In customary Roma fashion, Rudi Garcia's offense was stilted, boring and ineffective, gamely limping to a 1-1 draw, thanks to Seydou Keita's 77th minute equalizer. However, the moral of today's story is rather simple, not to mention incredibly fortunate: not all draws are created equal. Lousy though they may have played, Roma's away goal gives them the precious advantage in the March 19th return fixture at the Olimpico, making this Roma's greatest achievement of 2015, bar none.
There are only so many ways to peel an orange, so there isn't much else we can say about Roma's performance that hasn't already been plastered on the internet the past four months. Roma was out moved, out witted, outshot and outworked by Fiorentina, lagging behind in chances created and shots, while getting decimated in the air.
Rather than continuing to beat the dead horse that is Roma's offense, let's take a look at today's goals.
Josip Ilicic: 17th Minute
Yesterday we predicted--or at least cautioned--that, given the familiarity between these sides, the sheer athleticism of Mohamed Salah could be a decisive factor. Although he didn't score the actual goal, Salah's speed and poise on the ball nearly won Fiorentina the match; watch how he slaloms past the bewildered pair of Kostas Manolas and Daniele De Rossi to find Ilicic on the right, who himself left Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa gasping for air.
However, run that goal back, and you'll see that Roma was pretty much doomed from the start, suffering from a confluence of factors (starting with the turnover) that made Ilicic's goal nearly indefensible. Watch as Salah receives the ball just past the midfield, at which point Roma had seven men committed forward, leaving only Manolas, De Rossi and Mbiwa back to defend. As Salah receives the ball, Manolas was caught flat footed (he's really making me look like an idiot), waiting just a skosh too long to make his break towards Salah, by the time Manolas began pursuing Salah, it was too late, he was off to the races.
At the same time, notice how De Rossi is caught between two minds, running towards the goal with his back to the ball, simultaneously tracking Salah on his left, while attempting to keep an eye on the Ilicic who was streaking down the right flank, all with Mbiwa feebly trying to keep pace.
By the time Salah made his move, it was simply too late. The ironic part was that the move, in and of itself, wasn't anything to write home about, but there's the rub. The combination of the turnover, Roma's highline (seven men in the Viola's half), and Salah's speed was simply too much for Roma to handle. After only a few touches, Salah had DDR and Manolas twisting and turning, giving him ample room to find Ilicic streaking towards the far post.
Lastly, and this should really grind your gears, fast-forward to about the five-second mark of that video. Notice how Mbiwa inexplicably lets up just as Salah and Ilicic begin to link up--DDR was keeping Ilicic on sides, so there was no worry of that, but Mbiwa pulled up and didn't even feign an attempt to close that gap. (Yes, the angle on this video makes it hard to tell just how close he was to the path of the ball, but even a last-ditch attempt would've been nice to see)
The funny thing is, despite how poor that passage of play was, you can't really say anyone of those three did anything technically wrong, they were simply done in by some untimely positioning and the Viola's quick outlet pass, all of which was exacerbated by Salah's speed and beautiful ball to Ilicic.
But, thanks to Seydou Keita's late equalizer, Roma will hold an ever-so-slight advantage when they run this back next week.
Sedyou Keita: 77th Minute
Nothing to extravagant about this one, just a great outswinger from Alessandro Florenzi and perfect positioning from Keita, who left no doubt, solidly heading it past Neto giving Roma the best of all draws.
The return fixture, the fifth time Roma and Fiorentina will square off this season, is set for March 19th at the Olimpico. If Roma can, get this, manage a scoreless draw, they'll advance to the round of eight.