Despite a few injuries to key players, notably Kostas Manolas, Eusebio Di Francesco’s starting eleven was relatively familiar. Alisson, Aleksandar Kolarov, Federico Fazio, Juan Jesus and Alessandro Florenzi at the back, Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman, with Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko up front....wait, feels like we’re forgetting someone....
Stephan El Shaarawy: 1st Minute
The first minute! Roma scored a goal in the first minute, and what a goal it was. Kolarova played one of his now standard pinpoint crosses from the left flank, finding his bosom friend Dzeko at the edge of the 18-yard box. Rather than trying to take on his defender and challenge Courtois one-v-one, Dzeko deftly played the ball back to El Shaarawy, who somehow, someway rocketed this thing into the far left corner with THE OUTSIDE OF HIS BOOT! How did he do that!?
SES may run hot and cold, but god dang, he is on fire at the moment.
Roma and Chelsea would trade blows for the next half hour, and it was apparent that Chelsea, though not necessarily shook, had to alter their game plan a bit. The order of the day seemed to be to channeling the ball from Cesc Fabregas through to Eden Hazard and Tiemoué Bakayoko, each of whom had over 30 touches in the first half, combining for five shots along the way.
Roma’s backline, anchored by Fazio, did just enough to not break, mastering the battle for space, seemingly swallowing up any Chelsea attacker on the edge of the 18, while both Jesus and DDR did the lord’s work sweeping out any wide attacks. EDFs defense was an amorphous blob in the first half, and I mean that in the highest regard.
EDFs attack deviated a bit from its usual form, opting not to feed Dzeko but rather focusing on Perotti and El Shaarawy as the primary cogs, and hey, look at that, it worked again...
Stephan El Shaarawy: 36th Minute
MA CHE GOOOOOOOOL! DOPIETTA DI EL SHAARAWY!!!!! pic.twitter.com/xQ5pKdxS4A— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) October 31, 2017
SES struck again, this time lashing onto the end of a Nainggolan cross. Watch how the ball tricks Antonio Rudiger, who was tracking the ball thinking it was going to play off his right shoulder, only to turn around and see El Shaarawy darting past him, toe poking the ball past a stone footed Courtois. It was perfect from start to finish: a brilliantly played ball met by a well-timed run, finished off by the cheekiest of toe pokes.
Roma had a few nervy moments as the first half waned, as Chelsea nearly capitalized twice on some sloppy clearances from Jesus, missing the plot once and being turned away by Alisson on another, but emerged unscathed.
While it wasn’t exactly a convincing first half, Roma’s mastery of space and shape combined with El Shaarawy’s scintillating form kept Roma on top after 45 minutes.
EDF opted for no changes coming out of the dressing room, and let’s thank our chosen deities for that, as his XI picked up right where they left off, winning the battle for space and taking chances as they presented themselves.
Case in point....
Diego Perotti: 64th Minute
While Perotti will quite rightly earn all the plaudits for this goal, he wouldn’t have had a chance were it not for Kolarov’s interception and quick layoff to the Argentine. From there, Perotti completely broke the ankles of the first defender before putting his head down, charging forward and absolutely ripping one from 20 yards or so, scorching the short corner in the process. If this was a classic NHL game, that was a Brett Hull sniper shot from the point—low, fast and deadly accurate.
Roma nearly made it 4-0 moments later when Edin Dzeko, in the process of holding play up and shielding three defenders at once, played it over to Perotti who skied one over the crossbar. Quite an exhibition of strength and tactical awareness by Dzeko, but this absolutely should have been put away, so let’s be thankful Roma had already run up such a large lead.
Moments later, Roma nearly atoned for that miss, forcing Courtois into two spectacular saves, the latter of which was a point blank stoning of Kostas Manolas, who had a virtually free headed chance off a set piece.
EDFs side would just not let up, never relenting and seldom forgetting to assert their dominance: in the air, on loose balls, on the wings and in the box. It was a thoroughly dominant performance in the moments that matters most.
It’s that last bit that’s most salient. The stats might not show a complete whitewashing by Roma, but the Giallorossi were clinical when and where it mattered most—defending their final third and exploiting Chelsea’s. Between Fazio and Florenzi at the back and De Rossi, Strootman and Nainggolan in the middle, Roma was able to snuff out Chelsea’s attack left, right and center, with Florenzi and Jesus combining for 14 defensive actions (interceptions, clearances and blocks) on the night.
Meanwhile, El Shaarawy, Dzeko, Perotti and Nainggolan made fools of the Chelsea defense, teaming up for 10 shots and 10 chances created, with SES going a perfect 3 for 3 on shots on target, converting two into goals. Furthermore, that quartet was only dispossessed four times in this match—they were linking up, switching positions, holding up play and exploiting space like they invented the sport itself.
Even the most ardent optimists out there didn’t envision this when they woke up this morning, Roma is top of the group. From eeking out 1-0 victories over mediocre Serie A sides to blowing out an English heavyweight—scoring six on them between both legs—Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is looking capable of nearly anything: winning ugly, winning grand and everything in between.
I’m not sure what will happen the remainder of this season, but I’m getting a funny feeling!
Man O’ The Match
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The outside of El Shaarawy’s boot
El Shaarawy’s big toe
El Shaarawy’s hair