels while covering 10.3 kilometers; the fifth-best among Roma players.
In attack, Ibañez completed 53 passes, most of any Roma player and second-highest in the match, while scoring one goal and completing 82% of his passes, including an impressive 10 of 13 long balls.
Ibañez's maturation this season has been a sight to behold. While we hold out hope for several of Roma's up-and-comers, this kid may be their next genuine star player. The sky is the limit for the 23-year-old defender.
No, your eyes don't deceive you. It does indeed appear that Kumbulla was tailor-made for the three-man defense after all. With his performances generally trending upward during Roma's recent tactical crisis, Kumbulla crescendoed against Spezia last night, completing 96% of his passes, including all eight of his long attempts (during which he overtook an average of 2.76 opponents per long pass), while winning 60% of his duels. Defensively speaking, Kumbulla did his best Dyson impression, sucking up anything Spezia threw at him: two clearances, two blocked shots, three interceptions, and three tackles
But are you ready for the real kicker? I'm not sure you are...the notoriously lead-footed Kumbulla covered 10.3 kilometers last night (third-best among Roma players) while averaging 29.48 km/h on sprints, the fourth-fastest sprint speed among Roma players.
Kumbulla is a bit like a back-to-the-basket center in the modern NBA. He may feel like a walking anachronism standing next to the fleet-footed Ibañez or the muscular Mancini, but when he's in form, Kumbulla is an undeniably smooth defender, one capable of disrupting attacks with his positioning, vision, and anticipation more than pure brawn.
Another player in need of a MOTM run, Mkhitaryan delivered last night. Sitting in a slightly deeper playmaking role, Mkhitaryan completed 88% of his passes, including one key pass, 50% of his crosses and long balls while also playing a match-high 16 passes into the final third; he also added three successful dribbles for good measure. The veteran midfielder also won six of eight duels, recovered a game-high 13 balls and added one clearance.
It's been a while since the 24-year-old left-back made this list, but Viña had himself a busy evening at the Olimpico. Going the full 90, Viña completed 84% of his passes, including three of four long balls, chipped in one key pass, and played nine balls into the final third while also overtaking 2.83 players per long pass, fourth-best among Roma players.
Defensively, Viña was equally active, adding two clearances, two interceptions, and two tackles to the Roma cause. Not a bad evening for the young Uruguayan.
He wasn't tested that often—he only faced eight shots—but he managed to make two critical saves in the box while also completing six of thirteen long passes. A steady, veteran performance if there ever was one.
While we can probably chalk it up to youthful exuberance, his 93rd-minute handball was inexcusable. This wasn’t some ambiguous did it touch his shoulder scenario, Felix literally took a swipe at the ball to create more space as he charged into the Spezia area. Had Roma not won the match, it wouldn’t be quite as funny as it was, but, I mean, come on—that was as blatant as they come!
Hey, at least he played, right? With one foot seemingly out the door (and the other likely in Mourinho's dog house), it's almost painful to watch Diawara these days. He has the look of a man who showed up for a new job fully aware it wasn't the right fit and is already planning his exit. Except in this instance, the feeling is likely mutual as every credible media outlet is linking him with a Roma exit.
And in 26 mostly forgettable moments, Diawara did very little to dissuade that notion, managing only two tackles and committing two fouls while only completing 74% of his passes; his nominal calling card as a footballer.
He can be a piece of the puzzle for some club out there, but his time in Roma is likely down to weeks, if not days.
Completing 86% of his passes was really the long and short of Cristante's evening against Spezia: zero key passes, only three accurate long balls, and only four successful duels out of 10 attempts, 20% below his season rate. As we mentioned last week, you just have to put up with these clunkers when it comes to Cristante, but when he’s on, his passing can help unlock defenses. Monday was not one of those days, however.
Stuck In Between
This is a short list today, but given Roma's inability to capitalize in the run of play, I suppose it's fitting that both of Mourinho's strikers fall in our post-match purgatory.
- Tammy Abraham: He was one Chris Smalling redirection and one post away from another trademarked Tammy Two Goals performance, but with three shots and two key passes, he did a lot to aid the Roma cause. He was, however, extremely sloppy with the ball, completing a paltry 47% of his passes while coughing the ball up 21 times in only 39 touches.
- Borja Mayoral: Had he been able to settle Mkhitaryan's pass in the first half, setting up Abraham as he streaked into the box, Tammy may very well have had a hattrick on his hands. As it was, Mayoral was the very definition of tepid: not really doing much to help or harm Roma last night.
That's it for this rendition of Sinners & Saints, we'll see you on Saturday after Roma's crucial fixture against Atalanta on the road.