For me, the Luciano Spalletti revelry started 12 hours to soon, forcing me to watch this joyous occasion while battling a cheap Australian red wine hangover. But thanks to our old friend black coffee, I was able to shake off the fog and party like it was 2009. Spalletti's changes started right from the jump, as he rolled out his favored 4-2-3-1 formation, though it wasn't without a few surprises. Rather than putting Miralem Pjanic in the hole, as many would have presumed, Radja Nainggolan served as the last link to the attack.
But would these changes have any impact where it matters?
As you would expect, given the lineup and tactical shuffle, the first 25 to 30 minutes of the first half was a bit disjointed. Spalletti had his entire team, front to back, pressing like never before, but that unmistakable Spalletti flow simply wasn't there.
Radja Nainggolan looked a bit unnervy in his new attacking role, while Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko were shaking off months of rust. Salah and Dzeko had roughly 50 touches between the two of them through the first 40 minutes or so, none of which could be deemed quality.
The ironic, and perhaps tragic part of that is, in this setup Dzeko is infinitely more important than he ever was under Rudi Garcia. With a more consistent and direct line of passes coming his way, every mistouch and errant shot has a greater and more deleterious impact on the bottom line. (Foreshadowing alert)
As we passed the half hour mark, it looked like the same product with slightly different wrapping. The passes, though more forward in nature, just weren't that cutting, often going astray in the final third. Daniele De Rossi was a man on fire, blocking shots and looking like vintage DDR, but beyond his patented fury, there weren't many standouts.
With ten minutes or so before the first whistle, Roma began to settle down, leading to the first goal of the second Spalletti era.
Radja Nainggolan: 41st Minute
Credit Nainggolan with guiding the ball home in traffic, but that goal was all De Rossi's doing. DDR simultaneously picked the ball out of the air AND back heeled it to Nainggolan, all in the blink of an eye. We all pegged Alessandro Florenzi as the biggest benefactor of the managerial switch, but if the first 45 minutes were any indication, De Rossi will be a man reborn under Spalletti.
It wasn't as euphoric as we'd expected all week, but the new, new, new, new, new Roma headed into half time with a lead.
Spalletti opted for no changes at the start of the half, a decision he would come to regret. While the first ten minutes or so was rather inconsequential, Roma became a bit too lazy in possession, leading to one of the strangest sequence of events we've seen all season.
What started with some lethargic passing between De Rossi and Wojciech Szczesny turned into a 45 second (at most) sequence in which both sides stormed end-to-end virtually unfettered. While Roma's rush was ultimately snubbed out, Verona was able to catch the Giallorossi defense sleeping, as Leandro Castan was a step too slow and made an ill-advised tackle, gifting the Mastiffs with a penalty kick, which was quickly converted by Giampolo Pazzini.
Unsurprisingly, then, Spalletti's first switch was to remove the suddenly languid Leandro Castan, brining on Antonio Rüdiger in his place, about ten minutes too late, I might add. Castan has had a tough year, regardless of who's calling the shots, and you have to wonder if he has a future with this club.
Nevertheless, Roma pushed forward, desperately seeking a go-ahead goal, but occasionally falling back into back-passing ways. Spalletti's second change was seemingly made with that in mind, as he swapped out Vasilis Torosidis for Iago Falque, pushing Florenzi back to right back.
As Roma pushed forward, Verona naturally sat back, waiting for a chance to spring a counter attack. Roma's best chance through the 70 minute mark came from Edin Dzeko, who couldn't settle a through ball in time, eventually toe poking a shot high and wide. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Dzeko was awful today, and with no recourse on the bench (Thanks, Walt), we're left with nothing to do but slap our collective foreheads as he misses sitter after sitter and foils touch after touch.
And that was really all she wrote, Dzeko missed a virtually unmarked header in the box in the 93rd minute, damming any chance Roma had of taking three points from a club that had only eight ALL SEASON.
Given the fact that Spalletti only had a couple of days of training with his old/new squad, I'm not sure we should have expected fireworks; nostalgia definitely clouded reality this week. Which, of course, begs the question, why did they wait so long to make a change?
But that's neither here nor there, Roma outperformed Verona in virtually every statistical category, and despite the change in leadership, it was the same song: lack of precision in the final third. This wasn't like the myriad other 1-1 draws we've seen, Verona wasn't miraculously punching above their weight class, Roma's finishing (I'm looking at you, Dzeko) was shit--shots went high, they went wide, they hit the post and they flailed helplessly into the keeper's hands.
Despite the similar outcome, Roma's shape and positioning was remarkably different than anything we've seen from Garcia in recent months.
Straight away you'll notice the width is gone, Spalletti made a concerted effort to attack through the middle, with De Rossi and Pjanic doing the heavy lifting in the passing game. So, if it looked like Roma was a little slower today, rest assured it was deliberate.
It will undoubtedly take time for Spalletti to leave his imprint on this current squad, but the three points were there for the taking, and in true Roma fashion, they pissed them away. Despite the initial tactical uncertainty, Roma did enough to win this one, save for five seconds of careless passing between De Rossi and Szczesny that led to that chaotic sequence, which, in turn, led to Castan's horrible tackle.
I can't really polish this turd for you; Roma was awful once more. While the change in tactics were a welcomed development, it won't mean anything if they can't convert when it matters most.
Spalletti will have a week to turn this around, but it certainly won't be easy when they travel to Juventus Stadium to take on Paulo Dybala and the other Old Ladies.
graphic via asroma.com