If you wanted to gauge the excitement and atmosphere heading into this match, you didn't need to look much further than the Curva Sud, where none other than Rodrigo Taddei was firmly planted among Roma's most fervent fans, setting the tone for the raucous atmosphere in Roma's season opener.
Whether it was because of that divine presence or not, Roma held sway in what turned out to be a quite a tense match.
As one would expect, given the new faces on the field and the tension in the air, the first 15-20 minutes were all about spreading the touches around and keeping possession of the ball. Indeed, through the first 15 minutes, Roma managed only three shots, none of which could have been considered dangerous.
It seemed that Vincenzo Montella's order of the day was to set his defensive shell up deep in his own third, allowing Roma all the freedom in the world until they reached the final third and ran out of useful attacking space due to Fiorentina's defensive congestion. It was, to borrow an NFL term, a prevent defense; just sit back and take the blows but prevent the big play.
But that big play did indeed come Roma's way, but not by any measure of brilliance from Francesco Totti or moment of athletic awe by Gervinho, no Roma seized upon a Viola turnover to grab the early lead.
(not the best quality, but it shows the initial turnover that lead to the break)
In the 28th minute, Radja Nainggolan took advantage of some careless passing from Joshua Brilliante in the Viola half. After intercepting the ball, Nainggolan immediately headed up field and found Gervinho flying down the left flank towards the Fiorentina goal. Gervinho's left footed attempt was immediately turned away by Neto, who was unable to control the deflection, which fell right to Nainggolan's feet; there was no touch needed and no hesitation, he just buried it giving Roma the 1-0 lead.
The remainder of the first half would see Montella's men press a bit further up the pitch, but the remaining 20 minutes of the first half played without incident for either club.
The second 45 broke much the way you would expect to, with Fiorentina pushing the issue, desperately seeking an equalizer. To their credit, they did manage to stretch Roma's defense far more than the first 45 minutes, but thanks to a few shrewd and well-timed tackles from Ashley Cole and a huge save from Morgan De Sanctis, not to mention his Manuel Neuer-esque midfield clearance, the Viola's efforts went for naught.
But, as you're all aware, it simply wouldn't be Roma if you weren't chewing on your fingernails, throwing foreign objects around the room and/or scaring your household pets as you scream at pixilated Gervinho, who wasted two opportunities early in the second half to put the match away--once ignoring a wide open Totti in the middle of the six yard box, then once more as he blasted a shot right at Neto in the 59th minute.
Gervinho, much as he did last season, managed to atone for himself, putting the match officially away in the 93rd minute, taking an extraordinary feed from Nainggolan and slotting it past Neto to win the match and send Rudi Garcia skipping back to the locker room
It was a tense affair, but on the balance of the day, you have to say Roma dominated. Nainggolan and company held 57% possession, completed 88% of their passes and doubled Fiorentina's offensive output, outshooting Montella's men 20 to 10.
With that in mind lets quickly...
Revisit the Keys to Victory
Daniele De Rossi's Role
DDR started off in his usual midfield role, but eventually shifted back to the defense when Kostas Manolas was taken off in favor of Seydou Keita in the 67th minute. Regardless of where he played, De Rossi was his usual effective self, intercepting six passes, making two clearances and completing 94% of his match-high 77 passes.
Boxing in Borja Valero
While this task ultimately fell to the club as a whole, they did a damn fine job removing Valero from the match. Valero made 51 touches, attempted only 39 passes, and didn't create a single scoring chance. Roma did an excellent job keeping Valero out of any dangerous areas, effectively making any touches or passes he attempted useless and ineffective.
Valero is a criminally underappreciated player, so we can't underestimate how important this was to tonight's victory.
Mario Gomez vs Davide Astori
Not much to report here; Gomez made only 24 touches and managed only one shot, while Astori was pretty innocuous tonight, contributing only two interceptions and one clearance, though he did complete 94% of his passes.
The New Guys
We didn't specifically pick these next players out in the preview, simply because we didn't know if they'd play, but let's take a quick, quick look at Roma's debutants today, Kostas Manolas, Seydou Keita, Juan Iturbe and Ashley Cole
Cole was involved early and often, making 10 touches in the matches first 10 minutes, playing the withdrawn role while Vasilis Torosidis ventured further forward on the right flank. Besides his game changing tackle that snuffed out a promising Viola counter, Cole managed two interceptions and completed 91% of his passes. All in all, it was a solid debut for a man making a huge adjustment.
Juan Manuel Iturbe, aka Manu, was fantastic, destroying the Viola defenders on the right flank throughout the first half. Iturbe's total package was on display tonite (that doesn't sound right)--he pulled off three shots, dribbled past three defenders, threatened from the spot, drew three fouls and even completed 85% of his passes, far better than his average last season. Defensively, while the numbers won't bowl you over, Iturbe was key in shutting down Viola's feeble attempts at catching Roma off guard; his commitment and closing speed was unlike anything we've seen from that position in years.
Are you starting to sense why he was so expensive and so sought after?
Considering the circumstances in which he entered this game, coming to the club a mere four days ago, Manolas was quite effective. Roma's new #44 played 67 minutes, completed all 25 of his passes, made one tackle and contributed four clearances and four interceptions, one of which was right in the six yard box.
He wasn't perfect by any means, flubbing a few tackle attempts, but considering how green he is, you have to be happy with this performance.
Keita was as advertised; solid but not exciting. He made a couple of smart defensive plays and was crisp in the passing game. He may have even smiled at the end. I don't know, can't be certain about that.
See above. Astori wasn't terribly involved in the action today, at least from a statistical standpoint, but you have to give him credit for helping to cancel out Gomez.
Usually we ask who was the man of the match. But, I mean, come on, Nainggolan was flat out nasty tonight. Besides scoring the match's first goal and setting up the second, he was a terror in the midfield, leading Roma with four tackles and intercepting two passes; he was just everywhere Roma needed him to be, covering large swaths of the midfield bodying-up defenders and closing down space. But let's get back to his offensive contribution.
First off, let's just appreciate the assists on Gervinho's goal, it was perfectly timed, weighted and placed, catching Gervinho exactly in stride.
For the evening, Nainggolan completed 88% of his passes, including five chances created, while taking three shots on goal and beating two defenders off the dribble.
Ladies and gentleman, your man of the match.
Sooo, yeah, it was fun actually talking about and watching Roma, right? Well, don't get used to it, thanks to the international break next week, Roma won't play for another two weeks.
Okay, back to the silly season...