With another high-scoring victory at the Stadio Olimpico, Roma has made it a perfect six for six to open the season. The Giallorossi opened their Conference League group stage calendar by putting up a five-spot on a familiar Bulgarian opponent: CSKA Sofia.
Jose Mourinho promised some turnover prior to this one and he delivered with seven changes from Sunday’s lineup against Sassuolo. Riccardo Calafiori, Chris Smalling, Amadou Diawara, Gonzalo Villar, and Stephan El Shaarawy all made their first starts of the season. Additionally, Carles Pérez and Eldor Shomurodov were also given the nod in this match.
Mourinho expressed his concerns about losing the continuity that was built up in the first five matches by a starting XI that had featured just 13 players prior to Thursday. And some of his concerns were validated as Roma had a lackluster start to the match. Despite the convincing 5-1 final score, the match wasn’t a walk in the park as Sofia struck first and kept the match close through the hour mark when the Giallorossi were finally able to pull away.
With so many changes, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that it took Roma that long to pull away after Roger Ibañez, Bryan Cristante, and Jordan Veretout were introduced into the match.
So, with that in mind, you may be wondering just how many of those new starters earned themselves a halo and which will be ruing a missed opportunity during a rare start. Read on to find out who were the sinners and who were the saints against CSKA Sofia.
In his post-match comments, Mourinho wasn’t in the best of moods despite what appeared to be an impressive scoreline in Roma’s favor. One of his biggest gripes was the fact that Roma’s midfield lacked intensity. That comment feels like it was directed Diawara’s way considering he was pulled after just 58 minutes. In that time he won just two duels and attempted just four. He also lost possession four times. Diawara will have to be better if he’s going to steal minutes from Cristante and Veretout.
Another of Mourinho’s gripes was that his fullbacks didn’t push up high enough. Considering the fact that Calafiori seemed to grow into the match, the manager’s ire could be directed more at Roma’s right back. Karsdorp was substituted at halftime having completed two keys passes, but also lost possession five times and won no duels. This is the type of opponent you’d expect Karsdorp to feast on, so perhaps he just needed rest, which could’ve precipitated his halftime sub.
There’s no doubting who the man of the match was in this one. Pellegrini continues to shine for Roma. The captain scored a brace in leading Roma to victory, highlighted by a lovely curling finish on the first goal. In addition to the two goals, Pellegrini completed two key passes and four out of seven long balls.
After the match, Pellegrini lauded Mourinho for helping him and the entire team improve. If Pellegrini continues on this trajectory, then The Special One’s hiring could be the catalyst in Roma’s captain reaching a level of stardom no Roman has had since Daniele De Rossi’s prime.
Stephan El Shaarawy
After Sunday’s heroics, El Shaarway continued to make a case for himself to earn more minutes for the Giallorossi. Il Faraone put Roma in the lead for good when his thumping shot found the back of the net in the 38th minute. He also won 6/10 duels and drew two fouls. It was a productive 90 minutes for El Shaarawy whose resurgence could provide a big boost for a Roma side with growing aspirations.
While Mourinho called out his fullbacks for not pressing high enough, the young Roman did plenty of good in this one. Calafiori assisted Pellegrini’s second goal. He also won 10/15 duels, had four tackles and two blocks, and completed three dribbles. Those 10 duels won and three dribbles led the side. Calafiori also completed 86% of his passes and had one key pass. It was an encouraging performance from the 19-year-old as he looks to earn more minutes as Matias Vina’s deputy.
Lord Eldor was one of the two players praised by Mourinho along with Pellegrini for their hard work and high pressing. But winning six ground duels was far from Eldor’s brightest highlight, as he assisted two of Roma’s goals and nearly scored one of his own when he smashed the woodwork. Mourinho also praised the dynamic between Shomurodov and Pellegrini. Shomurodov can’t do much more to impress his manager with the opportunities he’s been given so far.
Abraham played only 15 minutes off the bench but made his presence felt. He scored his first Stadio Olimpico goal. The first of what we hope will be many. So, how could we not give him a halo for that?
Stuck In Between
These players were neither sinners nor saints, instead treading the middle path between success and failure.
- Gianluca Mancini: Mancini scored Roma’s fourth goal by putting in Smalling’s shot off the woodwork. However, he also bears the bulk of responsibility for Sofia’s only goal when he was nutmegged.
- Carles Perez: With just 41 touches in 90 minutes, Perez was a bit quieter than you’d like in the attacking phase of the match. He did win 5/10 ground duels and completed 92% of his 26 passes though.
- Gonzalo Villar: Villar outperformed his double pivot mate Diawara winning 7/9 ground duels, but other than that he was quiet. Also, being pulled in tandem with Diawara likely means Mourinho wasn’t thrilled with him.