While things are still all well and good with Eusebio Di Francesco and AS Roma, if you follow the team closely enough (which, if you do, be sure to consult your physician) you’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Over the past few weeks, Roma has been collecting shots like a 90s kid collected pogs, just hoarding them for no real purpose, hoping that eventually someone will take those useless trinkets off your hands. Wave after wave of attacks have yielded very little by way of goals.
In order to combat this trend, EDF did a bit of tinkering ahead of today’s home tilt against Cagliari, rolling out a brand new starting eleven. While the backline was untouched, the forward two-thirds of his 433 saw some seismic shifts. Gone was Kevin Strootman replaced by the younger legs of Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was flanked by fellow Roman Daniele De Rossi and the Eternal City’s adopted son, Radja Nainggolan.
Pretty standard stuff; we’ve seen that several times this season. However, the true change came upfront where EDF deployed a brand new frontline, flanking Edin Dzeko with Diego Perotti and Patrik Schick. Dzeko and Perotti playing together is nothing new of course, but starting Schick alongside them was a tremendous signal of intent.
That signal, it seems, was simply this: in the absence of a real right winger, Di Francesco is simply going to play all his most talented attackers at once, tactics and roles be damned, and let the chips fall where they may. In this scenario, assuming that Stephan El Shaarawy is your first man off the bench, EDF is relying on his top four forwards to not only score, but to create. With no true playmaker behind them, EDF really has no other choice than to hope Perotti’s shiftiness, Dzeko’s bruising forward play and the combined combustibility of SES and Schick can break the seal on all these compact defenses we’ve seen over the past few weeks.
Suffice it to say, this tactic did not work in the first half against Cagliari, but all the hallmarks of this stalled attack where there: Roma outshot Cagliari 14 to 2....let me repeat that...14 to 2! And yet not a one of those shots could have been considered a clear cut chance.
Something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark, but would act two bring any relief?
Nope. No it didn’t. At least not for a while.
Di Francesco opted for no changes at the half, and it showed. Roma had no issue charging up the first two-thirds of the pitch, but once they sniffed the edge of the 18-yard-box, the Cagliari defense collapsed on the point of attacking, swallowing Dzeko up whole and removing any outlet options. It’s pretty much your standard defense against Roma at this point, and it’s working.
But, Roma received a gift from the VAR gods when Dzeko was taken down early in the first half. That’s great, right? Perotti is practically perfect form the spot; his nonchalant approach to penalties has taken the world by storm, this had to be a gimme.
Perotti arrogant penalty miss #ROMACagliari #AsRoma pic.twitter.com/47c9aCeGBo— Scot Munroe (@scot_munroe) December 16, 2017
Perotti approached this one with all the urgency of a basset hound on a Sunday morning. What the hell was he doing? This schtick has gotten old. Walking up that slow only serves to give the keeper more time to spot the angle of his foot and track the trajectory of the ball. Perotti’s approach was intriguing and exciting at first, but it seems to have lost its edge.
I wish I could tell you it got a lot better than that. I wish I could tell you that Roma fought the good fight, and that Cagliari let them be. I wish I could tell you that, but Roma is no fairy tale.
Shawshank references aside, things did get better, and quite dramatically. For much of the second half it looked like Roma would be doomed by Perotti’s miss—the offense kept spinning its wheels, gaining no traction—but thanks to an incredible six minutes of added time, we were treated to this.
Federico Fazio: 90+
GOOOOAAAAL: It took 94 minutes, but @ASRomaEN have broken the deadlock against @CagliariCalcio! #RomaCagliari pic.twitter.com/7M3gRV4Pbr— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) December 16, 2017
This goal was about as miraculous as they come, and it absolutely sent the crowd, not to mention Richard Whittle, into hysterics. Fazio was Johnny-on-the-spot here, finding himself in prime position after the goalkeeper parried the ball right into Manolas before finding Fazio’s solar plexis. From there, Fazio settled it and tapped it home.
Despite the gravity of that moment, or perhaps because of it, referee Antonio Damato consulted VAR looking for signs of offside presumably. Mercifully he found none and Roma walked off winners.
We won’t pour over the broader concerns here since we sort of did that already, but in no way, shape or form were they decisive in any phase of the game today. Sure, they piled up shots, but how many of them truly threatened Alessio Cragno’s net?
Were it not for Fazio’s last minute heroics, we’d be staring down the barrel of consecutive scoreless draws against inferior opponents, but that’s precisely why we watch the sport, for moments like these. Fazio’s good luck put Roma level with Juventus (albeit temporarily) on 38 points, four behind league leading Napoli,and Roma still has that game in hand.
At the end of the day, a win is a win is a win. Roma have two tough fixtures coming up before Jesus’ 2017th birthday, and they’re both against Torino teams oddly enough, Wednesday against the Toros and next Saturday against the Old Lady.
Needless to say, it’ll take more than one goal to ensure Roma has a merry Christmas.