If ever there were a match meant to test the Old Roma vs New Roma dynamic, not to mention your patience, surely this was it. The Giallorossi started the match off with a gift from the gods, Juventus dropping points at home versus Sampdoria, and the manna from heaven didn't stop there, either. Approximately thirty minutes into the match, Genoa's wunderkind, Mattia Perin, was sent off with a straight red for taking down Radja Nainggolan, gifting Roma a one man advantage for a full 60 minutes.
Something about this seemed familiar, yet foreign, easy, yet daunting. That something is the very dynamic to which I just referred; no matter how well things go, our souls are simply too scarred from past traumas to think things will ever workout for the better.
Juventus had just dropped points at home, the opposing keeper, who was sure to befuddle us, was sent off, giving Roma a one-man advantage for a full hour.
Surely, it wouldn't be this easy, right?
The ghosts of Old Roma reared their ugly heads once more when Genoa's substitute keeper, Eugenio Lamanna, making only his second appearance of the season, stepped up and saved Adem Ljajic's penalty shot. Hopes were dashed, foreheads were smacked, curses were placed. We've seen this movie before, and it seldom ends well.
But the pessimists among us didn't rule the day, so how exactly did Roma manage to avoid the pitfalls of their past?
Let's take a look
As one would expect, given their man-advantage for two-thirds of the match, Roma held statistical sway this afternoon.
Case in point, Rudi Garcia's rotation, which included five forwards this afternoon, ripped off 19 shots to Genoa's seven, while creating two-and-a-half times as many chances as the Grifone, making Roma's lone goal look even more pathetic. Though Roma did manage to put 10 of those 19 shots on target, with all but five coming within Genoa's 18-yard-box, forcing Perin/Lamanna into nine saves; perhaps on a different afternoon, Roma would have managed more than one goal. But in terms of converting shots into goals, Roma was woeful today, so we should consider ourselves doubly fortunate that Genoa's equalizer was called offsides.
Given Roma's offensive struggles over the past few weeks, we should take today's performance as a step in the right direction, the man advantage notwithstanding. Despite their lack of efficiency in the final third, Roma moved the ball well and showed no reservations in letting it fly from dangerous areas, penetrating into the deepest reaches of Genoa's final third with remarkable ease.
Radja Draws a Red: 29th Minute
First off, what a great set up by Miralem Pjanic, not only did he thread a perfect ball through to Nainggolan, but notice how his movement drew the attention of three Genoa defenders, including Nicolas Burdisso who was ostensibly covering Gervinho, meaning Pjanic could have made the same play in either direction. Remarkable.
After receiving Pjanic's through ball, Nainggolan took a couple of quick touches and looked like he was setting up Perin for some sort of body feint, but Perin wasn't having any of that, instead diving right for the Belgian's legs. While some may accuse Nainggolan of embellishing, they'd be missing the point; Radja's touch, hesitation, and side stepping gave Perin pause, which caused him to make such a rash decision in the first place.
A smart, subtle play by inarguably Roma's best player this season.
Nainggolan Goes Full Ninja: 40th Minute
In a moment befitting his nickname, Nainggolan did his finest Bruce Lee impression, picking the ball out of midair in a stunning, Ninja-esque side volley, sticking his right foot on the ball as his body was contorting in the opposite direction.
However, before we marvel at the goal, let's give credit to Maicon and the officials. Maicon was the alpha and the omega on this one, starting off the series of events by laying it off to Ljajic just past midfield. Rather than sitting back and observing, Maicon trailed the flow of the play, and was able to pick up the loose ball following Ljajic's failed take-on/dive attempt. Not only did Maicon track down and win the 50-50 ball, but he created separation and served up a perfect cross to Nainggolan.
An absolutely beautiful series of events, one that might have been scuppered had the officials blown the whistle when Ljajic went down, and one that highlighted the attributes of two of Roma's most important players, Nainggolan's movement and ever-improving offensive game and Maicon's nearly unparalleled playmaking from the flank.
We talked about the Numbers, the Nainggolan and now it's time to examine the narrative in the wake of this victory. For a club suddenly banished from Europe's elite competition, Roma couldn't have asked for a better way to renew their title chase. While it wasn't as pretty or as overwhelming as the numbers suggested, Roma were able to grab three points on the road on a day when Juventus actually dropped two points...at home, and although they squandered many chances to put the match out of reach and were almost done in at the death once again, Roma now sit one solitary point behind the Old Lady.
Going forward, we're left to ponder two questions. First and foremost, what, if anything, will Walter Sabatini do to reinforce the squad this winter? Will he play it conservative and just fill in the gaps, or go hog wild and try and land Matteo Darmian?
Secondly, how will Rudi Garcia approach Roma's impending Europa League fixtures? A trophy is still a trophy and Roma's advancement in the NIT of European football might actually improve their Champions League seeding next season, but the Europa League just doesn't have the same panache as its more esteemed colleague. So the extent to which we see the Totti's, Pjanic's and Gervinho's in this tournament versus, say, the Paredes', Uçans and Skorupskis of the world will shine some light on the seriousness with which Garcia approaches this tournament.
In any event, Roma are once more right in the thick of the title hunt and close out the calendar year with a home match against AC Milan.
So, was this match a harbinger of better, more fluid things to come, or merely another example of Roma narrowly avoiding self destruction?