Since it’s the Christmas season, it was only fitting that Old Saint Nick gift wrapped Roma with an Inter loss to start the weekend. While toppling Juventus was always a monumental task, Roma had a splendid opportunity this evening to gain some ground among the top four. A win would have put Roma in second place behind Napoli with a game in hand, but, much like the sweater your mom got you, this gift will have to be returned.
Roma came out relatively flat against the staunch Juventus defense, creating only two chances in the first half while managing four shots on goal, only one of which forced Wojciech Szczesny into a save. But that’s nothing really new for Roma lately, the attack has been stagnant for a few weeks now, but the utter lack of cohesion in defense was a new spot of bother, and it came home to roost in the first half.
Mehdi Benatia: 18th Minute
Not much to say on this one. Kudos to Alisson for making the initial save, but when the men meant to protect you look like they’re staring at fireflies, there’s not much you can do. Roma’s marking on this set piece was shameful. From letting Chiellini get that open header to failing to body up Benatia, they missed the mark from start to finish, putting Alisson in an untenable situation.
From there, Roma would mount a few credible attacks, but none more so than when Diego Perotti got loose on the left and played a solid ball across the face of goal to Stephan El Shaarawy, who simply couldn’t get a solid foot on it, falling in the process, before forcing Wojciech Szczesny into a save.
And that was about it for the first half, Roma did their usual business—forcing the ball through Kolarov and Perotti, hoping to find SES somewhere in space—but had absolutely no counterweight in the middle of the pitch, making their left-leaning attack easy to decipher and even easier to snuff out.
While Eusebio Di Francesco didn’t make any immediate changes, Roma approached the second half with new resolve, creating seven scoring chances and ripping off ten more shots in the second half. The problem, as you no doubt guessed, was simply that they couldn’t convert.
Exhibit One: Alessandro Florenzi and the Crossbar of Death
Calling this one a lack of execution is a bit unfair to Florenzi, but who knows, with a bit more technique perhaps the ball doesn’t ride so high off his foot. Either way, it spelled doom for Roma, as Florenzi’s momentum simply carried him too far to mount a credible rebound attempt. This chance did, however, lead to a sublime exhibition of skill from Patrik Schick, who danced around a couple Juve defenders in the six-yard-box like they weren’t even there.
Schick would factor once more...
Exhibit Two: Patrik Schick and the Missing Chip Shot
Just when it seemed like Roma was cooked, Patrik Schick sprang into action. Sprinting into open space like a gazelle in the savannah, all that stood between Schick and a dramatic equalizer was Mr. Seventh Grade Haircut himself, Wojciech Szczesny. 99 times out of 100 this is a goal, but Shick’s attempt to slot it low and away was snuffed out by a sliding Szczesny, punctuating all of Roma’s frustrations in one fell swoop of his stupid, gangly legs.
And that was all she wrote. Roma may have dominated the final 20 minutes and created a flurry of chances, but were once again found wanting. On any other day, perhaps Florenzi’s shot bounces back into the net off the crossbar, and perhaps there’s an alternative universe in which Schick chips Woj rather than trying to go low, but this is where we are; there ain’t no upside down in this realm, and there’s no Eleven waiting to magically rescue Roma.
Listen, this is who Roma is this season. They’ve done well against everyone else, but losses to Inter Milan, Napoli and now Juventus has shown us who Roma are; a fourth place side. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially when you consider the circumstances surrounding all four teams. Juventus can print their own money to patch up the cracks, Inter has arguably the shrewdest coach in the league, while Napoli has the benefit of consistency. Roma aren’t ready to compete with any of that, at least not yet, not after another summer of upheaval.
We won’t ring our hands too much over this one, since it was somewhat expected, but the more worrying trend is simply the lack of creativity through the middle of the park—which, once again, puts more onus on Kolarov and Perotti to create on the left—and the poor finishing up front. Crossbars and deflections happen to all teams, constantly turning to that refrain is the hallmark of a feeble minded team, so I hope they all follow El Shaarawy’s suit from midweek and focus on the real issues rather than blaming bad luck.
In many respects, this result was fated, as the same issues that damned Roma tonight against Juve were the very same ones that undercut their efforts against Chievo and Cagliari, two decidedly inferior sides. Throw those in with De Rossi’s slappadula, and there’s the difference between third and fourth place.
So while there were positives to glean from this match—the final 20 minutes, the instant change brought about by Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Schick’s absurd skill in space—a loss by any other name still smells as sour. Sure, Roma held serve in the final twenty minutes, but their failure to capitalize is emblematic everything that is plaguing this club as the calendar year winds down.
While Roma aren’t in a Milan-level quagmire right now, they’ve got some soul searching to do before they take on Sassuolo on the 30th. Namely, how can they right the ship? How can they get back that combustible attack, and how in god’s name can they make better use out of Radja Nainggolan?
Roma’s holiday season will be neither jubilant nor melancholy, but rather resting somewhere in the middle, jammed in between comfort and dismay, and the new year will determine which way that pendulum ultimately swings.