When the tale of Roma's 2021-2022 season is written, the club's first under legendary manager José Mourinho, the first three-quarters of the book will likely feature uninspired narratives, irregular character development, and probably a few pages where the print runs outside the margins. However, despite all those issues—the disconnected plot points, the grammatical concerns, and even the typesetting errors—the ending remains riveting. No matter how dry or banal the prologue was, the author still manages to finish with a flourish, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very final page.
Such was the case yesterday against Salernitana, the 32nd chapter of the Book of Mourinho: Year One. In typical Roma fashion, the Giallorossi bewildered supporters with their ability to dominate a match while having absolutely nothing to show for it, yet they still pulled a last-gasp miracle out of their hats, thrilling the 60,000 spectators filling nearly every spare inch of the cavernous Stadio Olimpico with two late goals to down lowly Salernitana 2-1.
That win, slim though it was, kept the club's unbeaten run in the league intact; a streak that now stands at 11 matches. In fact, Roma hasn't lost a Serie A match since their disastrous 4-3 defeat to Juventus on January 9th; a match in which the Giallorossi led 3-1 as late as the 70th minute. A defeat to last-place Salernitana wouldn't have been quite as damning, but that level of embarrassment nearly defies explanation.
Considering all that, let's be thankful that Carles Pérez, Jordan Vertout, and Chris Smalling each rose to the occasion yesterday, and unsurprisingly, they're the first three names on our list of halos!
We've been doing S&S for nearly two years now, and believe it or not, it remains a work in progress but one thing has always been true in this series: 89 minutes of anonymity can be quickly be erased by one moment in the sun, which was certainly the case for Pérez yesterday. Entering the match in the 68th minute, Pérez only saw 17 touches against Salernitana, but with one sublime stroke of his left foot, he brought Roma back into the match, beating Luigi Sepe in the 81st minute with a deftly placed left-footed curler.
His time in Roma hasn't quite worked out the way he imagined, but yesterday was a reminder that Pérez can be a potential game-changer, albeit in small doses. I'm not sure where he'll end up in the future, but he's an easy kid to root for, so let's wish him the best wherever he winds up next.
Another man likely to don a new shirt next season, Veretout only saw 15 minutes of action yesterday but delivered one of the best free-kick assists you'll ever see, practically dropping the ball right on Chris Smalling's foot as he made his corresponding run to the far right post for the game-winning goal. And that was really the long and short of Veretout's shift: only 23 touches, 22 passes attempted, and one sensational assist.
Smalldini's 2022 resurgence marched on unabated against Salernitana, as the veteran defender turned in another masterful 90-minute performance. In addition to his game-winning goal, Smalling completed 91% of his passes, won two of three duels, fired one shot on target, cleared one ball, and won his only tackle attempt. This definitely wasn't an overwhelming numerical performance from Smalling, but he continues to make a compelling case for a new deal with the club.
A solid player and citizen, Smalling represents everything we love about the sport, so let's hope he's able to end his Roma career on his terms.
Now we're talking! This is the Oliveira we saw when Roma first brought him aboard in January: the understated yet brilliant maestro of Mourinho's midfield. Prior to getting the hook in the 68th minute, Sérgio was arguably the best player on the pitch, spraying passes every which way but loose, completing 88% of his attempts, including five of nine crosses, seven of eight long balls, 17 balls into the final third, and an impressive four key passes, the highest mark in the match.
Behind the ball, Sérgio was nearly as impressive, winning five tackles and 12 of 17 duels. Mr. Oliveira certainly had a busy and effective night at the office for Roma yesterday. We'll have to accept the fact that he disappears for brief stretches, but when you can bounce back like this, the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Roma's other veteran midfielder was certainly no slouch against Salernitana either. In 90 minutes, Mkhitaryan was second to Sérgio in key passes, doling out two shot-assists for Mourinho's men last night. Apart from his playmaking, Mkhitaryan completed 83% of all passes, fired two shots on goal, intercepted two passes, completed three tackles, and won 67% of his duels.
It's still tough not to stop at marvel what Karsdorp has achieved this year, especially when his Roma career seemed dead in the water so many times over the past few seasons, but the 27-year-old persevered through a series of injuries and continues to thrive in 2022. Much like Smalling, the counting stats don't tell the full story, but Karsdorp still dished out two key passes yesterday while completing 93% of his passes, including 40% of his crosses and all three of his long ball attempts. There doesn't seem to be a team in sight that can stop Karsdorp from getting forward and driving the ball back into the box... now, if only there were more people waiting on the other end.
While he wasn't quite as prolific as his midfield partner Oliveira, Cristante still managed to stuff the stat sheets against Salernitana: 80% passing, 11 balls into the final third (fourth-most in the match), nine duels won, four tackles, and five interceptions, all while covering nearly 10 kilometers on the pitch.
It feels like it's been ages since we've placed a halo upon Ibañez's head, and while he wasn't exactly at his best last night, he was still pretty damn good. Playing the entire match, Ibañez did a little bit of everything: 11 duels won, three tackles, one interception, one clearance, eight recoveries, two successful dribbles (from two attempts), and a game-high 68 passes completed.
Given Salernitana's lack of punch up front, he spent most of yesterday's match as a passive observer. However, with a pair of key saves under his belt, without which neither Pérez nor Smalling even gets the chance to be a hero, Patricio was perfect when called upon, and in a match like yesterday's, you can't really ask for much better than that.
This list would have been a lot longer were it not for Pérez, Smalling, and Veretout’s combined heroics, but there were still a couple of minor down notes from Roma’s 2-1 win on Sunday.
I feel like we have to put an asterisk next to his name every time he's on this list, but we can't hide the fact that this kid is just that: a 19-year-old kid. But for every blazing run he makes into the box and every hustling play he makes to keep the ball alive, the head-scratching moments where hesitation or a simple lack of confidence gets the best of him still rear their ugly heads from time to time. Such was the case yesterday, where Felix hesitated to shoot after being set up by Mkhitaryan early in the second half while missing a wide-open header later in the match.
None of this dulls our excitement about his potential, but we'll have to expect growing pains like these for a little while longer.
After an excellent run of form, Kumbulla turned in the rare 2022 clunker yesterday, failing to leave an imprint on the match: only one duel won and one tackle completed. Given the brevity of that sentence, you can likely guess we're not too worried about Kumbulla, who really is starting to live up to his enormous potential.
Stuck In Between
These fellas were decidedly middle of the road yesterday, not falling behind but not exactly leading the pack, and we’ll start with the increasingly maligned Eldor Shomurodov, who played pretty well in his second-half stint yesterday.
- Eldor Shomurodov: He didn't play much (only 23 minutes) but he made the most of it, chipping in two key passes, firing two shots on goal, and completing four of his five passes. Definitely one of the more promising performances we've seen from Shomu in 2022.
- Nicolo Zaniolo: Playing the entire second half, Zaniolo immediately asserted himself in the pecking order, firing off a game-high six shots (two on target, three blocked, one off-target) while completing two of three dribbles. The aggression wasn't the issue, but the misses are starting to pile up and you have to wonder if that will make him increasingly hasty in the final third going forward.
- Nicola Zalewski: The Polish kid with the thick Roman accent had a decent shift last night, taking 24 touches and completing two tackles in a little more than 20 minutes. And in case you need reminding: He’s still playing slightly out of position.
- Stephan El Shaarawy: In 68 minutes, SES managed two tackles, one interception, completed 86% of his passes, set up one shot, and won three of four duels.
- Tammy Abraham: A pretty quiet evening for Abraham, who must be feeling the accumulated effects of so many minutes this season. Going the full 90 again, Abraham didn't attempt a single shot and completed a pitiful 46% of his passes, though he did chip in two tackles to the defensive effort.
That's it for this rendition of Sinners & Saints. Hopefully, we'll return with more good news after Thursday's Conference League matchup against Bodø/Glimt.