The Artemio Franchi was absolutely jumping as Roma and Fiorentina took the pitch, immediately setting the tenor for this early season six pointer. The Viola had the crowd and the stellar home record on their side, while Roma was desperately seeking a big win that would not only validate their recent form, but put them on top of the Serie A table.
Usually I like to include some sort of preamble in these reviews, but the mood of this matched changed quickly, and I mean quickly. In only the sixth minute, Mohamed Salah, source of all Viola vengeance on the evening, cracked open the match with a lovely bending goal, virtually silencing the raucous crowd in the process.
Mohamed Salah: 6th Minute
Roma managed to transform a near turnover into one of their best goals of the season thanks to some heads up play by Radja Nainggolan, Miralem Pjanic and Salah. After Salah's initial entry pass was turned away by the Viola defense, Nainggolan quickly pounced on the loose ball, dispossessing Federico Bernardeschi, then immediately hopping to his feet to shuffle it back to Salah.
From there, it took a sublime give and go with Pjanic--who settled the ball and waited the briefest of moments as Salah made his diagonal run before laying it off to the Egyptian, who then curled it past Ciprian Tatarusanu--to give Roma the early lead.
Gervinho: 34th Minute
You can watch a million football matches and probably never see a quicker and more direct counter attacking goal. There was no wasted movement and no unnecessary touches, just a remarkable long ball from Alessandro Florenzi and Gervinho's otherworldly athleticism.
Credit Daniele De Rossi for breaking up the play to begin with, but this goal was all Ale and Gervinho, though you have to wonder if he even considered laying it off to Salah.
Despite losing the possession battle, Roma won the first half where it counted, on the scoreboard, but could they keep the foot on the gas, or were they in store for another second half calamity?
The second half picked up right where the first ended, with Fiorentina pressing and Roma countering, nearly pushing the lead to 3-0 in the 48th as Pjanic's right footed effort was off-target. At this point in the match, Garcia firmly shifted his side into a counter-attack oriented 4-5-1, a subtle change that produced great results.
Roma's concerns in this half were twofold: First, how would Garcia counter Sousa's offensive substitutions and could Roma withstand the Viola's second half surge? Well, conveniently enough for us, Garcia opted for the two birds with one stone approach, subbing off Pjanic for Vasilis Torosidis.
Broadly speaking, and at the very least, the second half was a 50/50 affair, with both sides nearly banging home goals; the score could just as easily have ended 4-2 or 4-3—there was no let up from either side. Fiorentina kept pressing, particularly as the half wore on, nearly grabbing another couple of goals, but Roma's defense was ultimately spared thanks to an offsides call and some fortuitous deflections.
At various points past the 80th minute or so, Illicic, Kalinic and even Giuseppe Rossi came close to pulling one back, but the shots were either pushed wide or sailed helplessly over the bar. Not exactly an affirmation of Roma's defensive cohesion, but on this night, they got lucky; Fiorentina was woeful when it mattered.
The second half was really a microcosm for this entire match, Roma capitalized, Fiorentina did not. Roma scored two goals on two shots in the first half, and as it turned out, that's all it took to push the Giallorossi to the top of the table. While Roma's defense was stretched thin in the second half, they were able to weather the storm thanks to some timely tackles and deflections from Kostas Manolas and Lucas Digne among others.
You get the feeling that until they can develop even a modicum of cohesion, this will be the case: disorganization saved by brilliant individual effort. Thankfully, between Florenzi, Digne, Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger, Roma has four extremely athletic defenders, each of whom can, through individual skill and sheer force of will, counteract that lack of tactical cohesion...for now.
Speed was also the story of the day upfront. Gervinho continued his scorching hot start to the fall, grabbing yet another goal, his fifth in six matches, many of which were due in large part to his absurd acceleration. At this point, you simply have to let Gervinho be Gervinho; he's just seeing the ball and the field so well at the moment, dribbling, cutting and feinting at all the right moments to get past defenders to grab goals.
Salah, meanwhile, seems like he'll live up to every penny of that contract. The Egyptian Messi now has five goals in his last eight matches, doing everything Gervinho is capable of without the added angina. Garcia's tactics may not be perfect, but thanks to these two, they're working.
Roma wasn't exactly hitting on all cylinders today, but this much is clear: they're the most athletic team in the league, possessing plus speed at virtually every position, which, as we've seen, can make the difference when tactics fall short.
It's another incredibly busy week for Roma, as they take on Udinese midweek before facing another top of the table task against Inter on Halloween.