Still high off their near victory at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Roma looked primed to tease the Toros this afternoon. So high was their confidence that Eusebio Di Francesco actually tinkered with his lineup, fielding Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Daniele De Rossi all at the same time. What initially profiled as a 4-3-1-2 with Radja in the hole, morphed into the usual 4-3-3 with Radja serving as a right winger.
The sun was shining on the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, Roma’s kits were resplendently white and Stephan El Shaarawy’s hair was as finely coiffed as it ever was, but despite all that gallantry, Roma’s attack was anything but.
While they were able to double Torino’s passing output in the first half, EDFs attack was more a mishmash of well intentioned but fruitless passes than a well orchestrated symphony of attacking football. Pellegrini, Nainggolan and Alessandro Florenzi each had their way on the right flank, but aside from a few crosses met by glancing headers, there was very little in the way of clear cut scoring chances.
Roma’s best in the first half came in the 44th minute when an Aleksandar Kolarov cross found Strootman virtually unmarked on the far post, but Dutch Jesuus wasn’t able to lead it to salvation.
Due to their lack of symmetry in attack, Roma wasn’t able to punch through Torino’s midfield, which wasn’t necessarily compact but was receiving combative performances in the first 45 from Tomas Rincon, M’Baye Niang and Daniele Baselli.
This had all the makings of a scoreless draw, as neither side could make that crucial pass.
The second frame picked up where the first ended. EDF opted for no immediate changes and the results were very much the same. Roma held possession, moved the ball around and generally had the better of the flow, but the results simply didn’t come.
However, as he’s done so often this season, Aleksandar Kolarov was Roma’s savior, this time delivering the match winner from a set piece.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 69th Minute
It took all of a week or so for Kolarov to cement himself as Roma’s designated free kick taker back in the summer, and today he delivered when it was needed most. With Roma’s attack showing all the grace of a new born calf, Kolarov stepped up to the spot and tucked one inside the upper left hand corner, probably the only spot in which Salvatore Sirigu couldn’t reach it. A To The K, Homeboy.
I shudder to think where this club would be without Edin Dzeko and Kolarov. While Dzeko didn’t factor much in today’s match, Kolarov, in addition to that goal, made a handful of game changing tackles and provided his usual stellar service from the left flank.
The ensuing half hour of calcio played on without issue. Roma swapped Pellegrini for Cengiz Under, Stephan El Shaarawy for Diego Perotti and lastly Bruno Peres for Florenzi. And that was about it; there were no discernable chances for either side. Umar Sadiq strayed offsides several times and Peres found some space late in the match but fired wide.
Book it, Roma 1, Torino 0.
We’ve mentioned it in these spaces many times, but top teams win ugly, and that’s precisely what Roma did today. I’m not exactly certain why their esprit de corps dropped so much following Wednesday’s thriller against Chelsea, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was the same old ‘Roma playing to the level of her opponent’, but something was definitely amiss today.
EDFs decision to move Nainggolan to the right wing worked well enough in and of itself—Radja had two shots and three key passes—but it made the midfield impotent, weak and disjointed. Roma’s inability to settle on a philosophy and simple identity in midfield has held the club back several times this season. Combatting this by fielding all four at once didn’t yield the intended results.
However, it wasn’t all stagnation for Roma today. Let’s take a moment and talk about Juan Jesus, who may have just turned in his best performance to date. In 90 minutes, Rrruan had three tackles, five interceptions and three clearances, while also completing nearly 90% of his passes, hitting on four of nine long attempts. Between JJ and Hector Moreno, Roma’s backline was swift and efficient. Time and time again, both Jesus and Moreno (which sounds like a Mexican law firm), closed out spaces on the edges of the 18 to snuff out would be attacks and did, as we just saw, a tremendous job of building play from the back.
Today was a day for depth. Without Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio, Roma’s two much maligned central defenders stepped up to the plate and helped Roma win an ugly one. With Patrick Schick and Rick Karsdorp’s imminent returns, we may finally see the full machine Monchi assembled this summer.
Roma jumps back into it on Wednesday when they welcome Crotone to the Olimpico.
How good was Juan Jesus today?
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