Typically, a week three fixture between Roma and Sassuolo wouldn't kick up that much dust, but thanks to the Giallorossi's perfect start to the season and all the hoopla surrounding José Mourinho's 1,000th career match, this wasn’t your typical early-season Serie A fixture. It was, however, a typical Roma match. From the disallowed goals saving Roma's bacon to shots striking the goal frame to late challenges to controversial VAR calls to a last-gasp match-winner and even the referee's reluctance to blow the final whistle, this was about as Roma as a match gets.
Only this time, instead of suffering the ignominy of conceding a late equalizer to some random defensive midfielder scoring his first goal in five years, Roma inflicted the final wound, sending Sassuolo packing thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Stephan El Shaarawy, who sent the Olimpico into hysterics with his 91st-minute stunner.
It wasn't a flawless victory from The Special One’s side, so, unfortunately, we have to sharpen a few pitchforks in addition to adorning several players with well-deserved halos.
Hmm, maybe Mourinho should have given him the day off after all, huh? After suffering a minor knock against Peru while on international duty with Uruguay, Viña made a quick recovery and actually logged 72 additional minutes in Uruguay's subsequent World Cup qualifier against Ecuador on Thursday.
Having only returned to Italy on Saturday, speculation ran rampant that Mourinho would replace the 23-year-old with Riccardo Calafiori, giving Viña some much-needed rest, but in the end, Mourinho opted for consistency.
While Viña didn't do anything particularly egregious yesterday, Domenico Berardi put him on skates before setting up Filip Djuricic's 57th-minute equalizer. With the ball traveling from right to left, Viña took a bit of an awkward approach angle and, as a result, was in no position to stop Berardi, who twisted and turned the young left-back before unleashing a spinning assist to Djuricic at the near post.
With only one blocked shot, one interception, and having been dribbled past twice—the joint-most of any player on the pitch—Viña wasn't at his best yesterday. Some of this was likely due to fatigue, but we can't forget that this kid is completely new to Italian football, so there will be days like this; it's just part of the process—don't be discouraged, this kid can become a serviceable piece for Roma for a long time.
There wasn't much Patricio could do to stop Sassuolo's goal—that in-between hop just before Djuricic got to it doomed him from the start—but the 33-year-old Portuguese veteran continues to impress during the early days of his Roma career. In addition to completing 92% of his passes and hitting on four of six long balls, Patricio faced 14 shots, making six saves en route to his fifth victory as Roma's number one.
Can we get that new contract signed already...please? Roma's 25-year-old captain put in a man-of-the-match performance yesterday, increasing the cries to wrap up his long-rumored contract extension. In 90 minutes, Pellegrini fired off four shots (though only one on target), chipped in four key passes, completed three dribbles, drew two fouls, and completed 75% of his crosses and long passes yesterday. And, of course, he pulled the wool over Sassuolo's eyes on Roma's 37th-minute goal, slipping a through ball into the box off a setpiece when the defense was anticipating a lofted cross.
None of this is a surprise—we saw glimpses of this in Fonseca's earliest days at the helm when Pellegrini played in a similarly advanced role—but you get the feeling he's poised for a major breakthrough under Mourinho's watchful eye.
After channeling his inner Jorginho during Italy's World Cup qualifier against Lithuania late last week, Cristante's hot start to the season marched on unabated yesterday. In 90 minutes, Cristante took 65 touches (fourth-most on Roma) while completing 75% of his passes. He also managed two dribbles, two tackles, two clearances and scored one of the sneakiest goals you'll ever see after running onto Pellegrini's free-kick-cum-through-ball.
Cristante has caught a lot of flack during his days with Roma, but he finally seems at peace on the pitch, and we're seeing the results of that serenity each and every week.
Stephan El Shaarawy
He didn't see much of the pitch (only 20 minutes or so) but he made the most of his limited match time. Coming on in the 69th minute, El Shaarawy quickly inserted himself into Roma's attack, firing off two shots and completing 83% of his passes. Given how little he played, the stats are bound to underwhelm, but with one quick flick of his foot, El Shaarawy boosted the spirits of an entire city, rescuing victory from the jaws of, well, maybe not defeat but certainly a dispiriting draw.
If this is El Shaarawy's role going forward, it's certainly one for which he's well-suited. Every club needs a sparkplug off the bench, someone who can come into the match in any game state and contribute immediately. With his experience, athleticism, and flair for the dramatic, El Shaarawy could be Roma's secret second-half weapon this season.
Stuck In Between
These players were neither sinners nor saints, instead treading the middle path between success and failure.
- Jordan Veretout: The newly-minted French international struggled to get in the flow yesterday, contributing little beyond his 34 completed passes (92% completion).
- Nicolo Zaniolo: The newly-healthy Italian wunderkind looked a step behind all evening, struggling to get fully ingrained in Roma's attack, though he did pretty well defensively, chipping in two tackles and two clearances
- Roger Ibañez: He completed 93% passes, won a handful of duels, and cleared four balls, but this was far from peak Ibañez. He'll turn in much sharper performances; there's no doubt about that.
- Gianluca Mancini: See above.
- Tammy Abraham: Two shots, three key passes, and another shot that hit the %*&@ing woodwork.