The witching period of Roma’s season was always going to draw a spotlight on Spalletti’s ability to rest and rotate his key players while still keeping the squad’s momentum powering forward. Tonight marked an almighty black eye to those efforts as a visibly fatigued Giallorosso were shown up tactically and physically by the bianco celesti.
Without getting too psychoanalytical, Spalletti opted for a strong line-up and started with the usual 3-4-2-1 but swapped DDR out for Paredes while keeping the usual suspects in their preferred positions.
Things began relatively upbeat as Lazio made their intentions known to sit back with a suspiciously Roma-esque formation and allow the ‘away’ side to control the majority of possession.
By dominating the space around Dzeko and in front of Nainggolan, Lazio shuffled Roma’s attacks wide and dared I Lupi to triumph via the pin-point cross method. Suffice to say, this is not Roma’s favourite way to play football.
Lazio’s goal in the 28th minute broke the chess match open, as Felipe Anderson made it all the way to the by-line before cutting back to the onrushing (and unmarked) Milinkovic-Savic, who finished truly.
This goal was instrumental in emboldening Lazio’s conservative game plan that just served to further frustrate Roma’s attack that was unable to bully their way into meaningful scoring opportunities.
In the second half the player’s fatigue began to stand out as the passes became less precise and the deep crosses further away from the scalp of Dzeko.
Arguably the best chance of the match for Roma fell to Salah, who’s strong effort found the wrong side of the near post.
Soon after this Spalletti hooked the ineffectual Paredes for Perotti to try and stir up some creative juices for the elusive ‘away’ goal. However doing so effectively removed the security blanket from the out of sorts back three. Inzaghi took little time to capitalise on this shift in formation and brought on Keita to increase the speed of their counter-attacking threat.
This move worked in a jiffy as Keita did a number on Roma’s entire back three. He outpaced Manolas on the right and then slipped a cross through Fazio that evaded Rudiger’s despairing lunge and met Immobile on the other side who smashed the ball into the open net.
This second goal was massive in the context of the two-legged match and will be something to ruminate over for the coming weeks.
Poor old Alisson had to feel ripped off as he watched his normally indomitable back three look so lost and frail against a competent but hardly terrifying attack.
There was little left for Roma to do except play the old ‘launch it high and far game’ up to the outnumbered strikers for the remainder of the match. Totti was brought on for just final minutes to add further controversy to Spalletti’s managerial efforts, but no matter how much Roma huffed and puffed the Lazio house remained unmolested until the final whistle.
For the record, Roma’s best cross for the entire match was sent in by Antonio Rudiger in the 88th minute.
Despite the hectic schedule burdening their shoulders, this was an opportunity lost for Roma as Lazio were missing a host of first team players on suspension and the opportunity to play Coppa Italia finals do not come along every year.
With that said, I have no doubt our collective analysis would be less vitriolic should the opponents have been any other team in Italy – except maybe Spezia.
The semi-final is still alive (if suffering from an erratic heartbeat and kidney failure) and with the return leg not until April there is plenty of time for the football gods to wax and wane their will about.
The focus now returns to the six-point duel against Napoli on Saturday and with an exhausted core of players, it’ll take a much loftier performance to mark these 90mins off as an aberration and not the beginning of the season’s end.