Roma started a three game homestand (of sorts) by welcoming an Antonio Di Natale-less Udinese side to the Olimpico this evening. With Lazio's 1-0 victory on the road versus Sampdoria on Saturday, Roma was once again under the gun in their quest to secure second place and instant qualification to next season's Champions League. The good news, at least at the outset, was the return of Francesco Totti to the starting lineup, where he was flanked by Juan Iturbe and Victor Ibarbo, one of the more interesting frontlines we've seen all season, and one that ultimately proved quite effective.
So, how'd it all go down?
Between the sloppy passing, the offsides calls and the missed chances, the early goings were Roma 2015 ® through and through. Things got even worse in the 19th minute when Kostas Manolas committed the ultimate sin, an endline turnover, where Cyril Thereau and Stipe Perica teamed up to beat a helpless Morgan De Sanctis to give Udinese the early lead.
After Ibarbo was pulled down Ivan Piris several minutes later, Totti nearly levelled affairs with a wonderfully struck free kick from just beyond 20-yards, but it was pushed aside by Orestis Karnezis. Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi both unleashed 25-yard screamers following a loose ball in the ensuing minutes, neither of which threatened the keeper, but it's nice to see people doing what they love, isn't it?
Jose Cholevas and Ibarbo nearly teamed up to pull one back in the 39th minute, but Karnezis was once again up to task, which should produce roughly a dozen Karnezis-to-Roma rumors this week. Greeks are the new Argentines, get used to it.
Radja Nainggolan: 45th Minute
Roma finally broke through in the final minute of the first half as Nainggolan put the finishing touch on a Roma counter (of sorts), taking a deft little touch from Totti and slamming it past Karnezis with his instep.
Roma closed out the first half as the far more active, but not necessarily effective team. The Giallorossi dominated possession, completed 90% of their passes and outshot the Zebras three-fold but were turned away time and time again by Karnezis.
The second half started with De Rossi getting cleated on the forehead, covering ground that should have been occupied by, you know, actual defenders; that pretty much sums up Rudi Garcia's defensive game plan, doesn't it? Great hustle and great tackle by DDR, but that passage of play was emblematic of Garcia's defense this season; lost, bemused and stretched helplessly thin.
Vasilis Torosidis: 65th Minute
Things trudged back and forth for twenty minutes until Vasilis Torosidis fell bassackwards into one of the luckiest goals you'll ever see, finding himself standing in the perfect spot to pick up a loose ball that caromed off Totti's instep and was slightly deflected by the Udine defender. Torosidis barely had to move an inch, neither in terms of his positioning in the box, or his actual foot.
A strange goal indeed, but Torosidis was at the right place at the right time and his goal was enough to (for the time being) vault Roma back into second place.
Iturbe and Nainggolan nearly made it 3-1 in the 81st minute but Karnezis was once again up to snuff, though this time as more of an impediment than actual shot stopper. Karnezis and the woodwork struck yet again, as Cholevas' screamer rattled the cross bar in the 85th minute.
But, as it turned out, Torosidis' awkward goal was all Roma would need to bring home three points.
Roma dominated the stat sheets this evening and looked far livelier than we've seen in weeks, and by weathering the stoppage time storm to reclaim second place, leapfrogging Lazio by one point, they've set up the mother of all derbies next week at the Olimpico. That might be a slight exaggeration, it's not like the Coppa Finale from two years ago, but it is far and away Roma's most important match in months.