We mentioned it in the buildup to this match, but given the lopsided aggregate scoreline and Roma’s brutal domestic schedule over the next week and a half, no one really knew what to expect from Luciano Spalletti’s men this evening. Would he stick with the same starters to put the match truly, truly out of reach, or would he mix and match, giving the likes of Edin Dzeko and Radja Nainggolan some much needed rest?
Well, as it turns out Spalletti went with the latter. And while this was probably the wiser tactic, to say it didn’t work out well would be an understatement. Gone were Dzeko, Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, Emerson Palmieri, Federico Fazio and Antonio Rüdiger, replaced by, among others, Francesco Totti, Diego Perotti, Mario Rui and, sadly, Thomas Vermaelen.
Rest may have been the order of the day, but Roma’s performance did little to buoy your spirits about this club’s depth, a fact that was made readily apparent thanks to the most derided man in Rome...
Vermaelen Strikes Again
Ugh, what else possibly needs to be said? This is without a doubt one of the worst signings this club has made over the past decade. In every way shape and form, Vermaelen has been putrid. From his rash challenges against Porto in the Champions League qualifier to his injuring of Mohamed Salah in training to missing nearly 80% of this season’s matches, his time in Rome has been an unmitigated failure. And this...well, this was just horrific. It’s not as if he can even blame this on some lingering injury, he just screwed the pooch on this one—no ifs ands or buts about it, he served this one right up for Santos Borre.
Rather than me expounding upon Vermaelen's ineptitude any further, here’s a random sampling of Tweets.
Paging Mr. Vermaelen, Mr. Thomas Vermaelen, there is a call from the MLS on line two.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) February 23, 2017
..and Vermaelen strikes again.— DeRossi's Tattoo (@RomaThings) February 23, 2017
Concede a goal in the 1st 15 minutes.
Press the panic button.
Some good live action shots of Alisson behind Vermaelen and Juan Jesus being posted by RAI. pic.twitter.com/2itQTG6ci5— DvdItly (@DvdItly) February 23, 2017
LRT. I can't remember the last Roma CB I felt so viscerally angry about compared to Vermaelen. Has to be Simon Kjær.— Sterling McGarvey (@sterling_m) February 23, 2017
You get the picture, Vermaelen is...uh...not well liked among Roma fanatics.
The second half, bar a few lovely touches from Totti and a couple of attempts on goal, and an Antonio Rüdiger red card, was barely worth recapping. So if we look at both sides of the coin, here’s what we’re left with.
Despite conceding the goal, Roma advanced to the next round with absolute ease; their victory in the first leg was so decisive, even this tepid performance couldn’t spoil things. If nothing else, today served as an opportunity to improve the timing and match fitness of a host of players, most notably Totti, Paredes and Mario Rui, each of whom will play crucial roles down the stretch. And while Alisson won’t likely be called upon much in league play, he was massive today, making several key saves, so that certainly bodes well for the long term
On the flip side, nothing about this performance gave you confidence about the club’s depth ahead of the aforementioned brutal domestic schedule. If anything, it proved just how reliant they are upon Dzeko, Nainggolan and Mohamed Salah, without whom they run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Furthermore, and really more to the point, they were absolutely listless today, being flat out dominated by Villarreal for large swaths of the match. Getting through was always the prime objective, but this has the potential to be a momentum killer—they were utterly uninspiring today. Our best hopes were that SES, Perotti and Totti would run circles around the yellow submarine, but outside of Totti, that trio was ineffective.
But hey, at the end of the day, Roma are still alive and well in the Europa League title hunt. It will be interesting to see how Spalletti approaches the next round, the deeper they get, the more real it becomes, to the point where the EL won’t be a tuneup for fringe players, but a life or death affair for Dzeko and friends.
For now we’re through, now it’s time to reckon with Inter Milan on Sunday.