Going into such a critical match without Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, Roma was, in many ways, already behind the eight ball. But, when you throw in a makeshift lineup and an injury to Kevin Strootman barely ten minutes into the match, things, as you would imagine, tend to get worse.
Despite all that, despite running out a left flank featuring Gervinho, Michel Bastos and Alessio Romagnoli, despite losing their most critical midfielder in only the 13th minute, Roma still did enough to win this match.
#Garcia: "We played with maturity and personality. We didn't deserve the result but that's football. The best team doesn't always win"— A.S. Roma (@OfficialASRoma) March 9, 2014
Roma outpassed, outpossessed and created more scoring chances than Napoli. They committed fewer fouls, won more corners, tackled with greater success and even blocked more shots.
So, what went wrong?
Well, in the broadest sense, they were done in by some atrocious passing in the final third. Perhaps we'll discuss Rudi Garcia's decision to start a lineup sans-a traditional striker another time, but the three men he did roll out--Alessandro Florenzi and the aforementioned Gervinho and Bastos--each completed less than 80% of their passes, with Florenzi completing only 71%, the worst of Roma's non-traditional trident.
Florenzi's passing troubles were really twofold: On the one hand, he only attempted 24 passes, the vast majority of which were miles away from Napoli's goal, contributing little and threatening no one. On the other hand, when you only attempt 24 passes and complete less than 3/4ths of those, well, there's your problem right there.
Bastos' problems really mirrored Florenzi's, though he was twice as involved in Roma's passing game. It wasn't all bad for Bastos, however. He did create three scoring chances, put two shots on goal and had two successful dribbles. Of course, he also turned it over three times and was dispossessed twice more.
For Gervinho's part, it was pretty much what we've grown accustomed to; he drives the defender deep towards the end line, pumps the brakes and either cuts in himself, or plays it back towards the edge of the box. Only in this instance, his passes were either intercepted or vanished into the rather large spaces the Napoli defense created between Roma's forwards.
Give credit where credit is due, however. Gervinho was, once again, Roma's only direct threat at goal, testing Pepe Reina five times.
Napoli really did a wonderful job of increasing the space in between Roma's wings and the centerforward, resulting in numerous ill-played long balls from Bastos, Florenzi and even Radja Nainggolan. The problem wasn't that Roma couldn't move the ball, the problem was that, once they got to where it mattered most, Napoli created enough separation between Roma's component parts to render their passing and playmaking effectively moot.
#Garcia: "You also need a bit of luck to score. Our shots grazed the woodwork while theirs hit the bar and went in"— A.S. Roma (@OfficialASRoma) March 9, 2014
Poor passing in the final third and poor spacing in the attack in general, that was the general story of Roma's second Serie A defeat of the season. In the immediate sense, Napoli simply capitalized on a minor mistake by Roma's youngest player. Alessio Romagnoli, who, I might add, was still playing out of his natural position, simply lost sight of Jose Callejon, who headed home Faouzi Ghoulam's 81st minute cross. We've certainly seen more egregious errors from many a Roma player, but given his age and unfamiliarity with the position, it's somewhat understandable.
#Garcia: "If we play like that we'll certainly win many games. The problem this evening isn't the loss"— A.S. Roma (@OfficialASRoma) March 9, 2014
And that was all she wrote. Roma did the necessary dirty work; they just didn't have the final touch this evening. However, Roma still hold a three point lead over third place Napoli, not to mention the game in hand against Parma.
While Roma's continued struggles without Francesco Totti and the injury to Kevin Strootman are matters for concern, in the grand scheme of things, Roma is still in control of her own destiny.