This game was about two reactions. The reaction going into the game with only one piece of major silverware left to fight for and the reaction after Antonio Di Natale's goal early on in the second half. On Sunday, more than any other day this year, they reacted like champions. I can honestly say today was the first day this season I've thought they had It.
The opening session was Roma's, with a few interspersed Udinese counterattacks thrown in; surely a disappointment to go into the half without having scored. Whether they were buoyed by the presence of Totti or kicking the scudetto push up a notch - probably both - they were undoubtedly in Udine for three points and no less. Arriving in Udine knowing they were a class above, and it showed.
For me, the epiphany appeared to come immediately after the Udinese goal, when Roma - despite the Panucci/Doni shenanigans - promptly marched down the field and put in a real retaliatory effort, as if to say "game on". From that point forward, it appeared they kicked into a higher gear, raising their game one more notch to simply get it done. And that's it. They just got it done. Sure, it was pretty at times, but they stayed composed, stayed confident, stayed focused and imposed themselves on Udinese until they broke. And it didn't even take Mirko's smooth finish for Udinese to break. It was quite clear the question was not if Roma would score, but rather when and, more to the point, how many. A single goal was almost a certainty; multiple a real possibility.
Mirko's goal opened the coffin and threw the striped body in, and Rodrigo's goal, putting Roma just one ahead, felt as if the coffin had been slammed, nailed and nestled firmly under six feet of earth. I think this game is what we've been hoping for, and we finally got our "reaction of champions". Time will only tell whether or not they'll be bestowed with the actual title.
Unfortunately, Fiorentina didn't match Roma's exploits, and aside from a short stint in the Nerazzuri half, they spent much of the time getting trampled, forcing Sebastian Frey to put on a clinic. Roma remains four points back, with just five games left to make up ground. But at least Roma has Il Capitano back, waving his wand; a very good start, because La Magica is still incomplete without Francesco.
UDINESE (3-4-3): Handanovic; Zapotocny, Coda, Lukovic; Ferronetti (79' Zapata), D'Agostino (83' Pinzi), Inler, Dossena (77' Floro Flores); Pepe, Quagliarella, Di Natale. A disp.: Saulo, Isla, Eremenko, Colombo. All. Marino
ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni; Cicinho, Panucci, Mexes, Tonetto; De Rossi, Pizarro; Taddei, Perrotta (62' Giuly), Vucinic (91' Antunes); Totti (76' Brighi). A disp.: Curci, Juan, Esposito, Mancini. All. Spalletti
ARBITRO: Rizzoli di Bologna (Griselli-Calcagno; 4° Celi)
MARCATORI: 52' Di Natale, 64' Vucinic, 70' Taddei, 90' Giuly
NOTE: Ammoniti Dossena, Pepe, Totti, Taddei. Recupero pt 2', st 4'.
Doni: Who woulda thunk Doni would end up the game as the brighter of the two keepers? If you raised your hand you're lying through that big gap in your teeth, Pinocchio. Handanovic was the Down Syndrome baboon on the day, and made Doni look fantastic simply by default, though I'm not sure he needed it. Alex stopped at least two 1 v 1's and kept Roma in the running for the full three points. 7
Cicinho: Just a very solid game. Constantly involved, walked through the Udinese midfield often and was good on the defensive end. 7
Mexes: I've often thought half his brain power is in the hair, Sunday was confirmation. Chopped half the locks off, going for the 7 year old girl look, and appeared to have lost his mind on that header back to Doni with Toto flying in. Really made up for it with some vicious tackles and smart defensive work, especially in the second half. 7.5
Juan: R.I.P. Chivu must've touched him on his way out of town, because the dude is quite clearly cursed. Or maybe there's just an injury running through the CB department, afflicting everyone not named Philippe. Think about it: Andreolli passed on long ago, I'm not even sure he managed a Spalletti ass slap before moving on to Vicenza; Matteo Ferrari has battled injury much of the year after missing the first month, now down with surgery when his agent's wallet needs him most; and Juan, who misses three games for every one he plays. Ridiculous stuff. And you know who's the only person to benefit from this? Christian Panucci. Given he's thrown down with half the squad plus Luciano this year, I don't doubt for a second he's involved somehow.
Grumpy Old Man: (OMR now = GOM.) Just want to get this out of the way before we discuss what crawled up his ass: He saved the day real early, notably when Pizaman was faking himself out with Cruijff turns inside the Roma box. After that....meh.
Now, it actually looked like Doni was the more heated of the two and the one pressing the issue, but given than GOM has taken to having Mancini-esque mood swings with a slice of violent tendencies on the side, the blame's going to go almost entirely to him (hard to tell what started the argument, did almost look like GOM yapping at Doni, despite Doni looking apologetic). Strangest of all this is that GOM has the most accomplished resume (thus far) of anyone on the roster aside from that Totti guy. Of course, maybe that's precisely the problem. Maybe his current status doesn't equate to his own perceived status, or his prior status.
I love the presence he's provided, and I love the versatility he now provides, but three separate incidents now - grizzled veteran or not - and you really have to wonder what that does to team chemistry. Spal has swept it under the rug, and I'm sure he and Doni will do the same tomorrow, but three in one year is a bit much. Especially when one of those is the coach.
Will wait til tomorrow to see what's said regarding the argument, but my early inclination is he needs a talking to - at the least. 6.5
Tonetto: It's come to the point where he has some good games and he has some bad games. This was the latter, getting caught up high too many times and that abysmal header to kick off the second half, resulting in Toto 1 v 1 with Doni. Over the last month I've gone from thinking Roma needs a vice-Tonetto to Roma needs a Tonetto. Today didn't do anything to dispel that thought. 6.5
DDR: Caught a bit of KA-itis going to the trigger early and often without a whole bunch of success. Udinese had next to nothing going in the midfield, guess who was a big reason why. 7
Pizaman: You know what's funny? When he fell down participating in his own little skills competition in the box, I didn't even flinch. Didn't yell, didn't move. Did nothing, because it's the type of thing we've come to expect from him once or twice a game. Had that resulted in a goal, I might have flown to Rome, kidnapped and hid him in a dungeon for the next decade so that he was never able to don Giallorosso again. Luckily for him, GOM (still OMR at that point) saved the day.
Besides that, he was fantastic, and upgraded to superb on that ball to Vucinic for the first goal. Has zero pace whatsoever, but runs touchline to touchline when necessary. Easily made up for his earlier gaffe, thankfully. 7.5
Taddei: Putting aside the goal for a second, let's look back to that play when Totti fired over the bar because Udinese's fourth centerback the ref stuck a boot in. Simone was pulling out wide because there was no room to move in and he dumped off to Taddei, who one-timed a perfect no-look pass through the defense into a waiting Francesco on the spot. Rodrigo obviously hasn't been on a scintillating run of form as of late, and it's plays like this which can forecast a 180 degree turn in the wings.
Then, of course, there's the goal, which was a smooth switch of the foot and perfect placement. Quite possibly could've had a second also. Considering the obvious defensive responsibilities he had to fill as well on that dangerous Udinese left hand side, he was my MOTM. I think he turned the corner today, and that could be a big difference maker down the stretch. 7.5
Perrotta: Probably had a brace, maybe a triple, if some of the service wasn't so strong. A solid performance from Simone. 7
Vucigol: He might be as good on his feet as he is when going to ground. That goal was by no means a gimme, and he actually almost had to wrap his leg around Pepe for a chance to finish. Infinitely dangerous, and unlike Amantino this year aside from that 6 week stretch of fury, he often capitalizes. It may be a bit early to say, but he has probably earned the starting left wing spot for now and perhaps even going into the summer - which means you know what. Whodathunkit? 7
Totti: Looked like a man who'd spent the last couple weeks on the shelf, but a man who has a bag of tricks like no other. Even a fairly immobile Totti is a game changing force, spraying balls onto the runs off of him. His touch will get better as he gets back into form - he took a beating during the Empoli game as well, kicking off this lengthy run - and he'll get back to Jesus form as the race gets down to the wire. 7
Ludovicious: Whenever he comes off the bench I have this feeling they'll get a goal. I just didn't think they'd get three today. Splendid finish, and exactly what we were hoping for last summer. And did you see him wave off Pizarro after he was flying over to celebrate with him? Wonder if David took the last booster seat at dinner last night. 7
Brighi: Looked like a coked up Simone bombing back and forth for a quarter hour today. Missed a chance to make it 3-1 after that absurd tackle he had no business making, but fed Ludovicious anyway for the final nail in the coffin. Really don't know how much more, aside from a brace with one on an Aurelio after doing a cartwheel, Spal could've asked from him in 15 minutes. 7.5
iTunes: Hey, he played. N/A
Roma’s Identity Crisis v Udinese’s Counter: The centerbacks actually were mostly able to stay back well enough through the game, but there were occasions when Simone Pepe could've translated War & Peace into Italian and fathered a bastardized child before Max Tonetto could get within whiffing distance of his Old Spice. And I'm not even sure Max noticed. On two occasions Doni saved the day, so it wasn't to difficult to see why Udinese's counters are so dangerous, but Roma kept a very dangerous attacking side in check with a back line reminding no one of a brick wall. Winner: Roma
Simone’s Stamina v Inler & D’Agostino: Inler and D'Agostino were alright, Gaetano better than Goky, but nearly the entire Udinese offense came on the wings (let's see: DDR + Mexes v Max + Cicinyo....hmmmm). GDA threatened a couple times, but neither were really enough to break out the adult diapers at any point (although assuredly many were already sporting the Depends in anticipation of the Antonio Di Quagliarella supersized Napoletano combo meal - totally understandable). Winner: Simone
Handcuffs v Fabio Quagliarella: There were some loose, "I just found these in my dresser drawer", occasions, but he's had better. A LOT better. Winner: Toy handcuffs.
Francesco v Health: A solid 75 minutes, three points and no news of tear-jerking "knocks"? I'll take it and run. Winner: Francesco
MOTM: Rodrigo, for the splendid finish on the deciding goal and a solid all-around performance - plus extra credit for hopefully getting back on track.
4.16: Catania (Coppa)
4.19: Livorno (20th)
4.27: Torino (14th)
5.4: @ Sampdoria (6th)
5.7: @ Catania (Coppa)
5.11: Atalanta (11th)
5.18: @ Catania (15th)
Seven games, perhaps eight, remaining, and three will be against Catania. Nice. The danger for Roma, as always, is with the lesser teams, but I can guarantee everyone here to a man (and woman) would take this over a tour of next year's Champions League participants and hopefuls.