Sports cliches exist for a reason; sure they’re not the most original manner in which to describe a football match, but sometimes they’re all you’ve got. And in this instance, the old platitude a tale of two halves couldn’t be more apt. Roma started off the match absolutely listless, recycling possession rather than attacking goal; the play was slow, stilted and lacking any direction; it was vintage 2015 Roma, but man oh man, did they turn it on the second half.
Normally we provide a half-by-half breakdown of the action, but beyond a few thwarted attempts at goal, Roma didn’t really do much of note in the first 45 minutes. You could see the effects of the Porto match on the player’s legs, particularly the midfield; the play was tired and uninspiring. If they didn’t turn the tide, they risked dropping points at home to a vastly inferior side; things that absolutely cannot happen this season if they have any chance at the top two.
But back to that tale...
We have no idea what Luciano Spalletti said or did in the locker room at halftime, but Roma was absolutely vicious in the second half, showing a Cobra Kai level of mercy for their opponents. There is no mercy in this Olimpico.
The difference between the first and second halves was palpable and instantaneous, as the Giallorossi fired off three shots on goal in the first eight minutes alone, and while their first two goals were scored from the spot, they resulted directly from this change in philosophy. Diego Perotti, in particular, was instrumental in moving Roma forward, so it was quite fitting that he slotted home the eventual match winner from the spot.
Now, we normally don’t post highlights of penalties, but this was without a doubt one of the calmest penalties you’ll ever see. Consider Diego Perotti the anti-Simone Zaza.
Diego Perotti as cool as you like from the spot pic.twitter.com/CoRFk4ySRE— Calcio AS Roma (@CalcioASRoma) August 20, 2016
Perotti would factor once more, this time finding Salah with a sensational long ball, leading the Egyptian into excellent attacking space, where Salah’s speed enabled him to toe poke past Emmanuel Badu, who summarily brought him down, gifting Roma their second penalty of the afternoon.
Spalletti’s invigorated side wouldn’t be satisfied with mere penalties, though, hitting the zebras with a flourish to end the match, tagging Udinese for two more goals in a two minute span.
Edin Dzeko: 82nd Minute
There was nothing too spectacular about this goal, beyond Radja Nainggolan’s incredible work rate and lovely sliding pass, but Dzeko grabbed a much deserved goal to put Roma up 3-0. Salah would put the final icing on the cake 120 seconds later...
Mohamed Salah: 84th Minute
Now this one was special. Cutting in from the left flank, Perotti played a rainbow of a cross to Salah, catching him on the far post where his initial headed attempt was rebuffed. Credit to Salah for sticking with the play and finding a way to score, but Perotti’s inspired play made this goal possible.
If you’ll permit me to fall back on that wonderful cliche again, this really was a tale of two halves. To say the difference between the two halves was stark would be an insult to the word itself, not to mention the Wards of the North. While we can, have and will quibble with Spalletti’s substitution patterns, today he got it absolutely correct.
The inclusion of Diego Perotti was so transformational and so incisive, you have to wonder why he didn’t start in the first place, but that’s the beauty of this club; all of the depth is up top.
Whether it’s Dzeko, Perotti, El Shaarawy or Salah, Spalletti will always have a game changing ace up his sleeve. He can save SES or Salah for a second half injection of speed, throw Dzeko in as a sub to change the shape and focus of the attack, or, like he did today, use Perotti as his second half playmaker, completely keeping the defense on its heels.
Sure, it would have been great if Roma played with this sense of urgency from the jump, but you’ll get no complaints from me on a 4-0 victory. Salah, Dzeko, Perotti, Bruno Peres, Kostas Manolas and even Thomas Vermaelen were all fantastic today. The second half showed just how fast, just how clinical and just how potent this club can be.