In our match preview, we speculated that Torino's backline would be tough to break down, especially compared to the sieve that was Empoli's defense. Once Romelu Lukaku broke the deadlock halfway through the second stanza, it felt like Roma should have three points in the bag. However, the man passed over in favor of Lukaku, Duvan Zapata, who would have the last laugh as Torino nicked a point off Roma late.
It was Roma's fourth match in five with dropped points, leaving the Giallorossi with just five points in five games and sitting 13th in the table. It was a missed opportunity to make up some ground on a weekend where Lazio, Napoli, and Juve dropped points before Roma's kick-off. So, with that in mind, let's look at three things we noticed in Roma's latest slip-up.
#1: Big Rom Is Still a Game Changer
Throughout the first half of the match, Torino's backline did a great job of nullifying the effects of Romelu Lukaku. Alessandro Buongiorno stuck close to Big Rom, limiting him to just one-half chance that would've been a superb finish if it had found the net. However, one can only hold down a striker of Lukaku's quality for so long.
The match was a slog for Roma's offense for most of the evening. But Lukaku proved once again why Roma leaped at the opportunity to sign him at the end of the summer mercato. In the 68th minute, Lukaku reiterated that he only needs the slightest chance to punish a defense.
Big Rom positioned himself perfectly between Buongiorno and the ball before pushing off the Torino center back to cooly slot the ball home past keeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. It was a crucial goal in a match where Roma struggled to put the ball on frame. Unfortunately, Lukaku was canceled out by Duvan Zapata in the 85th minute. Nonetheless, Big Rom is living up to the billing with goals in three straight matches.
#2: The Re-Reinvention of Bryan Cristante
When Bryan Cristante arrived from Atalanta in the summer of 2018, he was coming off a nine-goal, two-assist season in Gianpiero Gasperini's free-flowing football. However, out of necessity, Cristante has played more as a deeper-lying midfielder and even plenty of matches at center back in his time in Rome. That seems to be changing this season.
With the arrival of Leandro Paredes, Mourinho has given Cristante more free reign to push forward in the center of the park. With Paredes playing as the regista and dinking balls forward like Cristante did the last few seasons, the Italian found himself in more goalscoring positions than a season ago.
Last weekend, he was the man on the ball that forced Empoli defender Alberto Grassi to score an own goal. That was followed by a thunderbolt of a finish for a goal that went along with two assists. Then yesterday, we saw Cristante make a lovely run, flicking the ball off the post. In the match, Cristante finished the match with Roma's highest xG at 0.7.
With a goal and three assists in all competitions, Cristante is well on his way to his most productive offensive season in the capital. And in the process, he's actually raised his loose ball recoveries per match, which shows he's contributing at both ends of the pitch. Haters be dammed, Cristante continues to be indispensable for the Special One.
#3: Mourinho's Strange Substitution Pattern
In yesterday's match, Jose Mourinho used just two of his available five substitutions. It was an odd move, considering Roma was trying to first find the back of the net for so long before attempting to hold onto a 1-0 lead for the last 20+ minutes. In the 70th minute, Nicola Zalewski was brought on for Stephan El Shaarawy. Then, in the 87th minute, Andrea Belotti was brought on for Leo Spinazzola, with Roma desperately needing a late winner.
Granted, a couple of key players like Chris Smalling and Renato Sanches were unavailable, and Lorenzo Pellegrini probably didn't have much to give from the bench. However, with Roma up a goal and some players fatiguing, this felt like a match where Edoardo Bove could've been helpful to break up play in the center of the park—shifting to a 3-5-2 from the 3-4-1-2. Perhaps Houssem Aouar for an underwhelming Paulo Dybala?
With Mourinho recently suggesting that some players still need to find peak fitness, it's a bit head-scratching that Mourinho would elect only to make two subs in three straight two-match weeks.