After having the last Serie A fixture called off due to torrential rain, Romanisti worldwide were feeling the itch. Thankfully the club is still competing in the Coppa Italia so we all didn't have to go a full two weeks without a match. The rain didn't stop, but it calmed down enough for there to be a game.
Never the man known for making excuses, Napoli boss Rafa Benitez made sure to let the world know that Roma had an advantage by not having a weekend fixture while his club were throttled 3-0 by Atalanta. He may be right (he is right) but you'll never get anywhere complaining about your mother and complaining about Mother Nature is beyond silly.
The match itself was quite the thriller. It started slow for Roma, they looked a little out of it and sluggish, with perhaps the oncoming derby on their minds. Napoli was definitely more threatening when the match kicked off. After surviving a few scares, Il Capitano sent Gervinho in one on one with one of his trademark first touch through balls. Gervinho hopped past RÃ©veillere and over Pepe Reina to score while RaÃºl Albiol tried to pull his shorts off (see image).
The match settled down after the goal, as if Napoli were reminded of who they were up against. Then Kevin Strootman unleashed a bomb that left Reina helpless. It was a perfect strike that made it feel as if the entire tie was already settled. There was a chance to make it 3-0 before the half but a combination of Gervinho flipping a tails and Maicon's brain saying "Smash" ruined it. Morgan also gave some lip to Maggio before the half was officially finished.
Roma was a little fortunate to be up 2-0 and seemingly coasting towards the Coppa Italia final but it was practically right off from the second half kick-off that a deflection from Mehdi Benatia's foot was enough to spook Morgan De Sanctis into flapping an own goal into the net. His reaction said it all. "You know me, it happens." Yes, yes we do. I guess that's why we do our best to not let others shoot on goal. We still love you, Morgan.
That goal was enough to change momentum and made Roma the new look like old Roma. You know, the kind that never chokes in the second half and absolutely loves playing in the rain. The equaliser eventually came at the hands of Dries Mertens, after Benatia was tied up with Gonzalo Higuain and Leandro CastÃ¡n got scared and fell. The camera cut to Benitez numerous times during the match and he was always looking a little distraught, sharing his troubles with the linesman. It was only after the score was level did he finally sit back down to finish writing his grocery list for the weekend.
The centreback pairing didn't have their best night. A few players didn't, but nobody was terribly terrible. Maicon wasn't as dominating. LjajiÄ looked like he showed up after an all-you-can-eat buffet and Morgan, well, Morgan got shot at today so we should feel sorry for him. It could have been the weather, it could have been rust (although, what's the difference between 6-7 days and 9 days between matches?).
Rudi sent out the expected substitutions; Mire Pjanic early for Radja Nainggolan (who picked up a yellow and will saved from having to go to Napoli next week), Mattia Destro for Francesco Totti & Alessandro Florenzi for Adem LjajiÄ. There was a clear push for the victory as going to the south with a draw and two away goals conceded was going to be a tricky task. Luckily, a De Rossi tackle launched a short but quick counter that led to Destro & Florenzi combining to send Gervinho in on goal where he punished Reina again. It was a great way to end the match and makes the return leg a little bit easier to prepare for than a draw. The performance was far from perfect, but it was still enough to defeat Napoli.
Gervinho - He's been in fine form with four goals in the last three fixtures. He had gone cold for a little while so it's nice to see him doing well like he did in the beginning of the season. The longer he can keep it up the better.
Daniele De Rossi - He wasn't the most influential player on the pitch but he did a lot of work today. The truth is I'll put his name in any time I can mention it. His tackle that led to Gervinho's second goal won us the match anyway. So all credit goes to him.
Kevin Strootman - Always a star, even without screaming wonder goals. It was a lovely strike and he actually had more of the ball and made more passes than anyone on Roma today, even De Rossi. I love Kevin and so should you. I've already named my washing machine after him.
Who's your man?
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Daniele De Rossi