Talk about a lesson in extremes. With 64% possession, 86% pass completion, 22 key passes, and an almost unfathomable 31 shots on goal, Roma practically ran Spezia off their home ground last night, partially exorcising some of their recent creative demons in the process. Despite that prolific performance, we must still face a harsh reality. Even with those impressive possession statistics, and despite actually putting a higher percentage of shots on target than they normally do (32% last night vs 29% on the season), Roma struggled mightily in the run of play, watching in horror as none of their 31 attempts came close to troubling Ivan Provedel, who was sensational for Spezia on Sunday night and was easily the star of the show.
So, as one might expect in a stats-driven series like this, we find ourselves in quite a pickle. Much like a defender might rack up tackles when his team can barely hang onto the ball, when your side dominates possession and fires a shot on goal roughly every three minutes, your attacking players are going to look like geniuses, piling up shots and key passes seemingly at will.
Given that odd juxtaposition, compiling our list of Sinners & Saints becomes a bit more complicated. As a result, we have no other choice than to interject a bit more subjectivity into the proceedings than tradition allows.
It's a mess but let's dive right in...
With a subtle shift in the physics, Pellegrini's two curled attempts might have found the back of the net rather than the stands, making Roma's captain an undisputed hero. However, Pellegrini still managed an admirable shift last night. Going the full 90 (plus nearly 15 minutes of stoppage time between both halves), Pellegrini was Roma's busiest attacking player, unfurling seven shots on goal, three of which struck the target, one of which hit the woodwork.
In addition to those close calls, Pellegrini doled out four key passes, including one big chance created, completed 40% of his crosses, and chipped in three tackles. This was the closest he's come to being the real Pellegrini since his recent return from injury.
Always a controversial saint, Roma's understated midfielder put on a passing display last night. Playing the entire match, Cristante logged match-high totals in the following categories: touches, passes attempted, passes completed, passing percentage, balls into the final third, long passes completed (among outfield players), forward passes completed, and even total kilometers covered; he also added one key pass for good measure.
Granted, some of these are inflated given Roma’s possession rate, but again, Cristante led both clubs in each of those categories while also putting four shots on goal: two off target, one blocked, and one woodwork. Behind the ball, Cristante was nearly as busy, winning seven tackles to go along with 12 of 15 duels, though he was dribbled past three times.
If you're firmly anti-Cristante, none of this will sway you, but the dude can pass—that’s never been in doubt—and he did it with aplomb last night.
Bloodied, bruised, and battered, Zaniolo packed a week's worth of action into only 45 minutes. Despite not starting the game, Zaniolo still amassed five shots on goal (two on target, one off-target, and two blocked) and provided three key passes while completing 85% of his passes and being pressured 69% of the time he received the ball—the third-highest rate on both clubs last night.
The French midfielder had a quietly efficient 68 minute run against Thiago Motta's crew last night. Before being pulled out for Stephan El Shaarawy midway through the second half, Veretout was ticking like clockwork, completing 98% of his passes, winning all four of his duels, firing two shots at goal (one off-target, one blocked), chipping in three key passes, setting up one big chance and completing 50% of his cross attempts.
At this point, I have no idea what to make of Veretout, but he was solid as can be against Spezia on Sunday.
Considering his low-key demeanor, I'm not certain that Kumbulla can have anything other than a quiet evening on the pitch, but the 22-year-old Albanian was calm, cool, and collected in his 90 minute run. Given how little Spezia saw of the ball last night, Kumbulla's defensive stats are bound to be restrained, but Max won seven of ten duels, completed 87% of his passes (including five of six long passes), and even chipped in one key pass to go along with his two tackles and seven recoveries.
Given how quiet he is (or seems) on the pitch, Kumbulla will likely always be underappreciated but he's shown steady growth this season, especially when you consider he spent the first half of the season buried on the bench.
I'm writing this one without the benefit of any advanced match reports, so we can't completely account for Mkhitaryan's progression last night but Roma's veteran midfielder certainly kept the ball moving against Spezia. In 89 minutes, Mkhitaryan completed 46 of his 55 passes, including all six of his long attempts, while providing three key passes, and overtook an average of 3.83 opponents per forward pass, the fourth-highest mark among all outfield players. Mkhitaryan was also pressured 59.5% of the time he received the ball, the fourth-highest mark among Roma players.
Add all that up and Mkhitaryan was unflappable against Spezia, handling and deflecting whatever they threw his way last night while covering nearly 12 kilometers on the ground.
With a new contract extension in the works, Mancini turned in a stinker last night, making way for Zaniolo to start the second half after picking up his 11th yellow card of the season late in the first half. Prior to that, Mancini was barely noticeable for the Giallorossi, apart from nearly beating Provedel with an early-headed attempt. At 25-years-old, Mancini likely is what he is at this point in his career, so along with the tough-tackling and combative play, we have to put up with lapses like these.
Admittedly, part of his inclusion on this list stems from the accumulated frustration of watching €17.5 million go down the drain, but the 26-year-old winger failed to make an impact in his 10-minute cameo, losing possession once in only five touches, committing one foul, and failing to score on a rebound attempt in the 91st minute.
Hey, speaking of disappointing wingers...
Stephan El Shaarawy
As one of his biggest supporters, it always pains me to include him on this list. However, with SES serving as a bit player this season, he simply has to produce when called upon. Whether it's a second-half only appearance, a 10-minute cameo at the end of the match, or something in-between, as Roma's first attacking option off the bench, El Shaaraway has to at least make some noise when the enters the match, something he failed to do last night. In 22 minutes, El Shaarawy didn't attempt a single shot or dribble, though he did provide one key pass. However, in a game that was dying for some fresh legs to inspire Roma, he failed to deliver.
Stuck In Between
- Tammy Abraham: Whenever he’s not scoring (from the run of play at least), he always seems to end up here, doesn't he? Much like the club itself, Abraham operated at extremes last night, pumping a game-high eight shots on goal and providing two key passes. While that's all well and good, he put only 38% of those attempts on target and missed two big chances according to SofaScore, but he did score the match-winner on a 99th-minute penalty, so he came through in the end and still looks like the club's next star player.
- Rui Patricio: He wasn't called on much at all but stopped all three shots he faced. No complaints here.
- Rick Karsdorp: He overcame a sluggish start to wind up with three key passes while completing two of three crosses, yet you can't help but shake the feeling he should have been just a bit more precise last night.
- Nicola Zalewski: Played slightly out of position last night, the 20-year-old winger was pressed into service as a wing-back and responded with three tackles, two interceptions, and one key pass. It's still a bit early to predict how high his ceiling may be, but at the very least, he looks like an interesting rotation piece.
- Chris Smalling: 87% passing, two clearances, and two interceptions but he was otherwise neutral last night.
- Edoardo Bove: He only played eight minutes, but every single hair was in place and his chin still measured an exact 90 degrees. This handsome devil has a bright future ahead of him if only he could get a consistent chance.
That's it for this week's S&S, we'll see you after the Atalanta match next weekend!