Well, that was certainly one of the easier matches of the season, wasn't it? While Roma managed to grab a somewhat early lead, the previously inevitable equalizer never materialized. There were no defensive lapses, no brain farts from Wojciech Szczesny, no ill-timed fouls from Kostas Manolas, nothing. Roma was almost perfect, so much so that they didn't even need Francesco Totti to bail them out. This is how they should always play against mid table teams--no equivocation, no half measures, just come right out and go for the jugular.
Given the uneven nature of this match--Roma completed 90% of their passes, pulled off 23 shots, nearly half of which were on target, and held 65% of the possession--we'll keep this run back pretty brief.
While the Olimpico wasn't exactly sold out, it was nearly as full as we've seen all season, including one of our very own, and those in attendance were treated to quite a show. Luciano Spalletti rolled out his usual lineup, and it wasn't long before one of the biggest beneficiaries of the mid season managerial change made his mark on the match.
Radja Nainggolan: 18th Minute
Nainggolan needed a bit of luck to crack open this match, but don't let that distract you from the lovely build up play that preceded this goal. Alessandro Florenzi took the initiative, driving the ball down the right flank before laying it off to Mohamed Salah, who then quickly played it to Nainggolan, who was quickly assisted by Lady Luck.
Watch this series closely and ask yourself, what the hell was Nainggolan doing with that ball? Ostensibly it looks like he was trying to find Florenzi on a backdoor cut, but Ale hadn't even made a move yet, so this was as ill-advised a pass as we've seen Nainggolan play. Fortunately Chievo did us all a favor by bouncing the ball right back to Radja, who, credit where it's due, pulled off a hell of shot under duress.
The ensuing 20 minutes played on without issue, Roma was as crisp as we've seen them under Spalletti, charging forward at will, pinging the ball back and forth, running off each other, switching play, snuffing out attacks; it was glorious, but then things got a bit tastier as the first half wound down.
Antonio Rüdiger: 39th Minute
This one was just beautiful from start to finish. Miralem Pjanic played an absolutely flawless ball here--the weight and trajectory were perfect, dipping over and beyond the keeper--and was met by an equally perfect header by Rüdiger; it was quick and powerful, beating the keeper at an incredibly tight angle. We'll have more to say on Rüdiger later, but you simply cannot say enough about this kid's maturation; he's grown by leaps and bounds this season; his contributions on set pieces are just the icing on an already delicious cake.
And that was really it, for all intents and purposes this match was over after 18 minutes, but the second frame wasn't without its highlights, so let's take a look, shall we?
Spalletti kept his eleven in tact as the second half began, but the moment we all waited for came just shy of the hour mark, Totti's 600th Serie A appearance, the most ever for an attacking player, and second only to Paolo Maldini and Javier Zanetti.
While Totti didn't have to dip into his bag of tricks to save this match, he made his mark in the most sublime way possible.
Miralem Pjanic: 85th Minute
This one was so incisive and so quick, that if you blinked, you probably missed it. Run this one back in slow motion and what seemed like a chaotic moment quickly becomes a well-orchestrated, premeditated move. As Kevin Strootman plays the ball to Totti, notice how Pjanic immediately breaks towards the goal, fully confident in Totti's ability to find him in open space, and that's just what he did--just take a look at how Totti shuffles his feet as he cradles Strootman's pass, then immediately redirects it towards the breaking Pjanic, all in a manner of a couple of nanoseconds.
Simply amazing, and incase you didn't realize where the genius in this goal resided, look no further than Pjanic's gesturing after he slotted home his tenth league goal of the season. After tucking away the goal, Pjanic immediately started pointing at Totti. No screaming, no shouting, nary a celebration at all, just silent reverence for the man who creates goals like no other.
And that was that. Game over.
What else is there to say? This is how champions play, Roma put Chievo on their asses from the opening whistle, never giving the Donkeys a chance to make their mark. If they could do this consistently against the Chievos, the Bolognas and the Atalantas of the world, they'd be fighting for first place every season.
However, now is not the time for ifs and buts. Roma's performance today was everything Spalletti football can be; fast, furious, overwhelming and entertaining--it was a fitting way to close out the Olimpico for the season. Roma has done their part, now all we can do is hope for a miracle in Torino later this afternoon/evening.