After a successful Sunday trip to Sardinia in which José Mourinho's men dusted off last-place Cagliari in a relatively simple 4-1 victory, Roma, once the most beleaguered team in Italy, head into the international break riding a three-match win streak. And not only that, thanks to Sunday's victory, the Giallorossi have now won five of their past seven matches in all competitions while sporting a healthy +12 goal differential over that span.
Thanks to these efforts, Roma heads into the international break firmly ensconced in 10th place on 11 points, only three points adrift of Serie A's European places. After a bleak beginning to the season, it seems that all hope is not lost. Roma has taken advantage of a relatively soft spot in their schedule, defeating Empoli, Frosinone, and Cagliari with very little fuss.
With fixtures against Inter Milan, a home-and-home against Slavia Prague in the Europa League, and the Derby della Capitale against Lazio in mid-November, things will be a bit trickier for Roma after the break, so why not continue to bask in Sunday's victory by passing out some halos!
I mean, what else needs to be said? We knew it was a big deal when Roma landed Lukaku, but did any of us envision this? From the minute he took the pitch against Milan, you knew Mourinho had finally found his alpha, the type of player who can whip his teammates into shape with little more than a foreboding glance.
But Lukaku has been so much more than Mourinho's on-pitch avatar. With seven goals in eight matches, Lukaku has been Roma's savior, almost single-handedly dragging the club out of the Serie A basement. And then there are the things you can't quantify. By dint of his sheer presence, Lukaku is able to manipulate time and space for his teammates, giving them opportunities that may not have existed last season.
He’s been a joy to behold, but he wasn't the only new signing making his mark yesterday in Sardinia.
With two assists, 81% passing, including five of seven long balls, and a team-high 55 touches, Lovely Leo was at his best yesterday, passing the ball to his heart’s delight. Throw in his 67% duel success, two clearances, one interception, and one tackle, and Roma's new number 16 was instrumental in the club's dismantling of Claudio Ranieri's Cagliari.
The Andrea Belotti Rejuvenation Tour was on full display yesterday at the Sardegna Arena. Making an unexpected appearance in place of the injured Paulo Dybala (sigh), Belotti made the most of his 50-minute run on Sunday, scoring one goal, winning nine duels, drawing four fouls, and successfully completing two dribbles. Belotti's 59th-minute goal, his third in the past two matches, pushed his season total to five in all competitions.
While losing Dybala stings, there's no doubt that Belotti and Lukaku are striking up an interesting chemistry in the final third.
While his brief Roma career has endured more peaks and valleys than we'd like, the 25-year-old Algerian midfielder turned in arguably his best performance in a Roma shirt against Cagliari. In 69 minutes, Aouar completed 86% of his passes, won five of nine duels, drew three fouls, and, of course, scored the first goal of the match, converting a Leonardo Spinazzola pass in the 19th minute.
In 90 minutes yesterday, Spinazzola turned in a quietly effective performance. Stepping back from his usual bombastic style, Spinazzola found brilliance in discrete, singular moments. Take, for example, his assist to Aouar in the 19th minute, a ball so exquisitely played that the league should charge a separate fee just to watch it. In addition to setting up Aouar's first-half goal with an expertly chipped ball into the box, Spinazzola contributed two key passes, two tackles, and one clearance to the Roma cause.
Another new signing off to a slow start, the 24-year-old Ivorian defender put in a solid 90-minute shift yesterday, completing 89% of his passes while clearing six balls and blocking one shot. Ndicka also chipped in one key pass, a big chance created, according to SofaScore, while hitting on two of three long ball attempts. If he's able to string together a few more performances like these, fans may forgive his slow start and begin singing his praises.
After brief dalliances with Rasmus Kristensen and Zeki Celik, Mourinho seems to have settled on Rick Karsdorp as the club's top right-back. During his tumultuous tenure with the club, Karsdorp has been written off as a bust more times than we can count, but the same tools that made him so enticing, to begin with—pace, agility, and aggression—have enabled him to recapture his starting spot.
In little more than an hour yesterday, Karsdorp completed 72% of his passes while setting up Lukaku's first goal with a well-struck ball across the face of goal, catching the big Belgian striker in stride for what turned out to be the match-winning goal.
Given the ease with which Roma won yesterday's match, we'll dispose of the pitchforks for today and jump into the muddled mess in the middle.
Stuck In Between
These players neither excelled nor struggled yesterday, instead finding themselves in our post-match purgatory.
- Edoardo Bove: Five tackles, one clearance and 76% passing in 90 minutes. You may not have noticed Bove yesterday, but his baseline performance keeps getting higher—he's the future of Roma's midfield and a leader in the making.
- Paulo Dybala: He managed only 40 minutes yesterday, hitting on 17 of 18 passes and chipping in one key pass. Please be okay, Paulo. Please!
- Bryan Cristante: Six clearances and 85% passing as a make-shift center-back; not too bad. Apart from his handball late in the second half, Cristante was pretty solid but was fortunate that his gaffe came after the match was all but over.
- Gianluca Mancini: A pretty quiet evening for the usually brash Mancini, who managed only one clearance and two duels won in 90 minutes.
- Zeki Celik: Only saw 11 minutes of action but completed his pass attempts.
- Rasmus Kristensen: In 21 minutes, the Danish full-back completed a pitiful 20% of his passes and cleared two balls.
- Riccardo Pagano: 21 minutes on the pitch may not seem like much, but this kid clearly has Mourinho’s confidence
- Rui Patricio: With only one save, Patricio wasn't called upon much yesterday and had little to chance on Nahitan Nandez's well-struck penalty.
That's it for now, but Sinners & Saints will return after the break!