From the outset, it was apparent that Roma’s final match in the Europa League group stage was one of little importance. The Capitoline club had already guaranteed first place, and with that a ticket to the knockout round. This lack of pressure meant that Luciano Spalletti was given space to experiment, and experiment he did. Gone were eight of eleven starters from Roma’s previous match, and in came The Replacements (and this guy named Francesco Totti, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him). How did they do? Well, they didn’t lose.
The game started off quietly but with promising contributions from a couple of the younger members of the senior team, with Moustapha Seck and Gerson particularly looking intent on making a case for future minutes. Juan Iturbe, meanwhile, continued to be Juan Iturbe, squandering a beautiful chance delivered on a platter by none other than Francesco Totti in the 16th minute. This trend continued throughout the game for Iturbe, and at this point one must truly begin to feel sorry for him – it doesn’t seem like he could have a decent first touch if his life (or career) depended on it. This tweet perfectly sums up Iturbe’s performance in this match, if not his entire Roman career:
Iturbe's season in one GIF... pic.twitter.com/jTlRMQFM5t— Marco Messina (@Marcocalcio22) December 8, 2016
Simply put, if this game is any indication, don’t expect to see Juan out on the field in Giallorossi colors again for quite some time.
On the defensive front, Thomas Vermaelen continued to disappoint, leading to multiple counter-attacks only just saved by the final Roman defender. A.S. Roma’s second favorite Belgian didn’t exactly make a case to his boss for more minutes in the future, and we can only hope that his loan experience in Italy continues with him riding the pine behind Kostas Manolas, Antonio Rüdiger and a surprisingly good Federico Fazio.
Yet it wasn’t just individual performances that were lacking today; Roma’s overall output left much to be desired. The team was rather timid – almost as if there were eight new players rotated into the squad. Surprising, I know. The halftime whistle blew and I almost couldn’t believe that only 45 minutes had elapsed; who would have thought a team that was so emotional and so committed versus Lazio could look so deflated, so uninspired versus Astra Giurgiu? Okay, probably the entire world.
The second half got off to a similarly tepid start, with Roma continuing to allow counter after infuriating counter. A series of almost-goals by Astra forced at least some Roma players to wake up, with Gerson and Seck continuing their good form from the first half (and Alisson defending the goal well when necessary).
Surprisingly, when Spalletti had the chance to make a substitution, he brought in two of the club’s workhorses, Edin Dzeko and Radja Nainggolan. Neither of those substitutions could inject any energy to the Giallorossi side, and neither could the addition of Primavera center-back Riccardo Marchizza, who was afforded six minutes of play. Time expired, and a legion of Roma fans let out a collective yawn.
To sum it up, this was a ludicrously drab match. Roma held nearly 70 percent of possession yet managed to do exactly nothing with it. Astra Giurgiu are now through to the knockout round along with Roma, and it is now incredibly apparent that Juan Iturbe, Thomas Vermaelen, and others have no real future at this club.