I often wonder if anyone associated with the club reads our little rants here, but after a week in which we called for Lorenzo Pellegrini to start over Kevin Strootman and spoke a bit about teaming up Patrik Schick and Edin Dzeko in the starting lineup, Eusebio Di Francesco did just that, starting the young Roman alongside Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan in midfield, while flanking Dzeko with the gangly but great Schick. I’m kidding of course, but it is refreshing to see that EDF isn’t a slave to tradition.
Plaudits aside, the early returns in this match were in line with pretty much the entire month of December; lots of build up with very little payoff. In a sense, Roma has been like your first romantic encounter, verging on elation but more often than not ending up with frustration, self pity and hopeless prayers for sweet release.
That climax would come, though, thanks to one of the local boys.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 31st Minute
PELLEGRINI GOOOOOOOOL! pic.twitter.com/zsnyK20BTq— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) December 30, 2017
Just when it looked like Roma were destined to slog their way through another stilted affair, they pulled a bit of magic out of their pockets at the half hour mark. With Diego Perotti working in from the left flank it seemed like business as usual from Roma—there were several defenders between Perotti and Patrick Schick, but with a clever little dummy Roma’s young gun was able to keep the defense honest, allowing Edin Dzeko enough time to body up his defender before playing it over to Pellegrini. From there all it took was a calm, cool and collected tap in from Pellegrini.
For a team that has struggled so mightily creating in the 18-yard-box, this was a sorely needed goal. The remainder of the first half played on without issue, as neither side really threatened in any genuine way, though Nainggolan and Dzeko nearly linked up. Radja seemed more involved in the attack in the first half, but he’s just too far removed from the thick of the action that his passes were either miss-hit or picked off.
Roma won the first half, but what would the second 45 hold for the Giallorossi?
Well, the second half got off to an inauspicious start as Juan Jesus was brought on for the injured Kostas Manolas, then EDF, for some reason, made a change in the 48th minute, pulling off Schick in favor of Stephan El Shaarawy—why he didn’t just make that swap at the half is beyond me.
Roma picked up pretty much where they left off in the first, dominating possession and creating semi-chances at goal, only this time they found the back of the net as Edin Dzeko scored from an extremely tight angle on the left, only to be called offside by the official, which was later confirmed by VAR. It was an extremely, extremely close call, but was nevertheless a signal of intent from Dzeko, who has looked far too passive in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, that quirk of modern technology would come home to roost as Sassuolo was able to exploit Roma’s poor set-piece defense in the 78th minute.
Simone Missiroli: 78th Minute
GOAL Missiroli!! Roma 1-1 Sassuolo pic.twitter.com/2hSowPWwHQ— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) December 30, 2017
Not much we can say about this one. Not only did Sassuolo maintain possession on the right flank using a two-man weave, but Peluso’s cross was spot on, finding Missiroli in the sweet spot between De Rossi, whose back was turned to he ball while covering Alessandro Matri, and Juan Jesus who was simply too late to the ball. Unfortunately, the cross played across the face of the goal just enough to keep Alisson from covering the near post.
VAR she blows would cripple Roma once more, and wouldn’t you know it, Dzeko was involved in this one, too. With Roma desperate for a goal after Sassuolo equalized, Dzeko played a great left-to-right lob to Alessandro Florenzi, who settled it with an outstretched foot before beating the on-coming keeper. Florenzi, thinking everything was hunky dory, sprinted into the Curva Sud to celebrate with his fellow Romanisti, only to find out the goal was VAR’d out of existence thanks to some obstruction from Cengiz Under, who EDF brought on for Pellegrini for some unknown reason.
And that was pretty much that, Roma were gifted with four minutes of stoppage time, but given how arduous the goal scoring process has become for this team, four minutes might as well have been four seconds. Things are that bad.
For the sixth straight match Roma has scored one or fewer goals, putting even fourth place in precarious position. Gulp.
I suppose it’s somewhat ironic. When Eusebio Di Francesco was hired over the summer, our worst fears were that Roma had hired another Zdenek Zeman; an attack-at-all costs, defense be damned coach. Visions of tense 4-3 thrillers danced through our heads, and while that may be exciting, as we saw with ZZ, it’s not sustainable.
However, rather than end-to-end scoring we’ve been “entertained” with dull, stilted one-goal affairs as of late, where EDFs wing-oriented attack repeatedly comes smack against compact defenses and has no other recourse than to play desperate cross after desperate cross. This is, in a word, Rudi Garcia football. Stick to what you know, results and reality be damned.
So while we can give EDF kudos for trying different cogs in that machine, the apparatus itself appears broken. In eight of their past ten matches, dating back to mid-November, Roma has failed to cross the one-goal threshold, and were it not for their resolute defense, things may have turned south much sooner.
As it stands right now, Roma is doing just enough to avert a full blown crisis, but sooner or later the breaks will fall the other way, and those little, momentary lapses of judgement in the defensive zone will come home to roost, and with their inability to create clear cut chances at the other end, these 1-1 draws could soon become losses.
Roma’s performances in the Champions League might as well be ancient history at this point; that Roma doesn’t exist anymore. So we can bitch and moan about VAR and shots hitting the posts, but it belies the broader point; Roma’s inability to mount an efficient and consistent attack is the real culprit here.
As it stands right now, Roma has a slim three point lead over city-rivals, Lazio, and with Napoli and Juventus making space at the top, the race for fourth should dominate the headlines in 2018.
Let’s just hope EDF figures something out before Roma swings back into action next week, because if this sort of performance continues through the winter, calls for his head won’t be too far behind.