Under normal circumstances, watching at match at the Luigi Ferraris (albeit an extremely pixilated version) is quite an enjoyable experience. The Genoa Cricket and Football Club was (in part) setup to mirror the English blueprint. From the crest to the fact that they originally favored Cricket to football, Genoa has always had a bit of the Union Jack in them, and fortunately for Italian football fans that spirit extends to their ground, the Luigi Ferraris, perhaps the most intimate stadium on the peninsula. While I hope to catch a match there in the flesh someday, the viewing experience from my Vaio is no less enjoyable.
Except for today. Today was terrible, especially the first half. Roma had seemingly no solution for Genoa’s compacted backline, throwing futile crosses or switches of play from the left flank with no regard for tactics. And the rare instances in which Genoa didn’t immediately double team Aleksandar Kolarov when he entered the attacking area, they swarmed on Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman or whoever was standing at the point of the 18-yard-box waiting for Kolarov’s outlet, effectively stripping Roma of their multi-option attack. With the defense collapsing so quickly, the man at the point didn’t have time to access those secondary options, much less make space for himself.
It was hard to discern the exact balance between Genoa’s tactical effectiveness and Roma’s general ineptitude in the first half, but Genoa’s game plan seemed to work to perfection. Park the bus yet remain fungible enough to stretch and morph on the locus of Roma’s attack. Simple stuff, but they had textbook execution in the first half, stymying EDFs attack at every turn.
Where the first half was a stilted, dull affair, the second 45 minutes was anything but...
The second half started with a bit of a scare as Adel Taarabt broke an offside trap and had a virtual one-v-one against Alisson, but Juan Jesus made a tackle for the ages, catching up to Taarabt and somehow sneaking his left leg in to strip Taarabt of the ball without committing a foul. You can’t say enough about Rrruan’s transformation; over the past ten months or so he has transformed himself from a joke to an integral member of this rotation, making his €9 to €10 million fee look, well not like a bargain, but at least justifiable.
Defensive heroics notwithstanding, Roma was unable to seize the momentum in this match, much less create a genuine scoring chance, but that would all change as this match approached the hour mark.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 59th Minute
GOOOOAAAALLL!!! Stephan #ElShaarawy has certainly hit a purple patch. It's 1-0 for the away side. 59' #GenoaRomapic.twitter.com/ZT9DCe7WTL— Lega Serie A (@SerieAchannel) November 26, 2017
With the attacking being turned away on the left, it was quite fitting that Roma’s first goal—which seemed impossible for the first hour—came on the opposite side flank. Given how disjointed and uninspiring Roma’s attack was through this point in the match, it took a bit of magic for the Giallorossi to break the deadlock, and that’s exactly what Florenzi and El Shaarawy provided here.
As Florenzi unleashes the cross, watch as Stephan El Shaarawy breaks in from the left flank, darting straight towards the penalty spot, meeting Florenzi’s cross at the precise moment it was reaching its nadir. From there, it was your typical, technique-perfect strike from El Shaarawy.
Perfect pass, perfect hit, perfect moment. I can’t stress enough how much Roma needed this goal. Nothing was working up to this point, but Roma kept at it; they didn’t get desperate, they stuck to what they know and eventually—again, thanks to some stunning technique from Florenzi and SES—it worked.
That joy wouldn’t last long, though...
Here is De Rossi's slap on Lapadula. #GenoaRomapic.twitter.com/sZFq0Eq8Yp— Lega Serie A (@SerieAchannel) November 26, 2017
However, since this is Roma we’re talking about, it would only take ten minutes for them to fuck it all up. While defending a Genoa set piece, Daniele De Rossi felt it necessary to slap Gianluca Lapadula in the face Rick James-style, resulting in not only a straight-red for him, but a penalty for Lapadula, which he summarily converted in no short order.
When we complain about Roma falling a few points short of (insert objective here) in the spring, look to this match, to that moment. From a captain, too. Inexcusable.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) November 26, 2017
I’m not going to retype that point—it’s in that Tweet—but that’s the kind of behavior and decision making that has done Roma in for years. It is completely reprehensible that De Rossi would put his club in that position. El Shaarawy’s goal was enough to put this one in the bag, yet De Rossi let his emotions dictate rule the roost, and I’m not even sure what provoked this—there didn’t seem to be any antecedent whatsoever, De Rossi just slapped him for the hell of it.
That sort of behavior is inexcusable from any player in a match as important as this, doubly so for the captain. De Rossi’s moment of rage could end up costing the club tens of millions of dollars.
Moments later, Lapadula would get Roma’s goat, drawing a yellow on Jesus. De Rossi’s boneheaded maneuver completely changed the tenor of this match, depriving his club of not only his presence on the pitch, but their sense of purpose.
Despite all that drama, Roma nearly grabbed a second goal in the 86th minute when Kevin Strootman’s attempt clanged off the framework of the goal; he wasn’t in an ideal position, but once again Roma was denied by the woodwork for, what, the 12th time this year?
EDF made a last minute switch, bringing on Patrik Schick for Nainggolan, but almost immediately Genoa took advantage of the change in tactics, as Lapadula got into space in the Roma final third, only to be found wanting, pushing the shot wide of Alisson’s net. He should have had that, so thank your lucky stars he was off the mark.
Lapadula nearly did it again, getting on the end of an errant headed clearance from Roma, only to push the shot wide. In the end it was called offsides, but he was the most dangerous player on the pitch, by many orders of magnitude.
Moments later, Shick drew a foul in the far right hand corner, which yielded a Kolarov free kick. Similar to his previous attempt, Kolarov’s cross was flat and useless, but this time it resulted in a Genoa break, which was mercifully snuffed out.
Although he only played five or so minutes, Shick’s game changing talent was on full display tonight. Every touch he took garnered the attention of the Genoa defense, as he was still able to, despite Roma being a man down, manipulate space in the attacking third, and while it didn’t result in a goal, or even a shot, Shick was able to draw another foul, this time on the left hand side.
Kolarov’s attempt—his third in relatively quick succession—had a bit more life to it, finding Gregoire Defrel on the far post. Defrel played it across the front of the goal, producing a bit of a scrum on the goal line between Mattia Perin and virtually every Roma player in the box, and what looked like a VAR-appeal was ultimately ruled dead, as Perin was able to keep the ball off the goal line.
There was some lingering drama in stoppage time, as the adjudicated five minutes became six-and-a-half thanks to Defrel going down on that scrum, but neither side was able to make a last ditch attempt to win this one.
But man oh man, the minute De Rossi slapped Lapadula, this match changed, shifting from a listless 1-0 affair to a tense 1-1 thriller.
Usually I try to end these with a well-reasoned summation of the match and what it means for Roma going forward, but there isn’t really a need for that today. Roma was horrific and one-dimensional in the first half, making fruitless attempt after fruitless attempt to break down Genoa’s compact defense, and when they finally did, thanks to El Shaarawy and Florenzi, it was quickly and utterly dismantled by the captain of the squad.
Make no mistake, Roma will come to rue these two points in the spring, whether it costs them the Scudetto or merely a shot at third place is immaterial; Roma had this match in the bag and De Rossi blew it.
So, when Roma have to travel to Portugal or Austria or Narnia in late August to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, remember this match, remember that slap, remember the moment that Roma’s captain cost them a match.