While Roma's result in the second leg of their clash with Real Madrid was a bit expected, especially given the hole they dug themselves in the first match, it was a disappointment nonetheless. So, it wasn't terribly surprising that Roma came out a bit flat against Udinese this afternoon. Despite the relatively low voltage appearance, Roma managed an easy enough victory over the Zebras, pulling off a stilted but still appreciated 2-1 victory.
The dull sheen on Roma's attack is a relative criticism of course, they still created chances early in the match, but the passing just seemed to be missing something. Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy still charged ahead with aplomb, but those subtle little back passes in the final third that, in prior weeks, confused the defense and opened up attacking lanes simply weren't working early in the match.
It began to look as if Roma had fallen back into old habits, waiting for a free kick or a penalty to provide the spark, but then Roma's most maligned man broke open the match in only the 15th minute, something with which Roma does with alarming frequency.
Edin Dzeko: 15th Minute
While Luciano Spalletti deemed getting a Dzeko goal priority number one, the real maestro on this was Mohamed Salah. Just look at that touch--in midair, Salah deftly flicks it forward to Dzeko, finding him in prime position to slot in home to give Roma an early lead. If Dzeko has any chance of earning consistent minutes, he must develop and maintain this sort of chemistry with Salah, who could be the de facto second striker so critical to Dzeko's success throughout his career.
The ensuing 30 minutes of the first half played on without issue, Roma missed a few more chances, while Kostas Manolas and company kept the backline intact, preserving a 1-0 lead that looked anything but assuring.
The early goings of the second half were eerily reminiscent of the closing stages of the first 45; Roma was able to do pretty much whatever they wanted, but the clinical precision we've seen over the past seven weeks simply wasn't there. Diego Perotti wasn't nearly as incisive and El Shaarawy and Salah weren't quite as dangerous on the flanks.
While it's hard to pin down the precise reason why, give some credit to Udinese; they responded perfectly to Spalletti's first half tactics, surrounding Roma's widemen the minute they touched the ball and collapsing on the point of the 18-yard-box, giving Dzeko precious little time to make a decision.
In many ways, this had the makings of a Garcia-style Roma match, where the early lead would be blown thanks to a lack of execution and/or failure to adjust on the fly, but then, as he seemingly always does, Alessandro Florenzi opened up his bag of tricks when it mattered most, pulling off another improbable goal.
Alessandro Florenzi: 74th Minute
While it wasn't as crazy as his bicycle kick from a few seasons ago, or as heartwarming as his Nonna celebration, Florenzi's goal today was equally impressive. Taking the lob from Miralem Pjanic, Florenzi picked the ball out of the air with his right foot and guided it past the oncoming defender, then skirted around him and somehow found a way to stab at the ball with that same right foot, beating the second Udinese defender to the spot, all while having enough presence of mind to impart a bounce to the ball to get it past that same defender's outstretched legs and the charging keeper.
Richard Whittle mentioned it during the telecast, and he's absolutely correct, this kid seldom scores a regular goal. And thank god for that, because Udinese pulled one back about ten minutes later making this latest Florenzi flair the match winner. Roma's eighth straight, in case you weren't aware.
If Roma and Udinese play but neither Totti nor Di Natale takes the pitch, did it really happen?— BrenCdT (@BrenCdT) March 13, 2016
First things first, there is a clear gulf in class between these two sides, so Roma should have won this match every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Nevertheless, the fact that they were able to pull it out despite not bringing their A-game is a positive sign; sometimes you just have to win dirty, that's the way it is.
Now, whether Roma's relative malaise was due to some sort of Madrid hangover, we cannot say, but they got the job done and now have a five point cushion over fourth place Inter Milan, who, coincidentally, happens to be Roma's next opponent. Fancy that.
It wasn't the most resounding victory we've ever witnessed, but Roma was sharp enough to earn her eighth straight victory today, and seriously, who among us thought this would ever happen again.