After eight years of writing about Roma, I can comfortably say that this club has trained me to expect the worst when playing a smaller side. In my gut, a draw or a loss always feels far more likely against a club like Hellas Verona than a win, let alone a clean sheet victory. Yet that’s exactly what the Giallorossi delivered today, keeping pressure on Inter Milan, keeping pace with AC Milan, and pulling just a little bit further away from Atalanta.
This win wasn’t always the prettiest, but it didn’t need to be; what it needed to be was a showcase for some players who don’t always get into the starting eleven when the whole squad is healthy.
Of course, the main story has to be Ola Solbakken’s first goal in a Giallorossi kit (more on him later), but overall, I was pretty impressed that when two of Roma’s biggest stars had to take the night off, the rest of the squad stood up under pressure and got the necessary result.
That bodes well for Roma’s challenge for a Champions League spot; it bodes even better for The Friedkin Group’s attempts to keep Paulo Dybala and José Mourinho in the Eternal City after this summer.
Naturally, Ola Solbakken is the first sainthood recipient after today’s match. The Norwegian attacker was finally given a start by José Mourinho, and he paid The Special One back with interest. In his seventy minutes played, Solbakken turned his .31 xG into the game-winning goal, won several ground and aerial duels, and was able to get fouled in key moments that allowed for the Giallorossi to continue to apply pressure even after they went up. Hopefully, Solbakken gets more time on the pitch soon because, in his first chance at extended play, he’s certainly impressed me.
Ah, Bryan Cristante. The man who is somehow one of Roma’s most debate-inspiring players was SofaScore’s player of the match today, notching a 7.8 rating thanks to a 79% pass completion rate, 11 won ground duels, and 4 accurate long ball passes. Is he ever going to be Prime Daniele De Rossi? No, but he looked tantalizingly close to that against Hellas today.
Roger Ibañez, Chris Smalling, and Rui Patricio
This was a clean sheet victory, and whenever that happens, you can usually congratulate Roger Ibañez, Chris Smalling, and Rui Patricio for that feat. Gianluca Mancini, who’s in our Stuck In Betweens section, had some hotheaded moments in this one, so he hasn’t achieved sainthood, but between Ibañez, Smalling, and Patricio, Roma kept Hellas Verona to only one shot on target for the whole ninety. That’s what’s needed when the Giallorossi face smaller sides; give them no chances whatsoever, and build from that strong defense.
I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant when I saw that Spinazzola was back In the starting lineup. He was so promising in the twelve months leading up to the 2021 Euros, and then injury struck at the worst possible moment. He hasn’t looked the same since, really, but today gave us another glimpse of why he lit up the world of football when he was playing in the Euros.
Spinny’s assist to Ola Solbakken was simply sublime, and beyond that, he showcased his ability to balance offensive and defensive duties magnificently. Four accurate long balls, 2 key passes, a 71% pass success rate, and no fouls: Nicola Zalewski might be making an excellent case to be Roma’s permanent answer at left wingback, but don’t count out Spinazzola just yet.
Rick Karsdorp: He’s still working himself back into the squad after his exile, so I can’t be too harsh on him, but in his seventy minutes, Slick Rick didn’t look that slick. Give me a week or two before I’m too worried about that, though; as Mourinho said in the post-match, we don’t have a Maicon or Cafu right now. We need to work with what we have.
Zeki Çelik: See the above comment. He’s no Cafu, but in his twenty minutes, Çelik was fine. Expect investments at right-back in the summer if Roma can afford it.
Nicola Zalewski: Zalewski came in for Solbakken in the 70th minute and put in a good shift. Nothing super extraordinary, but it’s interesting to note that Mourinho played Zalewski as far more of an attacker today. Is that a signal for a permanent shift away from left wing-back once Spinazzola is truly at 100 percent? I certainly hope so.
Andrea Belotti: Belotti came in after Tammy Abraham pulled up with an injury in the fifteenth minute and proceeded to do basically nothing. I don’t know who cursed Gallo when he was leaving Turin, but clearly somebody did.
Edoardo Bove: Bove once again showed glimpses of potential, and I’m excited to see how he continues developing this spring. Not too much of note to say about his performance today, but he looked like he belonged. That’s a big step for a 20-year-old midfielder.
Gianluca Mancini: Hothead. That’s what Gianluca Mancini is, and today was a good example of it. He’s balanced out well by Smalling and Ibañez, so it’s not the end of the world, but still, these matches frustrate me because I know Mancini is capable of better.
Stephan El Shaarawy: El Shaarawy was decidedly fine and gave Roma another reason to consider renewing his expiring contract this summer. But he wasn’t as exciting as Solbakken today, and his two shots on target and zero successful dribbles weren’t much to write home about from his 87 minutes on the pitch. He still looks better than Zaniolo did towards the end of his time in Rome, but that’s a low bar.
Gini Wijnaldum: Hi, Gini! Good to see you again. Hopefully, we move past the “three-minute cameo” portion of your recovery soon.
No sinners in a clean sheet win, particularly when rotation due to injury didn’t result in a draw or a loss. 1-0 might not look too impressive on paper, but Roma should feel proud.