I don't really consider myself a patient person (though I'm trying, I swear!), but I'm sure I wasn't alone in sweating out the first 15 minutes of Roma's Round of 16 match against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League. With both sides trading barbs through the first quarter-hour but struggling to find a breakthrough, it felt like those frustrations would march on unabated, leaving us all frustrated and disappointed.
Now, a draw wouldn't have been the worst outcome but it definitely would have marked a missed opportunity for Roma and put them under enormous pressure during next week's return leg in Kyiv. Fortunately for us, the young men in the maroon shirts had more patience than your humble scribe and eventually proved too much for Shakhtar to handle.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the bright spots from yesterday's 3-0 win.
The hits keep coming for Mr. Pellegrini. Roma's new captain put on another stellar show yesterday, scoring a goal, ripping off three shots, chipping in five key passes, hitting on five of six crosses, and two of four longball passes in 77 minutes. With a new deal in the offing, Pellegrini figures to be Roma's prime mover for many years to come.
After a short run of poor form over the past few weeks, Villar needed a vintage Villar performance, to the extent a player so young can have an identity already. In 90 minutes yesterday, Villar took 51 touches, completed 83% of his passes, took one shot on goal, drew two fouls, completed four tackles, one interception, one clearance, and, perhaps most impressive of all, pulled off five successful dribbles.
Gozalo, Gonzalo.— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) March 11, 2021
La clase de @Gonzalo14villar, una vez más, a servicio de la Roma. Un distinto. pic.twitter.com/9tcf73d3XK
Stephan El Shaarawy
The Pharaoh barely played 30 minutes yesterday, but the entire tenor of the match changed the minute he came on the pitch. El Shaarawy fired off three shots (all on target), scored one goal, nearly had a second off Pellegrini's cross, and almost bagged a third when he forced the keeper into a fingertip save. Considering how little he played, his stats from yesterday are a little threadbare but they show exactly what he can contribute in the short-term: instant offense.
Roma may be lining up Juan Musso as we speak, but whether he's showing off for Roma or someone else entirely, Lopez is putting on one hell of an audition. With Shakhtar dominating possession (or, to put it more aptly, using what Roma allowed them to), Lopez was under more pressure than we probably expected, but with four saves in the box, he was up to snuff again.
We're about a month into the Bryan Cristante-as-a-defender experiment, and while he's never going to offer the same imposing physical presence as peak Jerome Boateng or Vicent Kompany, the one skill Cristante brings to the backline is just...*chef's kiss*...fucking perfect.
With 65 touches, 90% of his passes completed, 70% of his longball passes on the money, one key pass, and one assist, Cristante once again showed how impactful he can be spreading the ball from the back. With Roma's #4 dropping passes into his teammates' laps yesterday, sometimes at distances greater than 30 yards, Cristante helped paper over some of Roma's early attacking struggles.
Having a player like this, who can essentially help you skip a step in the build-up, is a tremendous asset.
Stuck In Between
I suppose we can call this a typical Pedro performance at this point in the season. He can't sustain 90-minutes of brilliance anymore, but the little nuggets he doles out along the way are a sight to behold; look no further than his assist to Pellegrini. That was about the extent of Pedro's impact yesterday, but it ultimately proved to be the difference.
Mini Materazzi scored a great goal to cap Roma's win yesterday but was otherwise (statistically) quiet, completing 81% of his passes and contributing nothing (numbers-wise) on the defensive end beyond one blocked shot. He also committed a match-high seven fouls.
He completed all 24 of his passes yesterday, made two clean tackles, and cleared four balls from danger. Diawara was smooth, calm, and composed yesterday.
It'll be another quick turnaround as Roma faces Parma on Sunday. Until then!