This should be a grand celebration and a moving tribute to 500 occasions of lung busting sweat and fist pumping passion for one of the finest players to adorn the shirt and captain’s armband of this storied club. A 3-1 victory at home should leave the stadio rocking and produce wild predictions of a solid run at the title.
Yet the stars just don’t seem to be aligning for Roma, at least for the moment. Both the international break and the ongoing Curva Sud protests, and possibly the dullest half of football in living memory managed to suck the oxygen out of Daniele’s big day.
First things first, 500 matches for the one club is a truly grand achievement for a player who has captured the eye and conquered the world of football with his brand of fire and brimstone midfield play. The yang to Totti’s ying, Daniele De Rossi is a fine ambassador of the city and AS Roma and it is fitting he got himself on the score sheet to secure the points in today’s match. CDT salutes you Capitano Futuro.
For his milestone match Rudi placed our bearded treasure back at the base of the midfield as Castan made a very welcome return to the first team alongside Manolas while Torosidis filled in for Dougy at RB and Digne stayed at LB. Florenzi got another run in midfield along with Pjanic while Salah and Falque split themselves behind the forehead of Gervinho to form a 4-3-2-1 that sort of ebbed and flowed between a 4-3-3.
As the game kicked off the absence of the Curva Sud and the state of the heavy pitch stole the attention away from the players. Those that had played midweek for their international sides seemed a step or two off the pace and a little tired. Florenzi struggled to match his usual hustle and bustle while Pjanic was happy to see most of the play dictated at the back by DDR and sent down the left channel of Digne and Falque.
This wide play managed to bring up the timeless riddle of who to cross the ball to in a giallorossi shirt. The problem on this occasion being that the foreheaded spear at the tip of Roma’s attack was the aerially challenged Gervinho, who was able to match his inability to head the ball with a bewildering insistence on starting runs from offside positions. Gervinho is surely the punch line to the Rudi/Roma joke that just can’t seem to shake off the cobwebs of slow build up play and a lack of cutting edge.
The first half was notable in the way Empoli managed to whiz the ball on the deck around the sluggish Roma midfield, with Leandro Paredes showing promising glimpses in his blue shirt and earning a friendly late kick from Miralem that saw him into the book.
The only saving grace for Roma was the performance of Digne, the young man who is arguably the first name on the team sheet these days. Every time he had the ball at his feet he showed confidence and spark belying his baby face and painfully awkward haircut.
As the second half kicked off in the disturbingly quiet stadio, it suddenly dawned on me that Empoli had more sponsors on the their shirts than Roma had key passes completed. The blues pegged back Roma for the first ten minutes and gave Shez baby and Castan plenty of passing practice between themselves whilst not allowing Roma enough consistent ball to develop any momentum.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, in the 55th minute just as Nainggolan (that name never gets easier to spell) was poised to enter the affray, Florenzi made a nifty run through the middle and was clipped in the heels a couple of yards outside the box in the ‘Miralem Pjanic Zone’.
Pjanic lined up his target as Ninja came on for Falque (who was presumably hooked for not having the last name Gervinho) and then went and did precisely what we all knew he would do. With a supreme right-footed tweak he lofted the ball over the wall and spun it past the reach of a panicking Skorupski (welcome back buddy!) into the top right hand corner of the net. This guy is lethal from this range. Praise the lord for free kicks!
It was at this point that anyone watching the match live on television via a broadcaster whom I shall refrain from naming (rhymes with Dein!!!!) was treated to a catastrophic failure of both vision and audio. Black, dead air.
Minutes later, while those of us frantically tried to summon the TV gods to cease their cruel interruption, Miralem Pjanic fired an inswinger from the corner flag straight onto the noggin of Mr 500 himself! Daniele De Rossi launched skyward and directed a dagger header past Roma’s old number two keeper and into the net.
Il Capitano Futuro! The bearded warrior! His name is probably on your Roma shirt, Daniele De-frikkin-Rossi!!!
Two set plays, two goals. Boom.
When asked about the goal after the game Dani offered this little gem.
"We’ve only done really badly on corners in one match. It’s strange that we scored on a corner today when we fielded the seven dwarves!"
Roma’s completely impotent attack was now two goals to the good. Pjanic was taken off for a rest and on came Ucan (is it just me or is that afro of his changing colour to orange, why would someone do that?). In more or less the next play ninja threaded a wide through ball to Gervinho who sped past his defenders and somehow cut the ball back for Salah to rifle home a class finish to put Roma three up with twenty minutes to go.
For all those playing at home that is two substitutions and two immediate goals. All hail Rudi!
This goal was a classic Rudi Garcia winger goal. Salah did extremely well to outpace the defender in front of him and connect with a convincing finish past the keeper while Gervinho proved just how valuable he is to a team who is winning by two goals with a penetrating run into the danger area.
Low and behold Roma had gone from completely toothless and clueless to suddenly crushing Empoli.
The rest of the game is kind of irrelevant, Shez baby showed just how notorious his flappy hands can be by letting a low long shot from some character called Buchel into the net while Florenzi got a rest at the 79th minute for that Vancouver dude who looked quiet good whilst the Roma defence basically stopped playing football.
What had begun as an indictment on Rudi Garcia’s brand of football and the sheer hopelessness on placing Gervinho alone upfront, ended with a happy scoreline and a fitting celebration to the bearded warrior with the white captain’s armband.
Given the proximity of the international break and the intimidating fixtures coming up for Roma both in Serie A and Europe, there isn’t much of a need to analyse Rudi and the boys too harshly. It was a handy run out for Castan who was solidly unspectacular and was nice to see Dzeko was not needed to be wheeled out to snatch the points at the death. Roma’s fragility at the back, particularly in the latter half of matches will remain a concern for the foreseeable future meanwhile the safe return of Totti and Dzeko remains an important cog in getting the best out of Salah, Gervinho and Falque.
Let’s enjoy the three points and second place in the standings before the rather daunting trip to Germany on Tuesday. Pack your lederhosen!