The big question ahead of this match was how much energy Roma would have left after surviving the Barcelona onslaught during Wednesday's Champions League opener. Given how much energy they expended preserving that draw, some dead legs were bound to be expected. Rudi Garcia opted to combat this fatigue by making several key lineup changes, resting Edin Dzeko, Lucas Digne and Wednesday's hero, Alessandro Florenzi, as well as new fan favorite Iago Falque as they welcomed Sassuolo to the Olimpico this afternoon.
Facing a Domenico Berardi-less Sassuolo side, Roma's new B lineup seemed like enough to topple the Neroverdi, but that's the thing about appearances, they can be deceiving. So, in case you missed it, let's run it back.
For much of the first 45 minutes, Roma played with shades of 2015: sloppy passing—that is when the ball actually moved forward—wingers running into corners with nowhere to turn, desperate shots from distance, and a general lack of creativity and direction. While Francesco Totti did his best to inspire his side with his trademark one-touches and changes of direction, with Edin Dzeko on the bench, Garcia's attack had no focal point, no end game and no master plan.
For a while it seemed like Roma might hold out for a scoreless draw, but then Sassuolo caught Roma off guard.
Gregoire Defrel made Roma's defense look foolish, twisting and turning Kostas Manolas in the 22nd minute before leaving Morgan De Sanctis stone-footed in goal. Not the best angle on that clip, but this goal was a matter of milliseconds and inches; had the shot been fired a split second later, it would've glanced harmlessly off Manolas' foot, but thems the breaks sometimes. Either way, Sassuolo positively WORKED the Roma defense on this one, picking them apart on a six-pass move.
Roma would amp up the pressure from there, desperately seeking an equalizer, but it would take some poor passing on Sassuolo's part, some great positioning by Totti, and a little bit of officiating luck to level this match at 1-1.
Hard to say what Andrea Consigli was thinking there with that pass, but his "clearance" fell right at Pjanic's feet. From there, all it took was a simple touch from Pjanic and a little chip to get Totti's 300th career goal, one that knotted the match up at 1-1.
However, in typical Roma fashion, it took less than ten minutes for the wheels to completely fall off, as they were done in by their very own Matteo Politano.
Il video del gol di Politano Matteo al 45' di Roma-Sassuolo (1-2): http://t.co/utIqcXNYec— SportyTrader IT (@sportytrader_IT) September 20, 2015
Politano caught a perfectly threaded ball in stride, breezed past Manolas and avoided the oncoming Rüdiger to bury it past De Sanctis at the far post. Politano was pretty decisive in this match, but never more so than right there. Hard to say if we'll ever see this kid in Rome, but we certainly caught a glimpse of what he' s capable of.
And that was really that, Roma was horrible in the first 45 minutes, requiring a supreme cockup from Consigli to even remain in the match. Garcia's attack was slow, confused and lacking any real bite, while Sassuolo's was swift, decisive and effective. An upset seemed in the cards.
This was vintage Roma at its best, just when your soul is fit to be crushed, they lift you right back up, in the most dramatic fashion possible. In the 49th minute, Mohamed Salah unleashed a stunning left footed volley to level the match at 2-2.
Salah capitalized on a somewhat poor but extremely lofted clearance from the Sassuolo defense and absolutely buried his left foot into the ball before it even reached the ground, slamming it home into the far post past a diving Consigli.
The second half was a tactical battle of sorts between Garcia and Di Francesco, as each manager brought out the big guns—Dzeko for Roma and Berardi for Sassuolo—hoping for the crucial go ahead goal. And while Dzeko had a number of touches and a chance on goal, Mohamed Salah nearly broke the game wide open, forcing Consigli to make a world class save to keep his left footed bender out of the top corner.
However, as the match moved beyond the 80th minute, the Neroverdi were seemingly content to preserve the draw, compacting an already compact defense, sitting back and absorbing Roma's final attempts at goal. Unfortunately for the Giallorossi, it worked as, once again, the two sides played out a 2-2 draw at the Olimpico, just like last season.
While we'll credit Roma with taking advantage of Sassuolo—read, Consigli's—errors, let's face facts, Rudi Garcia has no plan B whatsoever, which may actually be Walter Sabatini's fault. Without Dzeko on the pitch, Roma is forced to revert back to their early 2015 form—Totti in the false nine surrounded by mindless runners—which produces ineffective and directionless football; the lack of a true backup center forward on this roster is an error of the highest order, one which may result in another Doumbia style signing this winter.
Without Dzeko, Florenzi, Falque and Digne on the pitch, Roma is absolutely lost. And if we're being honest—Salah's beauty not withstanding—Roma got extremely lucky in this match; Consigli looked like an amateur out there. Point being, if Rudi Garcia can't figure out a second XI, this team is screwed. There is simply no way he can run those four out there week-after-week across all three competitions and expect this club to survive in any of them.
Through his first two plus seasons in Rome, Rudi Garcia has accomplished quite a bit, but being a flexible tactician is not one of them. And unlike last season, Roma can't rely on draws to remain in second place. Serie A is wide open and matches like this may very well keep Roma on the outside of the European party next season.
Roma jumps right back into it on Wednesday when they travel north to take on Sampdoria.