We began our preview by talking about the now almost too numerous options available for Luciano Spalletti. With the returns of Lucas Digne, Alessandro Florenzi and Edin Dzeko, Spalletti would have a virtual carte blanche of attacking options. However, rather than throwing all those returning faces back into the fray, Spalletti chose to rely on his now usual cast of characters, though that familiarity made Roma anything but predictable.
Had you perused Twitter some 20 to 30 minutes prior to kickoff, you would've seen several projected lineups that, though they featured roughly the same names, each carried drastically different tactical implications. When all was said and done, Spalletti ran out a 3-5-2 to start the match, though the interplay between Florenzi, Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti certainly blurred the tactical lines once the match actually kicked off.
From the outset, Roma's mission was clear: be direct, put Sampdoria back on their heels and dictate the match from the word go. While they weren't exactly bombarding Emiliano Viviani with shots, Roma's passing, movement and general manipulation of attacking space left little doubt as to who was in control of this match.
Still, someone had to score, and for a while it looked as though all that synchronicity would go for naught, as Roma mustered little more than a series of Miralem Pjanic headers, one which sailed well wide of the net, while the other was easily handled by Viviani.
Despite those failed attempts, Roma was very much in control, maintaining possession and snuffing out the intermittent Sampdoria attempts on goal, but as the first half wore on, all 22 men on the pitch became noticeably tired and it began to look as if they'd head into the changing rooms tied nil-nil, but then something wonderful happened.
Alessandro Florenzi: 45th Minute
GOAL Florenzi! Roma lead Sampdoria 1-0 at halftime pic.twitter.com/5cZo26SsZO— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) February 7, 2016
What that clip doesn't show is how Florenzi started this attacking foray to begin with, almost single handedly springing the counter attack and setting up El Shaarawy's attempt to begin with. While SES' shot was ultimately blocked, Florenzi followed the ball and found himself in perfect position to seize upon the suddenly loose ball. From there, all it took was a wonderfully struck header to give Roma the lead heading into half.
Spalletti surprised many by pulling off Ervin Zukanovic, who seems like he's locked down the starting role already, for the man he ostensibly replaced, Lucas Digne.
Changes or not, Roma picked up right where they left off.
Diego Perotti: 50th Minute
GOAL Perotti!! Roma 2-0 Sampdoria pic.twitter.com/dvvKAWyxbi— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) February 7, 2016
Look at how Florenzi and El Shaarawy each keep this play alive with deft little flicks, but what a finish from Perotti. As if Roma's new #8 hasn't been impressive enough already, he pulls this one out of the bag, picking the ball out of the air, turning, pivoting and slamming it home; fantastic passage of play from all three men.
Sampdoria pulled one back a few moments later, taking advantage of some poor defensive positioning from Roma, which directly or indirectly, depending on how you look at it, led to a deflection of Pjanic's leg, which redirected the ball just enough to sneak past Wojciech Szczesny. Coincidentally, that was Roma's second own goal this season, both of which came against Sampdoria. It's an odd game, football.
Spalletti's next change was made with an eye on controlling the tempo once more, as he subbed off the fatigued Maicon for Edin Dzeko, dropping Florenzi back into the wingback role. As the second half marshalled on, Spalletti brought on Iago Falque for El Shaarawy, Roma created a few more chances, though none truly threatened Viviano's net.
Despite the changes, Sampdoria predictably pushed forward, marshalled by Antonio Cassano, who instantaneously changed the tenor of the match, slicing up Roma's backline at will. In fact, were it not for some heads up play by Szczesny, Cassano may have very well levelled this match.
The Blucerchiati nearly tied things up again at the death, with Mattia Cassani's near-last minute attempt denied only by the immutable laws of goalpost physics. It probably wasn't a match Roma deserved to win, not in the sense that they were outplayed, but rather they relented and relaxed when they shouldn't have, and should have, for all intents and purposes, coughed up two points at the end.
But they didn't, and that's what matters. Luciano Spalletti's thumb print is become clearer by the week; it's hard to believe this is even the same squad that limped through 2015. Win, lose or draw, this club is heading in the right direction.