With the 2022 FIFA World Cup interrupting domestic leagues all across the globe, our everyday football routines were thrown into disrepair. The predictable cycles of fact, fiction, news, and innuendo disappeared and were replaced by, well, nothing. Beyond the stray transfer rumor, which felt even more haphazard than usual, it was slim pickings for club football fans over the past few weeks. No Mourinho tirades to pick apart, no shots clanging off the woodwork, and no costly Roma Happened errors to keep you up at night.
As exciting as the past few weeks in Qatar have been, it didn't exactly whet our Serie A appetites. Yeah, it was great watching Mbappe and Messi turn yesterday's finale into an instant classic, but can that really compete with the pride, passion, and questionable officiating of Italian football? (Don't answer that.)
While we wait for Roma's next match, which is still a few weeks away, we've decided to resurrect one of our favorite matchday features, Sinners & Saints. Our traditional post-match player rating series fell by the wayside for much of the season. With the CdT crew balancing new jobs, new places to call home, holiday obligations, and, for one of us, a toddler, S&S became a victim of circumstance.
We hope to have S&S back in our regular post-match rotation in the second half, but with a few weeks still to kill before Roma's next match, we're pleased to bring you this special edition of Sinners & Saints, which encompasses the entire first half of the season.
So, without further delay, dust off those halos and sharpen those pitchforks!
We might as well start with the most obvious and, in some instances, depressing name on the list. Despite missing over a month with a hamstring injury, with seven goals scored in all competitions, Dybala remains Roma's leading scorer. Throw in his two assists, and only club captain Lorenzo Pellegrini has contributed more to Roma's offensive output.
From jaw-dropping goals to subtle switches of play and everything in between, Dybala has delighted Roma fans, showcasing a level of talent and skill not seen in giallo e rosso since Francesco Totti was pulling the strings at the Stadio Olimpico.
While Dybala was a bit player in Qatar (apart from his PK in the finale), his almost complete absence from the World Cup should bode well for Roma as they fight for a place in the top four in 2023. Without a healthy Dybala, Roma's chances are effectively nil, so his World Cup absence, as confusing as it was, could prove beneficial for the Giallorossi.
Per usual, Pellegrini hasn't been able to avoid the slings and arrows of the press, but the born-and-bred Roman has pumped in four goals and a team-leading seven assists in 18 appearances thus far. In addition to pacing the club in assists, Pellegrini leads the pack in key passes, shot-creating actions, and goal-creating actions. Without Pellegrini, Roma's already struggling attack would have been downright laughable.
He's had some down moments, some matches where he's disappeared or failed to play quickly enough, but Pellegrini has been the club's most dangerous player, not named Paulo Dybala.
It's hard to believe this kid just turned 24, but after a few years in the wilderness, the Brazilian center-back is starting to harness his talents. Yes, he still makes the occasional mistake, but Ibañez's understanding of the game is finally catching up to his considerable skills.
Through his first 20 appearances, Ibañez leads all Roma defenders in total tackles, tackles won, tackles in the defensive third, and interceptions while trailing only Chris Smalling in blocks and clearances. Ibañez has also made strides with the ball at his feet, pumping 49 balls into the final third (second to only Gianluca Mancini among defenders) while adding 18 shot-creating actions to the mix. He also leads the club in total passing distance, with an impressive 18,476 yards covered.
He's not the finished product, but his maturation may soon put him out of Roma's price range. Enjoy the site of Ibañez in a Roma shirt while it lasts.
Outside of Dybala, Smalling's sainthood was perhaps the biggest no-brainer on this list. The now 33-year-old English defender is playing as well as he ever for the Giallorossi, displaying a level of poise and intelligence that comes with 15 years in the top flight. And rather than going gracefully into the good night, Smalling continues to excel, so much so that he's still the subject of transfer rumors, with Inter Milan reportedly interested in his services.
Through 21 matches this season, Smalling leads the club in blocks and clearances while ranking second in interceptions and touches in the defensive third while only being dribbled past four times, the second-lowest mark among defenders. Add in his 89% passing and three goals scored, and Smalldini suddenly becomes a total football dream come to life.
And unfortunately, that's the end of our list of first-half saints. With high-profile players like Tammy Abraham, Andrea Belotti, and Nicolo Zaniolo, among many others, struggling to find consistency, the lack of halos shouldn't be surprising.
However, before we dissect Roma's massive midsection of middling performers, let's get the dregs, the players who have definitively fallen behind this season, out of the way.
Listen, I still love the kid, and I will quickly remind you that, at this same juncture last season (15 league matches), he only had four goals, so there is ample reason to hope he'll turn it around. Even when you drill the numbers down to the finer aspects of his position (shots on target, touches, etc.), Abraham still looks like the player who took Rome by storm last season.
The problem, at least on the surface, has been a matter of efficiency. From conversion rate (18% last season vs. 9% this season ) to goals per shot on target (0.40 last season vs. 0.23 this season), Tammy hasn't been as clinical or as efficient as he was in 2021-2022.
Now, whether this is a function of an extended run of poor form, an indication that he wasn't that special to begin with, or just a matter of his luck running out, we cannot say, and your answer likely depends on how much you rated him in the first place.
Whatever the case may be, Abraham hasn't been dramatically worse than last season, so there is hope for a turnaround—but it has to happen quickly. Otherwise, these inefficiencies will become less a curiosity and more a reality for the now 25-year-old striker.
Remember in the summer when Roma fans were worried about how Belotti and Abraham would co-exist? Well, I've got news for you: they co-exist just fine, mostly because misery loves company. After combining to score 30 league goals last season, Belotti and Abraham have found the back of the next a whopping six times in all competitions this season.
Belotti at least has the excuse of playing backup minutes, but if he wants to extend his stay in the Eternal City, he better start scoring soon.
As much as it pains me to put Zaniolo here, it's where he belongs. After returning from successive knee injuries, getting back on the pitch was priority number one for Zaniolo. With 14 appearances totaling 983 minutes, Zaniolo has at least been available, but with only two goals in all competitions, there hasn't been much bite behind Zaniolo's bark.
At 23 years old, Zaniolo isn't likely to become the global superstar many of us envisioned a few years ago. However, with his injuries woes behind him, he can still make a name for himself in Serie A. Cutting down on individual errors and becoming a bit more decisive in the final third will help, but to become The Kid, this kid needs to find the back of the net—by hook or by crook.
This one may feel a bit unfair since he's only played 300 minutes in all competitions, but the 25-year-old hasn't been up to snuff in 2022-2023. While he once looked like a solid rotation piece, Viña seems destined for a journeyman career, which could start as soon as next month if the rumor mill proves accurate.
Now, this one is a head-scratcher. While he's not the most athletic defender around, Kumbulla just felt like a Mourinho guy, the type of player who would excel under a hard-nosed manager. But with a pitiful 51 minutes of playing time in all competitions, that hasn't been the case.
Kumbulla may yet come good, but it won't be for Mourinho, and he may very well join the next name on our list of January exits.
Always a questionable signing by Roma GM Tiago Pinto, the 27-year-old Uzbekistani forward has been more of an afterthought that an asset for the Giallorossi, scoring only five goals in 46 career appearances for Roma. He has the physical tools, but he's just not up to Roma's standards.
Man, Roma may ship out quite a few players this winter, huh? Never the complete product, Karsdorp was at least a promising player, thanks to his size, aggression, and burst down the flanks. However, after a recent falling out with Mourinho, Karsdorp remains on the outside looking in and could see his Roma career end in January.
But with 682 mostly frustrating minutes, I'm not sure many fans will even miss him.
Another 2022 stalwart, Roma's veteran netminder, has taken a turn for the worse this season. With the usual caveat that a keeper's performance is a bit harder to quantify, Patricio hasn't been up to snuff this season. Some of his surface stats align with last year's performance, but his PSxG +/- has cratered to a -4.5, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
Okay, now we come to the confusing part, the players stuck in between. The following players showed out every now and then but spent most of the first half of the season dancing in the spaces between sinners and saints.
Stuck In Between
- Bryan Cristante: We might as well start with perhaps the most confounding player to ever wear a Roma shirt. You know the good (the long passing and the surprisingly efficient tackling), but you also remember the bad (the poor decision-making, slow movement, and hesitation). Add it all up, and he's the shoulder-shrug emoji personified.
- Gianluca Mancini: The yellow cards are way down, and he's right on Smalling and Ibañez's heels in most major defensive categories, but he just hasn't put together a consistent run of matches. At this point in his career, he is what he is, but you can do much worse for a third center-back than Mancini.
- Nicola Zalewski: After such an impressive cameo late last spring, big things were expected for the 20-year-old this season. And while he hasn't taken that "next step" yet, we must remember that he's only 20. He'll be fine.
- Nemanja Matic: Thrust into a more prominent role thanks to Wijnaldum's injury, Matic has one goal and an assist to this credit and has been a stabilizing presence in Roma's midfield, but he just hasn't done enough to warrant sainthood through his first 20 appearances.
- Zeki Celik: Signed to support and eventually compete with Karsdorp for the right-back position, Celik is poised for a more significant role in 2023, so let's hope the flashes of two-way play we've seen from the 25-year-old are legitimate—Roma needs more out of this position, full stop.
- Stephan El Shaarawy: Slotted in as Mourinho's first attacking option off the bench, SES has struggled, scoring only once in 538 minutes but has shown just enough aggression to avoid the pitchforks for now, but it was awfully close
- Cristian Volpato: His two-point performance (1G, 1A) against Verona was the obvious highlight of his 2022, but, much like Zalewski, we cannot forget how young he is, but with proper care and cultivation, Volpato can become a mainstay for Mourinho.
- Mady Camara: He wasn't part of the picture to begin the campaign, but after losing Wijnaldum so soon, Camara was a late addition to the summer transfer campaign. We've certainly seen flashes from the Guinean midfielder this year, but with a little more time to settle in, he can become a permanent fixture in Mourinho's midfield.
The following players, whether through injury, age, or lack of experience, haven't played enough to warrant classification: Georginio Wijnaldum, Giacomo Faticanti, Edoardo Bove, Benjamin Tahirovic, and Mile Svilar.