Yesterday's victory over Cagliari was a reminder that the final score doesn't always paint the entire picture. Despite failing to score in the run of play, José Mourinho's men did nearly everything to perfection. Well, maybe not perfection, but they played with more fluidity and precision than we've seen in several weeks. With a greater share of possession, a near 2:1 shot ratio, and an impressive 12 key passes among them, Roma had nine-tenths of the equation down pat.
Had Alessio Cragno been a step slower last night, then Roma's fluid approach would have produced more actual highlights. However, despite Cragno's persistence, Roma flashed enough promise to make you believe the demons of the Juve match have been fully exorcised and that brighter days are ahead in 2022.
And a big part of that performance last night was due to Sérgio Oliveira's impressive debut, so we might as well start our Sinners & Saints rundown with Roma's newest toy.
Want to talk about a dream debut? How do four shots on goal (two on target), two key passes, eleven balls into the final third, three of seven duels won, two interceptions, seven recoveries, 80% passing, one big chance created, three of five long balls completed, and one cooly struck penalty attempt grab you?
Oliveira will struggle to recreate that stat line every week, but his 90 minute run against Cagliari gave us a glimpse of what the 29-year-old veteran brings to the table: a little bit of everything.
As far as mid-season additions go, he's practically perfect. Mourinho dropped him right into the lineup at a moment’s notice, and he didn't miss a beat. He's going to fit in quite nicely.
Were it not for the new guy, Mkhitaryan would have garnered all the headlines last night. In addition to leading fast breaks like vintage Tim Hardaway, Mkhitaryan was a one-man passing machine last night, doling out six key passes while completing 85% of all his passes, including one accurate cross and one accurate long ball.
In addition to his work with the ball, Mkhitaryan recovered seven balls, picked off one pass, drew one foul, and covered 12.5 kilometers; the most of any Roma player. Keep this guy healthy and rested, and this is what he can do.
Normally, we fill these spaces with all manner of stats, but for a kid as maligned as Marash Kumbulla, yesterday's win had to be incredibly cathartic. So, rather than focusing on figures, we'll let Mourinho do the talking:
For me, as a coach, Kumbulla was the best of the team. He played a fantastic game. It gives me great satisfaction because in a certain moment of the season he had difficulties, I was very negative in the aggressiveness I used to put in the confrontation in training and he has always been very calm, humble and has grown.
I think he’s a player who’s better suited to a 3-man defence, where he’s learnt. He had a good game, Mancini too. The coverage of the two midfield players was also good. Against Juve, when Dybala scored, we didn’t make the right moves. We’ve worked on that and Oliveira and Veretout did very well today
In a lot of ways, Kumbulla reminds me of someone like Boris Diaw, the somewhat portly French forward who carved out a respectable 16-year NBA career thanks in large part to his understanding of the game, soft touch in the post, and keen playmaking skills.
Kumbulla will never be confused for Franz Beckenbauer, but as we saw last night, when he's locked in, he's sensational. And that was certainly the case last night as Kumbulla cleared six balls, blocked three shots, and completed 92% of his passes, including 4-5 long balls.
Mourinho's patience and faith in the young Albanian are finally starting to bear fruit.
After suffering through a bit of a dull patch, Viña broke through in a major way against Cagliari. Going the full 90+, Viña was incredibly active behind the ball, which is even more impressive when you consider how timid Cagliari played for most of the match. Viña won 10 of 15 duels, cleared two balls, intercepted two passes, and completed two tackles while completing 78% of his passes and creating one scoring chance.
A surprise addition to the starting lineup, Veretout was plucked from the bench and dropped into Mourinho's starting eleven after captain Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled up lame during pre-match warmups, but you'd hardly know that given how well Veretout played. In 90 minutes, the Frenchman completed 90% of his passes, including 5-8 long balls, while clearing two balls, intercepting one pass, and completing one tackle.
We've definitely seen more electric performances from Veretout before, but when you consider the circumstances, he did quite well.
He wasn't called on much, but his late denial on Joao Pedro likely saved Roma's bacon last night. All told, Patricio faced only two shots while making one save and overtaking an average of 4.22 players per long pass, according to the official match report.
One of these days, I hope we have more to write about him, but he's been steady, self-assured, and up to the task all season long.
In the grand scheme of things, last night's performance wasn't terribly troubling; we have to remember just how much time this kid missed and what he's attempting to overcome while playing for an incredibly demanding manager. Having said all that, The Kid wasn't great last night, losing possession 14 times in 48 touches while misfiring on his only genuine attempt at goal.
As Mourinho mentioned in his post-match presser, despite doing all the little things well last night, his lack of confidence in front of goal was on full display last night.
Given how well Roma played (minus their lack of finishing), we'll stow away the pitchforks now and head straight to our post-match purgatory...
Stuck In Between
The following players did a bit of good and made a few missteps but were otherwise passable.
- Tammy Abraham: The lanky number nine fired three shots on goal, but only one struck its intended target, while his dribbling (1-5) left a bit to be desired. However, in testament to how finicky this sport can be, if his first-half header had just a bit more juice on it, and if Felix could have converted the lovely long ball Abraham played, he walks away a hero with one goal and an assist.
- Gianluca Mancini: A few rash challenges, including one that sent Joao Pedro careening into the ad boards, but he completed 80% of his passes and managed two clearances, one tackle, and one interception
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Roma's new utility man completed 74% of his passes, won two of three ground duels, and chipped in one key pass. We'll have to wait and see where he fits in once Rick Karsdorp is back in the starting lineup, but he's already starting to show his value in his first handful of matches with Roma.
- Felix Afena-Gyan: Whatever criticism you want to throw his way, just keep in mind that, for an 18-year-old, it's remarkable that he's even earned Mourinho's trust. The stats weren't kind to Felix last night, but the extent to which he's already commanding attention from opposing defenses is astounding.
- Eldor Shomurodov: He made the most of his brief cameo, firing one shot on goal and chipping in one key pass, but 15-minute spot appearances aren't exactly what Roma envisioned when they dropped €17 million on him last summer.
- Rick Karsdorp: Took four touches in only 11 minutes.
- Edoardo Bove: Only one minute of action, but his hair was fucking flawless, per usual.
- Dimitrios Keramtsis: Did you know he existed before last night?
Until next time...