While it may have been the easy angle to suggest that today’s match would mirror last week’s encounter with Genoa, it (by and large) proved true. Almost immediately, Roma threatened the Udinese goal, with Edin Dzeko nearly chipping Orestis Karnezis early in the match, followed by several other flurries from the Giallorossi. And, much like last week, Roma eventually found a goal, though this one was by their own accord, before intermittently grabbing and relinquishing the initiative against a mediocre opponent, exposing several cracks in the Roman facade along the way.
With Radja Nainggolan, Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko charging at head seemingly at will, this one seemed destined for a repeat of August’s 4-0 blowout, but the early efforts were either turned away or were lacking that final, incisive pass. Despite their positive record, something has been missing from Roma’s attack over the past six weeks.
Well, that something might just be this...
Radja Nainggolan: 12th Minute
Full credit to Radja for guiding this one home, but holy hell, what a ball from Kevin Strootman. The Dutch Jesuus served this one up on a platter from twenty-some-odd yards out, perfectly weighted, perfectly measured and precisely timed for Nainggolan to beat the keeper. These were the sort of things we lauded Strootman for when he first arrived a few seasons ago—being the missing link, the it, the something in Roma’s midfield—and if he can start doing that again, watch out!
However, as we all know, one-goal leads are about as safe as lambskin prophylactics, and Roma pissed away a golden chance to double their lead.
I don’t want to rehash this one, so I’ll let this stream of Tweets tell the tale:
The remainder of the first half, as we said, was eerily similar to last week’s match. While all common sense and good reason would suggest that Roma should have throttled Udinese in the first 45 minutes, the action waxed and waned; Udine threatened on the counter, with Wojciech Szczesny coming up huge on several occasions, while Roma’s own attempts at countering were, well, not inspiring.
Nevertheless, they walked into the dressing room with a one-nil lead, one that grew more perilous as the second half wore on.
Luciano Spalletti opted for no changes in the second stanza, hoping instead that El Shaarawy or Dzeko would turn things around. Dzeko continued his malaise (more on that in a moment), while El Shaarawy just couldn’t seem to get a decent touch on the ball anywhere at any moment.
Given that sense of desperation, it was only right that Spalletti turn to Francesco Totti, and the best 40-year-old footballer on the planet didn’t disappoint. On the pitch for maybe 30 second, Totti nearly broke this one open, playing a lovely ball through to a streaking Radja Nainggolan on the right edge of Udinese’s box, and while Nainggolan wasn’t able to latch on, in an instant, Totti showed why he’s always been a cut above the rest; the entire tenor of this match changed the moment he came on.
From there, things got ugly, Edin Dzeko in 2015-2016 ugly. By some estimates (it’s like dating the universe, you can come close, but not exactly precise), Dzeko had at least three chances from the run of play to put this match away and came up wanting each and every single time, glancing headers away from the goal or firing helplessly into Karnezis’ arms.
For a player who runs on confidence, this is extremely worrisome. Dzeko has operated at extremes during his brief Roma tenure, delighting us from the get go in last season’s victory over Juventus, only to flounder in the spring, earning a permanent spot on the bench behind Spalletti’s nouveau strikerless attack, before rising to prominence this fall. Well, don’t look now, Dzeko has been off the mark over the past month and a half, scoring only once in his past seven matches, and that one was a gimme, too.
Equally troubling has been Roma’s deplorable lack of effective depth. Granted, they were a bit short today without Diego Perotti and Daniele De Rossi, but after the fabulous 40-year-old, there was literally no one to bring onto the pitch to assist the faltering attack. Why Spalletti would trust Gerson to start against Juventus but not to come on and kill time for 15 minutes against Udinese is beyond me.
Despite all that somehow Roma hung onto this one, there was no last minute miracle to be had for the Zebras. This is precisely the sort of match they would have coughed away under Rudi Garcia, so we can consider this progress, but with the admission from Spalletti this week that there is (likely) no business coming during this transfer window, we’d better hope that the rash of injuries subsides.