Slow starts, defensive miscues, misplaced shots, poor setpiece defending, questionable subs, impeccable hair, and a too little too late second-half turnaround; this match had all the hallmarks of your classic Paulo Fonseca fixture. In his final match at the helm of AS Roma, Paulo Fonseca failed to inspire his squad to loftier heights, dropping points to Spezia for the second time this season, ending his Roma career on a dour note.
Yesterday's stakes may have been on par with a seven-year-old’s mini golf birthday party, but Roma gave the word apathy an entirely new meaning. We've endured some brutal matches over the past year or so, but I can't recall the last time Roma looked that disinterested.
However, thanks to some inspired play from Stephan El Shaarawy and Daniel Fuzato, and a lucky break towards the end, Roma was able to rescue a point from their final match of the season, securing a place in the playoff round for next season's inaugural Europa Conference League.
So, for the last time this season, join me as we pass out some halos and sharpen our pitchforks.
Hey, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Okay, so that well-worn saying doesn't exactly apply to this situation, but if yesterday's match proved anything, it's this: Ebrima Darboe is actually a 19-year-old learning his trade on the fly and not the second coming of Yaya Toure—at least not yet.
Yanked after an hour on the pitch, Darboe struggled in nearly all aspects of his job, getting dribbled past, losing duels, and committing costly turnovers, one of which led to Daniele Verde's opening goal.
Make no mistake, Darboe remains a highly-touted prospect, but we'd all be better served by tempering our expectations in the short term.
Roma's leading scorer (all comps) ended his first year with the club on a down note, struggling to impact the match in an hour of action. Borja drew two fouls and had one shot on goal, but apart from that, he was missing in action. As the club transitions to the José Mourinho era, Mayoral's role is perhaps more tenuous than any current squad member. He'll need to be more consistent and more aggressive if he wants to keep his place under The Special One next season.
90 minutes captured in one image...
Is Kumbulla throwing this game? #SpeziaRoma #SerieA #SerieATIM pic.twitter.com/BEudiRM1qJ— seantiziani (@tottitoday) May 23, 2021
I was one of the many who were HYPED by this signing last summer, but Kumbulla's first year with Roma was incredibly uneven, and with a defensive manager/hardass like Mourinho taking over, he will likely be under enormous pressure to find a consistent role under Roma's new manager. Kumbulla wasn't atrocious yesterday, but, much like Mayoral, his troubles were on full display—Mourinho may not be quite as patient or understanding as Fonseca.
Stephan El Shaarawy
Finally! After 10 appearances, El Shaarawy registered his first Serie A goal since returning to Roma in January. In addition to his 52nd-minute strike, El Shaarawy fired four shots on goal (three on target), chipped in one key pass, pulled off three successful dribbles, and contributed two tackles and two interceptions for good measure. And while there is no way to precisely quantify this, he led the club in the successful giving of shits yesterday.
This was the El Shaarawy we know and love.
Given his somewhat contentious past with José Mourinho, Mkhitaryan's future with the club remains foggy but yesterday he reminded us all how important he was to Roma's successes the past two years—however small they might have been. In 90 minutes against Spezia, Mkhitaryan rattled off four shots (three on target), contributed two key passes, two dribbles, drew two fouls, won three tackles, and, of course, scored a late equalizer to secure seventh place in the process.
If he can repair his relationship with Mourinho, Mkhitaryan figures to be central to Roma's plans next season. If not, please God, let him leave Serie A altogether.
Juan Musso, Alessio Cragno, Rui Patrico, Mike Maignan. Roma has no shortage of rumored transfer targets in goal next year, but Daniel Fuzato has made the most of his late-season audition, making the case for actual playing time next season, be it in Rome or elsewhere. Despite conceding two goals, neither of which were really savable given Roma's defensive miscues, Fuzato made six saves, including five in the box, and looked like a caged tiger let loose anytime the ball came in the six-yard box.
I find it hard to hide my bias with Fuzato—there's just something about him I really like—but objectively speaking, this kid has all the tools to be a successful keeper in Italy.
I know, I know. We've spent this entire piece ragging on the defense, but, just as he has all year, Mancini kept the backline afloat. In 90 minutes yesterday, mini Materazzi had one shot on goal, completed 90% of his 115 passes, blocked one shot, cleared eight balls, and picked off five passes. But, perhaps most impressive of all, he completed 11 of 19 long passes—Mourinho is going to love this guy.
Stuck In Between
Bryan Cristante: I'll have to run the numbers, but it feels like Cristante has been our most frequent In-Betweener this season (great show, btw). Cristante set up two shots yesterday and was a perfect two-for-two on crosses but failed to truly make his mark against Spezia.
Javier Pastore: Seeing him on the pitch still reminds me of the scene in Signs where the aliens are first spotted creeping around a child's birthday party, but El Flaco's 20-minute cameo yesterday was pretty impressive: 20 touches, two key passes (which were “big chances”) and won three ground duels. On the flip side, he coughed the ball up four times in only 20 minutes.
Rick Karsdorp: One key pass, two tackles, three clearances, and tremendous restraint to not throttle someone in the first half. A solid ending to a really special season for Karsdrop—another guy who could excel under Mourinho.
Well, that's it for Sinners & Saints for the 2020-2021 season. Stay tuned for our season reviews all this week—starting in a couple of hours, as a matter of fact.