After defeating Feyenoord 1-0 last night in Tirana to capture the first-ever Europa Conference League title, Roma tasted European success for the first time in over 60 years. I doubt many of us were drawing breath when the Giallorossi toppled Birmingham City to host the 1960-1961 Inter-Cities Fair Cup, so this was quite literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. It wasn’t the most resounding victory we’ve seen during José Mourinho’s first season in charge, but thanks to some stellar defensive efforts, the Giallorossi were able to weather the storm, turning away 13 shots from their Rotterdam rivals.
While this may have been an exceedingly rare event, all the hallmarks of a typical Roma match were on full display last night: brief periods of intensity, long swaths of pointless possession, questionable calls / non-calls from the officials, and moments of pure genius that immediately made you forget your troubles.
It wasn’t easy, but it was quintessentially Roma. However, considering the weight of the moment, we’re going to stow away the pitchforks for this rendition of Sinners & Saints. After all, this is a cause for celebration!
Let’s get one thing clear: Nicolo Zaniolo may have scored the game’s only goal, but there is no Conference League trophy without Rui Patricio. Roma’s 34-year-old keeper saved the best for last, turning away all five on-target shots he faced, making two saves in the box, and snaring two balls out of thin air.
With only 25 touches, he didn’t see a ton of the ball and was woeful passing it (only 30%), and lost possession 12 times, but The Kid rose to the occasion when it mattered most, scoring the only goal of the game with a sensational chip over keeper Justin Bijlow in the 32nd minute. Considering how much he’s overcome the past two years, it was great to see him end the season on a high note.
Not to be outdone by the first two names on this list, Roma’s yellow card machine turned into a Man of the Match-level performance yesterday. In 90 minutes, Mancini cleared two balls, picked off one pass, blocked one shot, and managed five successful tackles, second only to his (hopefully) future teammate, Marcos Senesi.
Oh, and he set up the title-winning goal with an absolute dime to Zaniolo from at least 30 yards out, reminding us all that he is, in fact, so much more than a bruiser.
We’ll continue our defensive theme by shining a light on Chris Smalling, who put on another masterclass last night. Going to full 90, Smalldini completed 89% of his passes, won 80% of his duels, cleared four balls, blocked three shots, and completed two tackles.
Whether he was working under the watchful eye of Paulo Fonseca or Mourinho, Smalling continues to be one of the shrewder signings in recent club history, earning almost universal praise from the Roma faithful, who hold him nearly as close as any non-Roman / non -Italian in recent memory.
Joining his backline mates on our list of Saints, Ibañez’s best traits were on full display last night. With six clearances, four interceptions, one tackle, and a 100% duel success rate, Ibañez’s athleticism, tenacity, and anticipation were easy to spot last night in Albania. There’s some question surrounding his future with the club, but when he, Mancini, and Smalling are clicking, Roma’s defense is practically impregnable.
Cristante wasn’t at his absolute best last night, but with an enticing blend of passing prowess and defensive acumen, Cristante’s floor continues to rise; his down notes are much less noticeable than years past, or even just a few months ago if we’re being honest; he’s been fantastic in 2022.
Going gavel-to-gavel last night, Cristante cleared four balls, intercepted one pass, and completed five tackles while completing nearly 80% of his passes and winning 10 of 14 duels.
No pitchforks today, but not every man in maroon did enough to warrant a halo, so let’s wrap this up with the players who were …
Roma was fortunate to avoid any major individual errors last night, nor did they really leave the door open for Feyenoord too often, but these fellas were a step behind our saints.
- Jordan Veretout: A late second-half sub, the Frenchman provided a quick burst of energy for the Giallorossi, firing one shot on goal, completing 89% of his passes, and creating two shots for his teammates.
- Rick Karsdorp: Noticeably bothered by a groin injury throughout the match, Karsdorp’s contributions were somewhat limited against his former club. In 89 minutes, Pretty Ricky managed little more than one clearance and one tackle while hitting on only 67% of his passes.
- Tammy Abraham: Man, if only he’d taken that dive, we could have breathed a little easier! Tammy spent much of the match isolated up top, as evidenced by his one shot on goal.
- Lorenzo Pellegrini: He swung in some nice setpieces and had one really clean look at goal but he wasn’t up to his usual standards last night. But any time a local kid wins a title for his fellow Romans, you won’t catch us complaining.
- Nicola Zalewski: Pretty quiet evening for the 20-year-old, who lived and died by the sword last night, completing two dribbles of his own while being dribbled past five times.
- Leonardo Spinazzola: He didn’t do much by the way of statistical accomplishments, but you can already sense that once he’s back up to speed, Roma is going to be incredibly dangerous.
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Done in once again by his pesky thigh injury, Mkhitaryan lasted only 17 minutes against Feyenoord.
- Sergio Oliveira: The closest sinner on this list, Oliveira looked tired, passive, and confused last night far a far cry from the influential figure that joined the club in January.
- Eldor Shomurodov / Matías Viña: Two combined minutes as clock killers. But hey, they got to celebrate in their kits rather than a tracksuit!
That’s it for the final matchday Sinners & Saints of the season, but be sure to check back next week as we attempt our first ever S&S: The Entire Season.