For weeks we warned about Roma’s foreboding December schedule, a trio of matches against three of their fiercest competitors—Lazio, Milan and Juventus—that could very well determine the fate of their 2016-2017 season. And while you’d like to think that meticulous planning and peerless execution would be the arbiters of that destiny, as is often the case, survival simply meant winning a handful of key moments.
Well, here we are, two-thirds of the way through that gauntlet and Roma, though far from perfect, has won the moments that mattered; delivering excellence in the nanoseconds that decide matches. There’s something downright Juventusian about that, isn’t there?
For much of this match it looked like Roma would cough it away, whether it was Wojciech Szczesny committing and ultimately saving a penalty, or Edin Dzeko coming up short in the first half, Roma was simply out of sorts. While they were passing decently enough and driving the ball deep into Milan’s territory, the shots simply weren’t effective, as, in addition to Dzeko, Federico Fazio, Antonio Rüdiger and Bruno Peres all came up short against Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Making matters worse, Roma lost Peres to a horrible ankle injury as the first half came to a close. Roma was off the mark, sluggish and, quite literally, limping into the dressing room; it was Rudi Garcia all over again—coming up short in the worst moments.
But talk about a change in the weather. Roma was markedly different in the second half. With Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi flying all over the pitch, Spalletti’s men absolutely dominated the center of the park, intercepting 15 passes (a third of which came from DDR) and pulling off 12 dribbles in the second half alone. Milan simply couldn’t string passes together, much less conjure up a cohesive attack.
We’ve talked a lot about the fatigue concerns surrounding Roma’s midfield, particularly with Leandro Paredes sidelined, but tonight we caught a glimpse of what makes these three so special.
Speaking of special...
Radja Nainggolan: 62nd Minute
GOAL Nainggolan!!! Roma 1-0 Milan pic.twitter.com/iecoeRDKOX— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) December 12, 2016
As Uncle Jesse would say, “Lord have mercy.” What a shot! I suppose if I pulled one of these off every couple of matches, I’d let ‘er rip from 20-30 yards all the time, too, but in this instance, we can’t blame Radja for giving it a go—he absolutely cracked this one, skirting the ball around Donnarumma from roughly 20 yards with his weaker left foot.
And that was it, just this one moment; a second-and-a-half or so that meant the difference between a bitter draw and a bodacious victory. These are the moments that separate contenders from pretenders, and so far Roma’s midfield—Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi—has tamed these temporal moments.
It’s just too bad we can’t say the same thing about Torino, but as it stands now, Roma are four points back of Juventus ahead of their mammoth encounter Saturday at Juventus Stadium.
So, in the meantime Luciano, ensconce these guys in bubble wrap and play plenty of soothing music.