Following their 4-0 thrashing of Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia, one that made Roma look like the biggest, baddest club on the planet, the biggest question heading into today’s match was whether or not that form would carry over to the weekend. Facing tenth place Cagliari, a club they haven’t exactly dominated in recent years, moving that momentum to the weekend was no sure thing, and indeed for much of the first half, it seemed as though fate was not on Roma’s side.
With nearly his full squad at the ready, Spalletti opted for the 3-4-2-1, with Diego Perotti and Emerson Palmieri rejoining the starting eleven, and despite the lack of goals, it worked about as well as we’ve come to expect. With Cagliari sitting back, Spalletti was able to morph his side into a virtual 2-5-3, with Bruno Peres having license to move forward, which he did with aplomb, bossing the right flank to the tune of 35 touches in the first half.
Thanks in part to Peres assertiveness on the right, and Perotti’s dominance in the middle/left, Roma pumped in 23 crosses in the first half, with nine coming from those two South Americans alone. The problem, as you probably noticed, was that those crosses often went for naught. While Peres, Perotti and even Daniele De Rossi were able to pump cross after cross into the six yard box, Roma’s other forwards simply couldn’t get a proper foot on the ball, as Edin Dzeko was particularly off the mark, flubbing a beautifully placed through ball right into the hands of Cagliari’s keeper, Rafael.
The first half was the stuff of Roma nightmares—effortlessly moving the ball and creating chances only to be left wanting—but you can’t say they played poorly, they were simply missing that final touch.
Somewhat surprisingly, the second half started as a mirror opposite of the first, with Cagliari pressing the issue and nearly capitalizing on two Bruno Peres errors. Apparently blindingly passing it backwards while you’re attempting to clear the ball is ill advised, who knew?
Fortunately, those errors were snuffed out by, among others, Radja Nainggolan, thus preserving the stalemate for a short time. Roma would break that deadlock ten minutes into the half, thanks to Edin Dzeko, who was in dire need of a real striker’s goal
Edin Dzeko: 55th Minute
GOAL Dzeko!! Roma 1-0 Cagliari pic.twitter.com/jTG72y581M— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) January 22, 2017
We said striker’s goal for a good reason, just look at how Dzeko bodies his man up, holding him off and getting just enough separation to somehow guide the ball into the upper corner of the far post. We’d be remiss if we didn’t tip our hats to Antonio Rüdiger for that perfect lob, too—this shift in formation this season has really shown the world how multifaceted Toni is; he’s much more than a tall body in defense.
The remainder of the second half was, in many ways, a carbon copy of the first—Roma surging ahead, creating and missing chances, though this time the culprit was Bruno Peres, who missed a golden opportunity in the 76th minute when he followed up a wicked Dzeko header, only to be denied by Rafael who, in fairness, was Johnny on the spot, getting to the post quick as can be.
Dzeko would threaten again some ten minutes later, whipping a head right at Rafael, only to be denied by the crossbar. He really is a maddening player lately, isn’t he? He looked so off the mark in the first 45 minutes, yet so instrumental in the second, nearly grabbing two more goals.
Despite the lack of crooked numbers on the scoreboard, and we really can’t emphasize this enough, Roma played wonderful tonight. From their utter dominance on the wings to their collapsing on any would be Cagliari attacker, this match was Roma’s from the word go.
With all the attention and praise heaped upon Dzeko, Nainggolan, Perotti and Mohamed Salah, it’s easy to forget how flat out dominant Roma’s defense is and has been; thanks to Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Rüdiger, Wojciech Szczesny didn’t have to make a single save tonight, and in match where the offense wasn’t exactly precise, their worth was front and center.
It wasn’t flawless by any means, but were it not for a disallowed goal and a crossbar, we might be looking at a 3-0 laugher, so this match was certainly a matter of perspective. With this victory, Roma maintains a three point lead over third place Napoli.
Next up, a Sunday trip to Sampdoria.