With the stink of their weekend loss to Sampdoria still lingering, and with their inability to make any last minute market maneuvers, Roma limped into the Olimpico today, welcoming 19th place Cesena to the capital city...that’s 19th place in Serie B. This one had all the makings of a walkover, but you know how that goes, right?
Luciano Spalletti responded to the always controversial lineup calls by rolling out the usual 3-4-3ish formation with a few key changes. Gone was Wojciech Szczęsny, replaced by Alisson, Juan Jesus spelled Federico Fazio at the back, with Leandro Paredes, Mario Rui and Stephan El Shaarawy joining the starting eleven, but the big surprise was Francesco Totti starting up top, something we’ve seldom seen over the past few years.
While Totti was instrumental as always, the first half was a rather tepid affair. Sure, Roma had their way with Cesena, but the clear cut scoring chances were simply lacking, putting Roma in an unenviable position—giving a team with nothing to lose a glimmer of hope.
Coming out of the dressing room, the tenor of the match was noticeably different, as straight away Totti and El Shaarawy starting working one-twos, while the insertion of Radja Nainggolan gave Roma the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.
While they continued to knock on the door, they were predictably off the mark, with Dzeko missing a golden opportunity 20 minutes into the half. However, as is so often the case, Dzeko’s Jekyll and Hyde routine was on full display.
Edin Dzeko: 68th Minute
In what is quickly becoming a pattern for him, minutes after flubbing a shot gifted on a platter from Francesco Totti, Dzeko redeemed himself by tapping one home in the 68th minute. But the real beauty in this one lies in the buildup, check it:
This was a vintage Spalletti goal, right down to the 4-2-3-1 formation. With six quick touches, Roma pinged the ball out to the full back, quickly back into the mids,before swinging out wide where Stephan El Shaarawy played in deft ball, poking it with the outside of his boot, catching Dzeko just in the knick of time to give Roma the lead.
But yeah, this is Roma, so the turned right around and coughed one up in the worst possible way.
I have no idea what the hell happened there, but you’ll notice as the long inswinger is played from Cesena, Kostas Manolas immediately breaks backwards towards the goal, careening headlong into Alisson who was making a rather routine claim of the ball. While Manolas was probably a bit overzealous, Alisson should have corralled that ball nine times out of ten; this just happened to be that one.
The remaining 17 minutes of the first half carried on in the manner to which we’ve grown accustomed over the past few weeks; Roma rushing forward with little to show for it, leaving themselves open for haphazard counter attacks from the opposition. This second half, much like the entire match, did prove one thing: no one on this team can pull the strings quite like Totti. Whether he was holding up, flicking it on, switching play or finding his teammates in channels, Totti looked at least five years younger, finding passes players half his age can’t even see.
So, it was quite fitting that Totti would factor into the final score. With five minutes plus stoppage time remaining, virtually anything could have happened, and it nearly did. With regular time dwindling down and the prospect of 30 minutes of extra time, Alejandro Rodriguez, a/k/a Mini Osvaldo, nearly grabbed a goal at the death. Cesena knocked at the door once more, earning a later corner that was barely cleared out by Roma.
While last minute set pieces are always unnerving, they’re at least within the general flow of a match; you can argue about the placement of a free kick or if the wall is really 10 yards off, but by and large, it is what is...this match would not end so simply.
In a last ditch effort to win the match, Roma threw nearly everyone into the box, and with Kevin Strootman desperately trying to get on the end of a longball he was clipped ever so lightly by Federico Agliardi earning a penalty in the process.
Francesco Totti: 90th+
Was it legit? Hard to say, but in the end it didn’t really matter because when Totti steps up to the spot, it’s game over. Goal number 307 was all it took to set up a semi-final against Lazio, giving Roma chance for some 2013 redemption in the process.
While advancing in the Coppa Italia, and quite frankly seeing Totti for 96 minutes is all well and good, there aren’t many positives to reap from this match. The mere fact that it took a controversial call to down a Serie B side, and a lousy one at that, is quite telling—something ain’t gelling with this squad at the moment.
Fortunately they have a few days to sort it out, as their next match, a home encounter with Fiorentina, isn’t for another six days.
Can they sort it out, or will it take another miracle?