Normally I'd say I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but here we are after yet another last gasp victory—say it with me now, Roma never makes things easy. With three absolutely essential points on the line, the Giallorossi stuck to the script: strike early, blow the lead, bring on Totti to save the day. While today's 3-2 victory over Genoa skewed a bit from that path, thanks to some second half heroics, Roma's unbeaten run marched on, temporarily placing them in second place.
The big news in this match, of course, was the return of Kevin Strootman, who earned his first start of the season and only his seventh league appearance in the past two seasons. While he didn't factor on the scoreboard, The Dutch Jesuus looked pretty smooth and gave Roma fans everywhere reason to believe in a Lazarus-style comeback (or Jesus, I guess, right?).
Any who, let's jump right into this one. Luciano Spalletti's slightly altered 4-3-3 wasted little time making things interesting, and I'm not even talking about Mohamed Salah's 6th minute goal. Within, oh, I don't know, 30 seconds, Roma coughed up the ball in their own 18, narrowly avoiding disasters as Antonio Rüdiger and Lucas Digne struggled to clear the line.
After avoiding an early clunker, Roma struck quickly, scoring a quintessential Spalletti goal before the match even had a chance to breathe.
Mohamed Salah: 6th Minute
GOAL Salah!! Genoa 0-1 Roma pic.twitter.com/mTPWvmDgBu— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) May 2, 2016
Don't you just love the video of the TV? What is this, 1997? Despite the lack of HD, the beauty of this goal still shines. Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Salah did it again, cutting up the opposing defense with a series of intricate passes and layoffs within the tightest of spaces. Just an absolutely gorgeous sequence between the Three Amigos, starting off with a back heel by SES, Salah and Perotti immediately set up a tidy little give and go.
The defense simply had no chance, just look at how the defense froze as the ball was played back to Perotti—they had no idea who to cover; step up and the ball goes to Salah, relent and Perotti pulls one off from eighteen yards.
We talk a lot about Roma's need for a true striker, but the manner in which these three play off each other is simply sublime. The pass, they move and linkup in unison, giving defenses precious little time to react before striking a decisive blow; it's precisely the sort of direct attacking play Roma was lacking for much of the past year-and-a-half.
Beautiful play or not, ugly Roma reared her head less than ten minutes later, surrendering a goal to an old friend.
Panagiotis Tachtsidis: 13th Minute
Good Ole Copy & Paste, the man who nearly rendered Miralem Pjanic irrelevant, took advantage of some extremely lax defending on Roma's part to level this match, beating Wojciech Szczesny on the far post; just horrid, horrid defending, but quite a nice shot from #77.
The sides would head into the dressing room leveled at one. Not the worst outcome given Genoa's home record, but far from comforting.
Roma managed to stay afloat for the first twenty minutes of the second half before blowing another lead, and hey, wouldn't you know it, it was Leonardo Pavoletti, the man who hadn't scored since January.
Leonardo Pavoletti: 65th Minute
Hard to say what was worse here, Maicon's positioning or the fact that Rüdiger was beaten to the spot, but whatever it was, Roma's shoddy and imprecise defending nearly cost them the match, as it has so many times this season.
Things waxed and waned from there, but for the fifth consecutive match, Totti (directly or indirectly) pulled Roma's ass from the fire, this time in spectacular fashion.
Francesco Totti: 77th Minute
What. Else. Is. There. To. Say?
Seriously, this is almost comical at this point, Totti once again comes on late(ish) in the second half to save the day as only he can. At this point, we might as well call him Mariano Rivera; all he does is close games. And how fitting was it that Daniele De Rossi, still donning the captains arm band, laid that ball off?
Totti's thunderbolt aside, El Shaarawy played the role of hero today, grabbing the match winner ten minutes later.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 87th Minute
First off, props to Edin Dzeko. Not only was he able to chase down that lobbed ball, he played an absolutely perfect square ball into the middle of the area, with his weaker foot, no less. From there, let's also shine a light on Salah's restraint; that ball was played into a WIDE open space, one in which Salah or SES could've slammed it home, but he saw El Shaarawy charging and held off, leaving it to the Pharaoh to blast it into the back of the net.
While I'm really enjoying this run, I just wish, for once, they'd divert from the script. Would a 3-0 or 4-1 laugher really be that bad? Must they always leave it to the death? Thank god there's only two matches left, I don't think our hearts can take any more of this chaos.
Chaotic or not, there were a few positives to take from this match. El Shaarawy grabbed a much needed goal, ending a four match drought, Totti (once again) added to his tome of excellence, while Mohamed Salah proved once more why he was worth the hassle this summer. Salah now has 14 goals and six assists in all competitions, far and away the best season of his career, and to think, he's only 23-years-old.
But rather than focusing on break outs, let's turn our attention to the recently broken, the return of Kevin Strootman. After three surgeries on the same knee, many (myself included) remain skeptical that Strootman can be what he was in 2013-2014; an indispensable part of Roma's lineup. So the fact that he was not only able to go the full 90, but to be effective and efficient throughout this match, is a testament to his resolve and should give us all hope for the future, but let's pump the brakes for a minute here.
Strootman and Radja Nainggolan are both quality players, somewhat similar, somewhat different, but are they mutually exclusive? Does it have to be one or another? A healthy Strootman is in no way a replacement for Nainggolan. In order to compete on multiple fronts, let alone take down Juventus, Roma needs them both.
So while this was a pleasant sign, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We're miles away from replacing Nainggolan with anyone, he's simply too important to Roma's success.