I’m not sure what got into the water around Rome this evening, but the Stadio Olimpico was absolutely rocking ahead of kickoff for Roma’s home opener. With the newly revamped Inter Milan coming to town, lead by Roma’s most recent manager Luciano Spalletti, a charged atmosphere was expected, but the folks in the stands definitely kicked it up a notch, transferring a palpable sense of excitement to the 22 men on the pitch and the millions watching around the globe.
However, in the early goings it seemed as though Spalletti would get the better of his former club. Led by Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva, Inter was passing and moving around Roma, seemingly only moments away from an early breakthrough. And while they would threaten Alisson Becker and the rest of Roma’s backline in the first ten minutes, the Giallorossi drew first blood thanks to last season’s capocannoniere, Edin Dzeko.
Edin Dzeko: 15th Minute
Talk about a well timed goal. Through the first quarter hour of the match, you’d have to say Inter were dictating terms, pinging passes in and out of the midfield and forcing Roma into errors in the defensive third, one of which should have been seized upon were it not for Mauro Icardi’s wayward shot. Point being, momentum was very much in Inter’s favor, so it was quite fitting that Roma’s lead cows, Radja Nainggolan and Edin Dzeko, teamed up this goal—just a beautifully weighted ball by Nainggolan with his weaker foot, and from there Dzeko just got a beat on his man, chested it down and volleyed it home. Wonderful.
Roma nearly doubled their lead several minutes later when Gregoire Defrel put Samir Handanovic on high alert, but it wouldn’t be a goal that ramped things up in the waning stages of the first half. With Radja Nainggolan and Borja Valero competing for a ball, Valero, the jewel of Spalletti’s eye, took a shot at Nainggolan’s peepers, oh so subtly slamming his forearm into Radja’s orbital area, sending the Belgian down the ground for several minutes, leading to a cascade of jeering and hissing from the Roma faithful.
Nainggolan would eventually recover and was part of one of the best sequences I have quite honestly ever seen this team pull off. With Diego Perotti sauntering down the left hand side of the pitch, Kolarov slowly and deliberately overlapped the Argentine, taking the feed well wide of the goal, but what happened from there was absolutely sublime.
Kolarov played a picture perfect outswinging cross to Defrel, who deftly settled and parried the ball back to Nainggolan all in one move. It was like a textbook basketball fastbreak in which the ball never actually touches the floor—just three quick passes and a layup. Only in this instance the layup was scorched shot from Nainggolan.
Sitting some 25-yards or so away from the goal, Nainggolan somehow rocketed the ball all the way to the far post, keeping his shot mere centimeters off the pitch. As the Inter defense sat slack jawed in the amazement, the ball whizzed by them, caroming off helplessly off the post. It was an unfortunate ending to a scintillating buildup, but it was far from the last time Roma would dance with the woodwork.
If Eusebio Di Francesco can coax this out of Roma, I’ll have to eat a massive helping of crow. Outside of the first 12 minutes or so, EDFs side looked ferocious; they were winning 50/50 balls, stretching Spalletti’s defense and playing incisive balls inwards to Defrel and Dzeko, while DDR and Kevin Strootman were doing the dirty work in the neutral zone.
So what you’re reading right here, this very sentence, was written after the match. Things in the second half, shall we say, regressed a bit...
The hard part about writing these match reviews in the fashion I do is that, when Roma ultimately collapses in the second half, I have to at least put on a slight air of positivity and pretend like they had a chance. But in this instance, they really did, so let’s rundown Roma’s breakdown. (Hopefully they’re in sequential order, but it was sort of a mad dash, so forgive me if they’re not)
Chance #1: The VAR was not Thar
Early in the second half, Diego Perotti was taking Inter to task, charging down the left hand side before cutting in, and as he broke inwards towards the goal, he was taken down by Milan Skriniar, and immediately began pleading and protesting a call. While the referee gave a cursory pause before waving the action on, he decided, in his infinite wisdom, not to even consult with the video assistant referee (VAR), which, even in this nascent state, seems corrupted by Italian football.
So we're two weeks in it looks like VAR is only applicable to Juve— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) August 26, 2017
It was a blatant take down, and Roma was jobbed by the official, full stop.
Chance #2: El Shaarawy’s Legs Aren’t Long Enough
At this early point in the season, it seems like Stephan El Shaarawy is EDFs first man off the bench. While I’ll maintain they need as much SES as they can get, there’s no debate, El Shaarawy brings an instant injection of athleticism and energy, so I understand the rationale.
In this instance, he almost immediately tilted the match firmly in Roma’s favor. Breaking loose down the center right channel, it seemed like SES would steal one at the far post, but the ball played to him was just a touch too high for El Shaarawy to corral, leaving the gaping hole in the net to stand as tormenter.
Chance #3: Perotti Hits the Post
While Nainggolan and Kolarov were denied by the woodwork in the first half, Perotti did them one better.
Just a great and intuitive move by Perotti, who breezed pass Candreva to find the open space to pull off this shot. Unfortunately, and in keeping with this theme, he simply couldn’t cram it in the upper corner, instead being denied upper 90 in the right hand corner.
Chance #4: El Shaarawy’s Chip Pulled Back
Once again, El Shaarawy found himself in space, only this time he was able to get his foot behind the ball, lobbing one past an onrushing Handanovic, only to see his shot pulled off the line by Dalbert. In the run of play, it looked exceedingly close, but the replay showed Dalbert had ample time to pick the ball out.
Chance #5: Perotti Finds Nainggolan in Space
Perotti really was instrumental in nearly all of Roma’s attacking moves tonight, so that’s certainly a positive, but once again we witnessed their inability to finish a chance. Perotti found Nainggolan well ahead of the defense, but Radja simply couldn’t get to it in time. Chance wasted once more.
Chance #6: Nainggolan Off the Mark
In what would prove to be their last, and perhaps best, chance of the match, Radja Nainggolan had not one but two chances to level the match at two a piece. While Nainggolan’s first attempt from 20 yards or so away was blocked by a sliding Inter defender, Radja followed the ball and corralled his own rebound. His ensuing shot, however, was probably a bit rushed and sailed well over the crossbar.
From there, all it took was some typical second half lax defending from Roma for them to completely blow the match, giving Inter three early but crucial points in the race for Italy’s European places next season.
I mean, what really needs to be said? Six managers in six seasons, yet the results remain the same. Sure, the match would have been drastically different were it not for the referee’s VAR-blindness and a few degrees of incidence in either direction, but we’ve seen this for years, if not decades, now; Roma continually tempts the fates by wasting chances, which are almost always followed up by some shoddy and lazy defending. So be it Spalletti, Ranieri, Di Francesco or even Andreazzoli, this psychosis is embedded within the club.
But, if we dial back the rage for a moment, there is, well not a silver lining, but at least a plausible rationale for Roma’s woes today. While he put in a good shift in the first half, it was readily apparent that Juan Jesus was simply over matched on the right flank, as Perisic toyed with him throughout the second half, exploiting him for Inter’s final goal. Throw in Federico Fazio’s concrete feet, and it’s clear as day: this Roma defense is not cut out for a 4-3-3, and in Fazio’s case, he’s no longer the week-in-week-out starter he was last season.
We’re only two weeks into this, but Roma already appears to be a team in crisis. That’s not to say they were completely bereft of positives today, though. Kolarov in particular was fantastic, his touch and intelligence is remarkable, while Perotti and Edin Dzeko were equally effective, providing Roma with their few moments of fleeting brilliance.
Where do they go from here? I have no idea, but Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma career is off to a shaky start. He looked completely overmatched in the second half: his side was completely gassed and didn’t seem to have a clue how to contain Inter at the point of attack.
Certainly getting Rick Karsdorp and Alessandro Florenzi back to full fitness will help, as will the hopefully pending addition of Patrik Schick, but you should be extremely worried about Roma’s chances of landing in the top four this season.