Luciano Spalletti’s men strode upon the awkwardly shaded Stadio Castellani with a slightly different look. While most of the names were the same, the return of Antonio Rüdiger threw a different wrinkle into Roma’s otherwise pristinely pressed clothes. With Toni back in the lineup and no real fullbacks at his disposal, Spalletti opted for a three man backline of Rüdiger, Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio, with Emerson serving as a de facto wingback.
Those changes seemed quite inspiring, as Emerson found a streaking Edin Dzeko in only the second minute, forcing Lukasz Skorupski into a fingertip save. With Mohamed Salah pressing the issue a few minutes later, it looked like Roma was ready, willing and able to put Empoli on the back heel from the word go.
However, despite that extremely early challenge, much of the first 45 minutes played to a stalemate, with Roma desperately trying to swing the ball into Edin Dzeko or back out wide to Stephan El Shaarawy, only to be left with their hat in their hand.
Lack of goals not withstanding, Spalletti’s tactical changes seemed to have their intended effect; Emerson’s forward runs made up for a lack of nominal fullback play, while Dzeko did a wonderful job of holding the point of attack, springing El Shaarawy and Salah on those diagonal runs we all love so much. The problem was, at least in the first half, a lack of clear cut chances.
Unfortunately for the Roma, the second half was much of the same. They possessed, moved and shot the ball at will, but were time and time again left wanting. Whether it was due to poorly timed headers, hasty attempts or Skorupski rising to the occasion, Roma simply couldn’t find the back of the net, and with little beyond the out of form Diego Perotti and the still not 100% Bruno Peres on the bench, there wasn’t any help waiting in the wings.
At the end of the day, this is the Roma we’ve come to know over the past few years. They dominated possession, outshot Empoli by a factor of three yet couldn’t capitalized when it mattered most. If you need further evidence of the difference between Roma and Juventus, look no further than this weekend. The Old Lady was far from prolific yet found a way to beat their opponents, third place (at the time) Napoli, while Roma couldn’t even dispatch of 18th place Empoli.
In terms of the actual standings on the table, Roma aren’t that much worse for the wear, they’re still in second place, four points behind league leading Juventus, but they squandered a seemingly perfect opportunity to keep that gap at two points. Furthermore, by dropping two points, they’ve opened the door for Lazio, who are now only two points behind Roma.
Taking down Juventus would be fantastic, but this season’s main objective was and should remain locking down an automatic birth into the Champions League group stage. Dropping points like this, and narrowing the margins on second place, could spell doom for Roma come summer time.
The Giallorossi have another busy week ahead, with a Europa League fixture against Austria Wien on Thursday and Bologna on Sunday.