From a strictly Roma perspective, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about this summer when Euro 2020 kicked off. After all, long gone were the days of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi being mainstays in the Azzurri formation. Our new great Italian hope, Nicolo Zaniolo, was still recovering from ACL surgery. Meanwhile, our captain, Lorenzo Pellegrini, had to withdraw from the team at the last minute due to injury and Gianluca Mancini was cut from the squad in favor of Rafael Toloi.
That left us with Cengiz Ünder, Robin Olsen—who already had one foot out of the Trigoria doors—Bryan Cristante, Alessandro Florenzi, and Leonardo Spinazzola as Roma's international reps at Euro 2020. At best, Cristante looked to be a role player for Roberto Mancini’s squad, while Florenzi, for as much as we love him, didn’t really feel like a Roma player anymore. That left Spinazzola as Roma's only decent representative on the European stage—all our giallo e rosso hopes rested on him playing well.
And boy, did he ever. Spinazzola picked up right where he left off after a stellar season with Paulo Fonseca’s Roma as a wing-back. There were always question marks about Spinazzola's ability to shift back to a true left-back role under José Mourinho, but he answered all those questions as he became one of the Azzurri’s key men through the early stages of the tournament.
Mancini deployed him in a fashion where his speed and offensive gifts were allowed to shine while still putting in a solid defensive shift in the back four. It seemed as if the 28-year-old Italian had finally put it all together and Mourinho must’ve been champing at the bit to have Spina tearing down Roma’s left flank.
However, as can only be expected of a player that dons the giallo and rosso at club level, Spinazzola’s tournament ended in the most unceremonious way possible against Belgium in the quarterfinals. Set to take off on one of his gut-busting runs down the left flank, Spina pulled up in a flash. With teammate Cristante consoling him, the speedster was flat on his back in tears. At first, it looked like it might be another muscle issue or maybe the dreaded Roma ACL curse. But, alas, it was perhaps the worst injury possible for a sprinter like Spinazzola: a torn Achilles tendon.
And with that, just as the calcio gods had given us back Zaniolo, they took one of Mourinho’s other key men for a six-month minimum. It was a nasty blow for a Roma side looking to improve on back-to-back mediocre seasons. The injury bug had bitten again. And hard.
The scans had barely come back before the rumored replacement names had started swirling—Emerson, Marcos Alonso, Alex Telles, and Ramy Bensaibani, just to name a few. However, Tiago Pinto had other ideas. Rather than go for the household names around Europe, Pinto looked across the Atlantic towards South America. And in a Walter Sabatini-esque move, Roma landed starting Uruguay and Palmeiras left-back Matías Viña.
In making the move for Viña, Pinto found a way to land a young, up-and-coming player, but one with plenty of experience, one who starts for his national side and one of Brazil's biggest clubs—and all at a reasonable price.
And for the next sixth months, the left-back job at Roma will be Viña’s alone with Riccardo Calafiori likely serving as his deputy until Spinazzola's return. And even then, Roma will likely have to play it safe with the Spinazzola after such a devastating injury. So, if all goes according to plan, we’ll still likely see plenty of Viña after Spinazzola's return.
Truth be told, Viña isn’t Spinazzola. In fact, few left-backs can do what the Roma man can. And Spina being part of the Euro 2020 team of the tournament even after missing the semifinal and final speaks volumes to his talent and the form he was in prior to his injury.
And while I can’t claim to be an expert on Viña, Palmeiras, the Brazilian top flight, or Uruguayan national team, he looks like a decent player with the potential to grow. From the few highlight compilations I’ve seen, he certainly passes the eye test and I can see why Pinto targeted him to fill in and perhaps eventually even replace Spinazzola.
Viña looks to have good pace and decent dribbling ability down the left flank. However, what stood out to me was the ability to swing in a lovely left-footed cross, which is a change-up from Spinazzola, who preferred to cut the ball back on his right foot before driving to goal or swinging it into a teammate. Viña also shows the ability to hammer home an occasional goal and get his head to a teammate’s cross. Those are all good qualities to possess if he is expected to play in the same manner as Spinazzola.
However, since it’s impossible to truly get a read on a player in an eight-minute highlight reel, I thought it would be interesting to look at the numbers to see if we could learn anything else about the player. Comprehensive stats from the Brasileiro Serie A aren’t quite as easy to come by but SofaScore has a good bit of info on Viña.
To start, SofaScore rates every left-back on a scale of 1-100 in five categories: attacking, creativity, technical, tactical, and defending abilities. As you can see below, Viña is most highly rated in defense (68) and also grades better than the average left-back in attacking (42) and creativity (48). Meanwhile, in terms of technical (42) and tactical (53) attributes he scores just below average. (These figures were taken from the past two seasons.)
How does that compare to Spinazzola you might be wondering. Well, take a look.
As you can see, Spinazzola (green) rates out considerably higher in his attacking, creative, and technical attributes. Meanwhile, Viña (blue) rates higher in his defending and tactical attributes. And the numbers from last season’s domestic campaigns speak to those differences between the players.
Viña and Spinazzola played roughly the same amount of time last season. Viña started all 23 of his league appearances, averaging 84 minutes per match. Meanwhile, Spinazzola started 24 of his 26 Serie A matches, averaging 79 minutes per appearance. That makes for a pretty even statistical comparison on a per 90-minute basis.
Although comparing stats across leagues can be tricky at times, especially a big five league like Serie A versus a league like Brazil, the numbers can at least give us a feel for the players.
Since Viña will be filling a defensive position, we’ll look at his defensive numbers first. Viña averaged 1.6 interceptions, 2.3 tackles, and 1.7 clearances per match. Those numbers are all noticeably higher than Spinazzola’s 1.0 interceptions, 0.5 tackles, and 1.0 clearances per match. Viña also won a higher number and percentage of duels per match 5.6 (59%) versus 3.3 (48%) for Spinazzola. However, despite possessing better overall defensive numbers, Viña (1.3) was dribbled passed more often than Spinazzola (0.5).
Offensively, as one would expect, the numbers shift the other way. Spinazzola and Viña’s touches per match were similar (59.8 to 55.4 in favor of Spina). So were their passing numbers: 30.9 (81%) accurate passes per match for Spina to Viña’s 25.3 (79%). However, when comparing their heat maps, it’s clear that Spinazzola’s touches come higher up the pitch.
And when comparing their heat maps, it’s not that Viña doesn’t get forward—he has plenty of red in the attacking half—it’s just that Spina’s map is on fire in the attacking third and around the opponent’s area.
That affinity for attacking allowed Spinazzola to create nine big chances over the course of the season, where Viña created just two. Spinazzola also almost doubled Viña in key passes per match at 1.3 to 0.7. However, Viña outperformed Spinazzola in one attacking phase: successful dribbles. Viña completes fewer dribbles per match than Spinazzola (0.7 vs. 2.0) but he does so at a higher success rate: 59% to 45%. He also draws more fouls per match than Spina (1.2 to 0.4).
It’s unlikely that Viña or any of the other names linked with Roma could ever have truly replaced Spinazzola’s unique qualities, especially in attack. It was important that Pinto landed Mourinho a left-back who is first and foremost a capable defender, but also one who could push the attack down the left-wing and link up with players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And it looks like Viña can do just that, while still having plenty of room to grow in all facets of the game at just 23-years-old.
Only time will tell how good this move will be for Roma. However, on the surface, it looks like good business both on and off the field by Tiago Pinto. Now it’s up to Mourinho to get the most out of Viña.