While we shouldn't call Roma's 1-0 victory over Napoli a complete revival, Rudi Garcia's crew showed enough signs of life to give us hope for the stretch run. Miralem Pjanic's 25th minute goal was enough to earn Roma her first win at the Olimpico since November, so if this victory seems more resounding than it actually was, there's your reason. Unfortunately for Roma, Zdenek Zeman and Cagliari couldn't take down Lazio, so Roma's grasp on second place remains remarkably tenuous, as they have only a one point lead over their city rivals.
Roma were far from succinct and had quite a bit of trouble maintaining possession and mounting a cogent counter attack, but, as we said, this was a step in the right direction, so let's take a quick look at this morning's action.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/97WzP-mbVLI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Don't let Pjanic's non-chalant tap in fool you, the build up to this play was actually quite nice and brilliantly executed. Let's start with Juan Iturbe, who did quite a lot of running this morning, sucking in four defenders with his head down, charge-at-all-costs run towards the 18-yard-box. Fast forward to the 50 second mark of that clip and you can see just how wide open Florenzi was, thanks in part to the attention Iturbe commanded with the ball at his feet.
From there, full marks to Florenzi, who let the ball run a bit before playing it back diagonally, past those same four defenders drawn away by Iturbe, straight to the willing and waiting Pjanic, who merely had to tap it in from the penalty spot.
Pretty tidy goal, one that showcased Iturbe's pace and Florenzi's improved wing play.
The Numbers & Narratives
First we'll dispense with the statistics, which weren't exactly kind to Roma. If this felt like you were watching the old Roma--the one from the old Offsides days where we'd get an early goal then get absolutely bombarded in the second half, praying for the other shoe not to drop—there was a good reason; it was a damn good facsimile of the latter days of Spalletti and Ranieri.
On the balance, Roma was bested in nearly every category, falling behind Napoli in shots, shots on target, chances created, crosses, dribbles etc. etc. So in that sense, we should really give Roma credit for executing when it mattered; on Pjanic's goal. At any other point in 2015, Iturbe may have been stripped, Florenzi's cross redirected or Mira's shot sailed aimlessly over the crossbar; but it didn't; they were precise and effective when they had to be.
However, if you were motivated enough to wake up and watch the full 90 minutes, you no doubt noticed a stark difference in Roma's performance and simply ability to hang onto the ball between the first and second halves. Napoli nearly doubled Roma's offensive output in the second half, ripping off twice as many shots, creating twice as many chances and just generally dictating the pace, nature and location of play; much of which was directed at Roma's right flank.
But there was a reason Roma was able to hang onto their one goal lead, and that reason was named Morgan De Sanctis. MDS faced 13 shots on the day, seven of which came in the second half, and he was up to snuff on all of them; parrying away the high shots, smothering the worm burners and deflecting the angled shots safely away. He was a godsend for Roma today.
No man is an island, of course, and MDS received a heaping handful of help from Davide Astori and Kostas Manolas. Roma's centerbacks combined for eight tackles, seven interceptions and 19 clearances.
Although they came close to conceding several times, Roma's backline managed to keep a level head and because of that Roma walked away with three points instead of coughing up two. Rudi Garcia has been granted another stay of execution, but the heat is still on. Roma will look to increase their lead over Lazio when they travel to Torino next week, while Lazio plays host to Empoli.
The good news, of course, is that Roma have now won two straight league matches, something they haven't done since the end of November.