Well, it took epic amounts of determination from the Roma defense, liters of sweat from their midfield and a goal of the century candidate from Alessandro Florenzi, but Roma held off defending Champions Barcelona 1-1 in this evening's Champions League opener, and quite frankly, were it not for some questionable calls, they may have pulled off an upset.
Nevertheless, Roma was more than up to the task defensively, showing superb shape and flexibility, while Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger in particular gave performances for the ages—tackling, tracking, and running like mad men to corral Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, doing just enough to keep that vaunted attack at bay throughout the match, particularly in the second half.
We'll come at this from a few different angles later on, but let's peel back the numbers and see how this match unfolded.
Many years from now when the tale of this match is written—because people write overtures about group stage matches, duh—it will be a tale of determination; Roma gutted out this draw, pure and simple.
The numbers weren't particularly kind to Roma today. Barcelona held an astounding 75% possession this evening, completing 91% of their passes, a decent portion of which were actually forward passes, imagine that. Roma, meanwhile, managed a paltry 72% pass accuracy, while creating only 6 scoring chances, less than half of Barca's total, but that's to be expected given how little of the ball they saw.
It was mentioned during the English feed of the match, but you sort of sensed that Roma didn't even know what to do with the ball when they had it, particularly in the second half when their chances were hastily taken, and make no mistake, they had a couple of opportunities to win this match. Whether they were too anxious or simply gassed, Roma's counter attack was atrocious tonight, especially in the second half, when Mohamed Salah's indecision and a couple of errant outlet passes from Nainggolan halted any chance Roma had of hitting Barcelona on the counter attack.
We'll leave it at that, given the gross disparity in possession, the stats only tell a portion of the story, but given how heavily skewed they were in Barcelona's favor, Roma's determination behind the ball looks even more impressive.
Luis Suarez: 21st Minute Header
I don't know, you tell me, was Suarez onside? It's awfully close, and a quick search doesn't reveal any better angle than that one, so we'll have to wait and see if anyone dissects this one Zapruder style, the only thing that really sticks out is how much space Suarez had at the far post—more on that later.
Thankfully, because of this next moment, the agony subsided a bit...which is probably the biggest understatement I've ever made here
Alessandro Florenzi: 31st Minute Jaw Dropper
Credit: user penguin672232 on r/soccer
Seriously, what can you even say? The size of this kids balls are unimaginable. Florenzi, barely two dribbles past midfield, scored a goal that may very well earn his club tens of millions of dollars when all is said and done.
If there was any doubt left in your mind who the symbol of this club is going forward, that should erase it—this kid is Roma through and through.
Wrapping it Up
Listen, we went into this match talking about how Barcelona wasn't as indestructible as they seem, and that in order for Roma to win or even steal a point, they had to be focused, structured and tenacious behind the ball, and that's exactly what they did. Despite the fact that they won only 22% of their tackles tonight, Rudi Garcia's defensive shell, led by Manolas, Rüdiger, Florenzi and Daniele De Rossi were on point, snuffing out the Barca attack when and where it mattered most, bending but not breaking, absorbing but not acquiescing.
Holistically speaking, this point takes a bit of the pressure off Roma as they work their way through the group stages. Rather than sitting a miserable three points behind Barcelona and Leverkusen, they're comfortably in second place, and while I wouldn't expect a similar outcome when Roma travels to Spain, their hopes of advancing have always, and will continue to rest on their performance against Leverkusen, their real rival in Group E.
So, have drink, grab a slice of pizza and relax, you've earned this moral victory.