With the international break mercifully over, it was time for Roma to remount their assault on the top of the table. The first club standing in their way was Roberto Donadoni's underwhelming Bologna side. While we were all excited to see actual Serie A action once again, Roma returned to the pitch is less than ideal circumstances. With injuries to Francesco Totti, Mohamed Salah and Gervinho, Rudi Garcia rolled out his 16th different lineup in 18 competitive matches this season, inserting Juan Iturbe into the starting lineup while pushing Alessandro Florenzi back up front.
Whether it was due to the international break or simply because they were on the road, Roma failed to adapt to the pitch conditions and were nearly down two nil in the first ten minutes, bailed out only by a somewhat dubious offsides call. Their passing, speed and countering were all rendered moot by the soggy pitch, and since Roma doesn't do direct play well...well, you can guess how the match unfolded.
Despite that setup, this match had all the makings of a nil-nil snoozer in the early goings; the pitch was that bad, dampening (no pun intended) any semblance of free flowing football. There was simply no way Roma's wide open attack could be effective under these conditions.
And, as is often the case, sloppy pitches tend to favor the less technical teams, who somehow, someway manage to grab a garbage goal, and that's precisely what happened in the first half.
Facing a crowded and soggy six yard box, Roma's feeble attempts to clear the ball paved the way for Bologna to capitalize and grab an early lead. Run that clip back a few times and you'll see that Roma had at least three chances to clear that ball, but either whiffed, slipped or simply mishit it, paving the way for Adam Masina to put Bologna up.
I don't really like to toot my own horn around here, especially not via Twitter, but well, I was quite prophetic, if I must say so myself:
This match will be decided by some non descript player on a bullshit goal. Book it.— BrenCdT (@BrenCdT) November 21, 2015
Roma had a chance to level it in the 25th minute when Miralem Pjanic was gifted a free kick from about 20-yards out, and at an ideal angle, no less. Unfortunately for Roma, Pjanic's attempt fell feebly into the sponge-like surface of the Dall'Ara, swallowing Roma's best chance of the match.
Rain or no rain, this match was emblematic of everything that has plagued Roma during Rudi Garcia's regime; there's no plan, just close your eyes and pray. Even under optimal conditions, Roma's plan is always spread it wide and play it fast; a tactic (a term I use loosely, I might add) rendered impossible under today's conditions.
When your only option is taken away, what then?
Roma had no direct threat in the first half, despite the fact that this match was screaming for Edin Dzeko and the aerial game. The fallback option, as we've seen numerous times this season, is Roma relying on the ref to bail them out. Only in this instance, the ref missed two Bologna handballs in the first half, including a blatant one by Antonio Mirante some twenty yards away from goal
Normally this tactic is somewhat successful because Roma has one of the game's best set piece sorcerers in Pjanic, but he was uncharacteristically off tonight, going 0-3 in the first half alone.
Okay, forget everything I just wrote, that strategy paid off once again. After Bologna's third handball of the match, a call finally went Roma's way and Pjanic was spot on from...well, from the spot, levelling the match at 1-1 following a penalty call.
To their credit, Roma was more direct in the first ten to fifteen minutes of the second half, but the pitch conditions were simply too atrocious and the ball too heavy for Roma's intricate passing game to create any genuine chances.
The first twenty minutes of the second half were a soggy mess. Passes died, slide tackles turned into adventures and shot after shot slipped far and wide. It looked like this match would end up 1-0 Bologna; there was no plan, no hope and no way Roma could get any traction in the mud.
Roma was robbed once more by the rain in the 65th minute. Dzeko, with his back turned to the goal, had the ball, at most, four yards from the end line but simply got stuck-in, unable to make the turn thanks to the soaking conditions. Once he finally freed himself and played it back to Pjanic, it was too late; Mira was forced to shoot quickly, ultimately pushing the ball high and wide.
Rocchi would bail out Roma yet again, awarding the Giallorossi another penalty in the 72nd minute, which Edin Dzeko promptly buried into the back of the net to give Roma a 2-1 lead late in the second half. Penalty kicks are usually clear cut affairs, but with these conditions, you simply never know what will happen, but, if nothing else, the water flying off the back of the net as Dzeko's shot slammed into the netting was a sight to behold.
Roma could only tempt fate for so long, though. Rocchi struck once again, tagging Vasilis Torosidis for a foul in the box, gifting a PK to Bologna in the 86th minute. And wouldn't you know it, Mattia Destro slotted it home and proceeded to celebrate like it was 1944 and he'd just liberated occupied Paris.
The ball pinged back and forth for another 10 minutes in the second half, ultimately producing nothing more than a few soaked shots off the mark. Given the wretched conditions, we can't really draw too many tactical conclusions from this match, except for this:
Rudi Garcia: Relying on Penalty Since 2014— Chiesa Di Totti (@chiesaditotti) November 21, 2015
When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Roma has (or had, probably) a real shot at winning it all this season. They're laden with talent and their chief rival, Juventus, is in the midst of a downturn, yet they've managed to squander every conceivable advantage.
Performances like this should make us all sick.