The result didn't exactly live up to expectations, but, for the most part, Roma looked in complete control during their 1-0 victory over Salernitana on Sunday. With Nicolo Zaniolo and Paulo Dybala carving up the Salernitana defense, the stage was set for a three or four-nil thrashing, but thanks to a handful of missed chances, Roma was in danger of leaving points on the table. However, thanks to his quick thinking, Bryan Cristante emerged as the unlikely hero in the Giallorossi's opening day victory.
With the match scoreless and the Giallorossi failing to convert multiple times, Cristante found himself in the right place at the right time. After Tammy Abraham whipped the ball Luigi Sepe's way, while falling down no less, Cristante corraled the loose ball and took a quick touch before beating the Saleritana keeper at the far post.
José Mourinho's men created more chances after that, but Cristante's rebounded effort was enough to start Roma's season off on the winning foot. And in that light, Roma fans don't have much cause for complaint.
However, as we always do, we're going to separate the wheat from the chaff, the marshmallows from the boring cereal part, and the sinners from the saints.
We might as well start with the man of the hour, right? In a game he wasn't expected to start, Cristante became the Giallorossi's savior, capitalizing on his only shot of the evening. Outside of his goal, Cristante managed a game-high five tackles, intercepted one pass, cleared one ball, and won an impressive 10 of 13 duels. With the ball at his feet, Cristante managed a match-high 74 touches and completed 84% of his passes.
He may only be able to stave off Nemanja Matic and Georginio Wijnaldum for so long, but Cristante proved once again that he is a criminally underappreciated player. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, it's nice to have this sort of depth in midfield, isn't it?
He was sitting slightly deeper than we've grown accustomed to, but Pellegrini was no less effective last night. In 90 minutes, Roma's captain completed 83% of his passes while chipping in two key passes, firing three shots on goal, playing 12 balls into the final third, and completing two of three dribble attempts. He was no slouch behind the ball either, completing four tackles and picking off two passes.
At this point, Pellegrini is a complete midfielder and simply one of the best players in the league, if not Europe as a whole, so where he plays is almost immaterial—he'll still find a way to influence matches.
He was a matter of inches away from putting this match to bed, but as it stands, La Joya was Roma's chief creator on Sunday. In 88 minutes, Dybala took 46 touches, completed 84% of his passes, contributed three key passes, and even added three tackles for good measure. Something tells me he'll earn more definitive halos this season, but he did just enough to be canonized against Salernitana.
Yeah, he had a couple of dicey touches, but our #2 ranked U-23 player was otherwise pretty sharp last night. In 90 minutes, Ibañez took 66 touches, completing 92% of his passes, including 67% of his long attempts, while recovering eight balls, winning two tackles, intercepting two passes, blocking one shot, and clearing one ball.
Zeki Celik's day in the sun may have to wait a few more weeks if Karsdorp keeps this up. Despite being singled out by Salernitana in the second half, the 27-year-old full-back cleared three balls, intercepted one pass, and managed two tackles. In the attacking phases, Karsdorp completed 79% of his passes, fired one shot on goal (which hit the woodwork), and covered nearly 11 kilometers while maintaining a 34.9 hm/h sprint speed, the game's fastest mark.
In some ways, Spinazzola's night mirrored Karsdorp’s; he wasn't at his finest, but he was still pretty influential. In 90 minutes, Spinazzola completed 79% of his passes, created one big scoring chance, pulled off two successful dribbles, and played 11 balls into the final third while completing 33% of his crosses and 50% of his long passes. He also recovered eight balls and blocked three shots—the second-most in the match.
He was a Zaniolo miss away from dropping what surely would have been one of the plays of the season, but Mancini was as dynamic as ever last night. Taking 55 touches, Mancini completed 88% of his passes, including 67% of his long balls, and provided one key pass. Behind the ball, Mancini cleared one ball, blocked one shot, managed one tackle, and intercepted two passes.
Considering there were no egregious, game-changing errors and no one completely bottled it last night, we'll stow away the pitchforks and jump right to players stuck in between.
Stuck In Between
In case you're new around here, the Stuck In Between category is reserved for players who neither excelled nor fell behind—their performances were perfectly middle of the road.
- Nicolo Zaniolo: Man, what might have been, huh? On any other night, Zaniolo would have been the undisputed hero, carving through the Salernitana defense while posting an opening day hat trick and bulldozing anyone brave enough to try and dispossess him. As it stands, Zaniolo managed four shots on goal, chipped in two key passes, and drew six fouls while sprinting at a 32 km/h clip...but he did miss three "big chances." Still, you have to love the aggression with which he played and even the look in his eyes. If this was a taste of things to come, sign me up—the shots will eventually find their way to the back of the net.
- Chris Smalling: A typically quiet, self-assured night from Smalldini, who completed 95% of his passes, including 60% of his long attempts, won 67% of his duels, and cleared two balls. Even when he's barely noticeable, he's still excellent. He's writing quite the legacy with this club. You seldom, if ever, hear a bad word said about Smalling.
- Rui Patricio: He wasn't called on much, but he made two saves and one high claim en route to his first clean sheet of the year.
- Tammy Abraham: Pretty quiet night for Abraham, but he almost scored a cracking goal from the seat of his pants. With so much movement and capable playmakers surrounding him, he'll feast on chances this season.
- Georginio Wijnaldum: He only played 11 minutes but showed some good forward movement, though perhaps too good, as his would-be goal was disallowed after he was caught offside.
- Nemanja Matic: 22 minutes played, 88% passing, including two-of-two on long balls.
- Stephan El Shaarawy: A last-minute sub, SES still fired one shot on goal before the final whistle.
The first S&S of 2022-2023 is in the books. Let's hope for more halos next week after Roma hosts Cremonese!