Sunday's 2-2 draw against Salernitana was a lesson in extremes. Roma began the match down Paulo Dybala, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and manager José Mourinho due to suspension, while the entire city was still mourning the loss of legendary former player and manager Carlo Mazzone.
Despite those dour circumstances, the Stadio Olimpico was bathed in sunlight, and the crowd, restless after three months with no football, was in full voice. And when Roma took the pitch in their beautiful, sponsorless SPQR kits to the refrains of Roma, Roma, Roma, the stage was set for an unforgettable afternoon in the Eternal City.
And when Andrea Belotti appeared to score the first goal of the match, and his first league goal for the club, the player and fans seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief as if 365 days of torment had suddenly been lifted.
But Roma's elation was quickly rendered moot as Belotti's goal was disallowed for offside, paving the way for a 96-minute emotional tug of war. Belotti's disappointment lasted only 10 minutes before the club's new number-one striker finally found pay dirt, settling a long ball from Diego Llorente to put this club in the lead.
Then disaster struck, as Antonio Candreva and former Roma center-back Federico Fazio teamed up to level the match with a well-orchestrated give-and-go that seemed to catch the entire team off guard.
Candreva, who has become a harvester of Roman souls over the past few seasons, dug the dagger even deeper in the 49th minute, scoring a sensational left-footed goal to put tiny Salernitana back on top, paving the way for an opening day upset.
But cometh the moment, cometh the rooster. With his side pegged back and seemingly out of ideas, Belotti scored a dramatic, albeit odd equalizer, using the hump of his back to beat Guillermo Ochoa off a Leandro Paredes corner kick.
It was a frustrating match in many respects, but win, lose, or draw; you can't help but be happy for Andrea Belotti, who needed a performance like this to silence his doubters and perhaps keep his job as José Mourinho's top striker.
So, it should come as no surprise he leads the charge in the first Sinners & Saints of the season.
Four shots, two goals, 76% passing, and two fouls drawn. We've seen grander stat lines from Roma players before, but not many carried this level of significance. If Andrea Belotti is truly back to his goal-scoring ways, Roma just might make it this season.
Stephan El Shaarawy
This is a borderline saintly performance, but given how dry Roma's attacking well ran this afternoon, SES' hard-charging runs were a welcomed site. And, who knows, if his last-ditch attempt on Ochoa met a gentle gust of wind, blowing it slightly to the left, Roma takes all three points. As it stood, El Shaarawy ripped off two shots, completed three dribbles, was a perfect two-for-two on long balls, and completed his only cross attempt.
Lovely Leo's return to the Olimpico wasn't the triumphant return many hoped for, but the Argentine midfielder completed 88% of his passes, chipped in two key passes, and assisted Belotti's equalizer—a pretty tidy return for only 25 minutes on the pitch.
Roma's new midfielder didn't impact the match from an attacking perspective, at least not directly. Still, with three key passes and three accurate crosses (from four attempts), he was the club's only viable link-up option this afternoon.
Any fears Llorente may stumble in his new, full-time role were abated on Sunday. In 90 minutes, Llorente dropped a beautiful assist in Belotti's lap on Il Gallo's first goal while completing 84% of his passes, winning seven of eight duels while chipping in one interception and one tackle.
Earning a surprise start in the opener, Roma's new right-back did little to make you believe he can supplant either Rick Karsdorp or Zeki Celik as the club's new starter. He didn't make any egregious mistakes, but he completed only 72% of his passes and coughed up possession nine times in only 27 touches.
The good news for Kristensen is simply this: Karsdorp and Celik aren't exactly Mourinho favorites, so he'll have plenty of chances to improve upon his first appearance.
Onto the guys stuck in between.
If you're new to this series, these players neither stood out nor fell behind; they were perfectly average.
- Gianluca Mancini: A missed semi-sitter and a somewhat calculated gamble that contributed to Candreva's first goal. But, apart from that, he was solid.
- Renato Sanches: He played pretty well in his 25-minute cameo and nearly set up a game-winning El Shaarawy goal. He looks like a hard runner and one of the few players willing to take the initiative. He should carve out a prominent role sooner rather than later.
- Edoardo Bove: A rather ho-hum afternoon for our top U-23 player, but he chipped in three tackles and one key pass in 65 minutes.
- Leonardo Spinazzola: He had one key pass and hit on five of eight long balls but couldn't seem to complete a cross to save his life. He was off this afternoon, but Roma needs his contributions to have any chance at the top four.
- Bryan Cristante: Completed 87% of his passes, won half his duels, and added three tackles.
- Nicola Zalewski: Barely noticeable in his 25-minute run
- Rick Karsdorp: See above
- Chris Smalling: A quiet evening for Smalldini, but he completed 89% of his passes, completed one tackle, intercepted one pass, and cleared one ball.
- Riccardo Pagano: Congrats on the debut, kid!
- Rui Patricio: Not much he could do on either goal, but he looked pretty uncomfortable when Salernitana pressed high early in the match.