As the Roma players took the pitch for their pre-match warmups, they were met with a chorus of jeers from the sparsely filled Olimpico, the loudest and lousiest of which were saved for Rudi Garcia. The match was an hour away from beginning, but the mood was already set. This scene was indicative of everything that is wrong with this club at the moment, from top to bottom.
Given that bit of ominous foreshadowing, we could have reasonably added the home crowd to the list of foes Roma was facing on the evening. In order to get back in their good graces, Roma would have to strike quickly and spectacularly, and that's just what they did.
Antonio Rüdiger: 4th Minute
As has often been the case this season, Miralem Pjanic's set piece brilliance delivered the goods for Rudi Garcia. Pjanic played a lovely outswinging free kick that was perfectly placed and weighted, falling to Rüdiger's outstretched limbs, where the German scissor kicked it home Mehdi Benatia-style for his first Roma goal.
Ordinarily, this is where I would assail Roma for once again relying on setpieces to bail them out, but even I have to admit, through the first 10 to 15 minutes of the match, Roma showed great initiative, pressing, passing and moving with a sense of urgency. Rüdiger, Pjanic and even Sadiq Umar all had chances to press the lead to 2-0.
As the first half wore on, Roma's momentum wavered and Milan, led by Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano, began to assert themselves and the scales tilted in Milan's favor. All in all, it was a pretty even half, but not in the "oh my god, this is the perfect embodiment of the beautiful game" way, but more like "there are only, like, four guys on this pitch worth watching" sort of way.
But something tells me, either side would call that progress.
The second half was, predictably, not kind to Roma. Once again, whatever shred of success they enjoyed in the first 45 was quickly reversed. And I mean quickly, it only took five minutes for Milan to level the match.
Juraj Kucka: 50th Minute
GOAL Kucka!! Roma 1-1 Milan pic.twitter.com/RXyQWY3zXB— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) January 9, 2016
There was no secret recipe to this goal, Kucka just exposed every flaw of the Florenzi-as-a-rightback experiment, especially his short stature and poor positional understanding. However, credit Milan with a wonderfully executed set piece.
From there, the usual narrative played out: the opposition reacted and made the necessary tactical adjustments, while Garcia stuck to the same path, only this time he decided to burn all his subs by the 70th minute.
The bright spot of the second half was, naturally, the return of Francesco Totti, who got his first taste of action since September. Totti was understandably rusty, but the roar of the crowd upon his insertion was nearly enough to erase the tide of antipathy washing over Roma at the moment.
Despite the promising start and the return of Totti, this was yet another Garcia Special, the 18th 1-1 draw of Garcia's tenure in Roma, and the 15th since the start of last season. Again, I'm not sure how to qualify that number in a historical context, but it seems peculiar doesn't? I can't wait to see how he rationalizes this one; it's really his best trait as a manager at this point.
With that draw, Roma drops a full two points behind 4th place Juventus, who've yet to play this weekend, and puts them four points out of the top three, but don't let those relatively small gaps fool you, Roma has three losses and six draws since beating Lazio in November's derby.
But hey, Garcia beat Genoa!