For the time being it seems as though Rudi Garcia has earned a stay of execution. Facing a difficult match against Palermo, one in which Roma would have to forge ahead without Edin Dzeko and Francesco Totti for a second consecutive week, the Giallorossi struck quickly to put Palermo back on their heels. Although they were not without their typical ‘Roma' moments, the Giallorossi escaped Sicily with a relatively easy three points, and thanks to Sassuolo and Torino losses over the weekend and an Inter draw today, are now back in the thick of the title chase.
So, how exactly did Garcia dodge Damocles this week? Let's have a look.
Roma was primed and ready to set the disappointment of the BATE Borisov debacle firmly in their rearview mirror, waiting all of 108 seconds to break this one open.
Miralem Pjanic: 2nd Minute
Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi worked an absolutely flawless give and go here, pushing past the Palermo defense in a matter of seconds. It was a textbook goal, really. Pjanic, commanding the ball, drew in several Palermo defenders while Florenzi subtly faded away from them, exposing the tiniest cavity through which Pjanic could lay off the ball, which is precisely what happened.
Watch as two to three pink-shirted defenders are completely twisted around, and another left flat footed, as Pjanic lays the ball off to Florenzi, who then quickly fires it right back to Pjanic, finding Mira a step ahead of Luca Rigoni, Palermo's last line of defense.
A beautifully succinct and efficient run of play. That's Garcia football right there, the kind that's been sorely missing this season.
Not to be outdone, Florenzi would double Roma's lead twelve minutes later
Alessandro Florenzi: 14th Minute
Florenzi, thrust back into a midfield role, found himself in prime real estate after Pjanic's deflected effort, which fell to Ale's feet so gently and so perfectly, you would've thought Pjanic was returning the earlier favor. From there, Florenzi calmly turned the ball and fired it home.
But Roma weren't done heaping the pressure on Palermo just yet.
Gervinho: 27th Minute
Galloping down the left flank, Gervinho cut in towards his right and skirted around several defenders before rifling the ball into the top corner of the net. It was a goal borne of unbridled speed, agility and dribbling. In a word, it was The Predator at his finest.
While each side threatened a few more times in the waning moments of the first half, Roma entered the dressing room with a commanding and reassuring 3-0 lead.
While Roma came out the gates gunning for a fourth goal, they were actually done in by their own exuberance. Sensing an opportunity to push the lead to four goals, Roma, while working the ball in the Palermo half, got careless, literally passing the ball to Palermo, who then summarily advanced up the pitch in a matter of two to three touches, the last of which was a lovely played long ball to Alberto Gilardino, who settled and put it past Wojciech Szczesny at the far post to pull one back in the 58th minute.
Gila would nearly double his haul in 70th minute, only to be turned away by Woj, but Roma wasn't nearly as dominant through the opening 20-30 minutes of the second half, frequently losing possession or committing fouls, seemingly content to rest on their first half laurels, leaving the door open for a Palermo comeback.
The final 15-20 minutes of regular time was rather dull: Pjanic nearly made it 4-1, but his follow up goal was disallowed after Gervinho was ruled offsides, Salih Uçan came on in the 75th minute for Mohamed Salah and Emerson Palmieri earned his first card in a Roma shirt as the match entered its final 15 minutes, the ensuing free kick threatened Roma's goal but was ultimately turned away.
Roma's lack of defensive cohesion, and let's face it, simple execution, did them in again, as they gave up a stoppage time goal to Giancarlo Gonzalez, shrinking their lead to 3-2. There was nothing miraculous about the goal, Roma's positioning was just putrid, leaving Gonzalez with acres of space to knock it home.
But, in a moment that will secure him thousands of minutes going forward, Gervinho bagged another goal, pushing the lead back to 4-2, securing three points in the process.
Ultimately this was a tale of two halves. Roma was crisp, vicious and efficient in the first half, essentially dispatching Palermo by the 12th minute. The fast, fun and furiously attacking Roma was on full display and it looked as if they might leave Sicily with six goals. While they weren't completely toothless in the second stanza, the sense of urgency had disappeared, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; that's the benefit of building up an early lead after all, but had this been Inter and not Palermo, we'd be in a world of hurt, and thanks to that lack of commitment and focus, they nearly coughed up two points as it was.
And that's really the theme for the remainder of 2015: can Roma play like this when it matters? Can they give us a consistent showing for 90 minutes? Throwing up a combined nine goals against Carpi and Palermo is fun and all—it boosts morale and reminds us all how salaciously talented Roma's attack is—but it's not really an accomplishment. In a sense it reminds me of an old Chris Rock bit in which he opines on people wanting adulation for taking care of their kids; that's what you're supposed to do.
Can this Roma run Inter, Fiorentina or even Bayer Leverkusen off the pitch like this? Or for that matter, can they turn the tables so dramatically on average sides like Sampdoria, Lazio or Napoli, the points and matches that may ultimately decide the title?
Make no mistake, this was certainly a welcomed development, but don't let it fool you into thinking Roma's troubles are solved. They need to carry this performance with them week after week. The talent is and has always been there (offensively), but the story of 2015 has been their inability to keep the foot on the gas--minute to minute and week to week--as time and time again they fail to capitalize on clear cut scoring chances or cough up early leads thanks to poor defensive execution, deficiencies which can and have cost them crucial points.
But that's the long term concern; let's end this on a positive. While Roma wasn't a statistical savage tonight, they capitalized when it mattered, scoring four goals from eleven scoring chances. If you can't flat out dominate for 90 minutes, then you better be damn sure you score when the opportunity presents itself, and that's precisely what Roma did this afternoon.
This wasn't a masterstroke from Rudi Garcia or Roma, but they dispatched an inferior opponent with relative ease, and while there were a few second half hiccups, thanks to Sampdoria stealing two points (almost the full three!) from Inter, Roma are back in third place, two and potentially three points off the lead.
Roma didn't do enough to restore Garcia's good name, but they may have saved his job for another week, and given how up and down this season has been, we have to consider that progress.