While Udinese aren’t exactly titans of the industry, the Zebras from the steps of the Alps presented a greater challenge than either of Roma’s recent domestic opponents, Verona and Benevento. As such, Eusebio Di Francesco opted for a slightly more experienced lineup, returning Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman to the starting lineup, while opting for the seldom, if ever, seen frontline of Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko.
Roma and Udinese would trade minor barbs for ten minutes or so, with Udinese threatening in the match’s first minutes, but Dzeko would continue his scintillating form, scoring his 22nd goal in as many matches.
Edin Dzeko: 12th Minute
Full marks to Dzeko for slotting this one past the onrushing keeper, but this goal was all Radja Nainggolan. Not only did he shield the ball, resisting two would be tacklers the moment he cradled the ball, but once he was knocked down, he somehow found a way to not only retain possession of the ball, but actually played it forward to Dzeko, who put it home simple as.
Nainggolan’s ascension from a simple tough tackling, box to box midfielder to one of the best in the business—a player who can do it all—has been a pleasure to witness, but that bit of wizardry right there harkens back to his original calling card, brute strength. That’s why you don’t skip leg day, kids. Nainggolan’s tree trunk-like quads were solely responsible for that goal.
Roma would continue to press forward with El Shaarawy, Dzeko and Perotti each coming close in the ensuing ten minutes following Dzeko’s goal, but the Pharaoh would draw second blood.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 30th Minute
Once again, the buildup to the goal was more remarkable than the finish itself, only in this instance it was Dzeko playing the role of playmaker. After receiving the ball on the left edge of the 18-yard-box, Dzeko channeled his inner Ronaldinho, slowly but surely using some deft dribbling moves and/or body feints to shake his defender before crossing the ball inwards to El Shaarawy. From there SES was cool as you like, putting one touch on the ball with his right foot, and somehow tucking it under the crossbar.
Two things of note on this one: For all his goal scoring plaudits, we tend to gloss over the fact that Dzeko is pretty skilled player, and while he may not be as fast and agile as some of his capocannoniere competitors, he’s found a way to make space for himself and others, which was on full display there. Secondly, El Shaarawy’s increasing importance in EDFs setup is equally impressive when you consider he essentially had no preseason, but he’s seemingly captured the manager’s confidence, relegating Gregoire Defrel to bench duty and Cengiz Under to, well, understudy.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 45th Minute
El Shaarawy would strike again late in the first half, this time creating and finishing a wild chance. AFter beating the Udinese defense to a loose ball, El Shaarawy charged up the pitch before executing a Totti-like switch of play, lofting the ball over to Diego Perotti. And while Perotti wasn’t quite up to El Shaarawy’s level of grace, he did enough to cut in on the edge of the 18 and play the ball back towards El Shaarawy, but whether it was due to his inability to slow his momentum or simply just not getting a clean foot on the ball, his well intentioned cross fell short of its target, instead landing at the feet of Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably played it back to the keeper rather than hoofing it out of bounds. But there was El Shaarawy, who practically stole the ball from Larsen mid-pass.
If you’ll permit a personal interjection in the form of a Tweet:
Fun fact: I broke the very couch I'm sitting celebrating an SES goal last spring, nearly doubled the damage just now— BrenCdT (@BrenCdT) September 23, 2017
Everyone has their favorite player, the one they’ll defend to the death, even in the face of logic and reason, and for me that’s El Shaarawy. I was beyond stoked when they signed him in the winter of 2016, and while he’s admittedly a streaky player, no one...I repeat, no one...injects the same level of instant energy and offense as El Shaarawy.
Don’t let the 3-0 halftime scoreline fool you, Roma’s dominance on the defensive end was every bit as impressive as their offensive output, as they doubled Udinese’s shot attempts and weren’t beaten off the dribble at all in the first half.
Roma was so unbelievably dominant in the first half that the second 45 minutes barely registered. El Shaarawy and Dzeko each came close to adding to their tallies, while Alisson Becker was pressed into service on a few occasions, and was typically up to snuff, turning away two point blank attempts from Udinese, but by and large, Roma put in a day’s work in the first half, putting the match beyond all doubt after thirty minutes.
However, that doesn’t mean the second half was bereft of intrigue. Perhaps the most interesting storylines of the second frame were EDFs substitutions. Gregoire Defrel has been perhaps the most scrutinized signing of the young Monchi-regime, largely because he was forced to play out of position while EDF sorted out the right wing spot, and once Patrik Schick signed, he was seemingly leapfrogged on the center forward depth chart; Defrel has been both a victim of circumstance and timing.
So to see him assume his normal central position was rather interesting, and while he ultimately made no mark on the match, he did show flashes of the skills that bagged him a dozen goals last year, namely his pace and agility, areas in which he blows past Dzeko. If EDF can find a consistent role for him, it would give Roma an ideal alternative to Dzeko when the need arises, albeit an expensive one.
Well, it seems like we spoke to soon. In the waning minutes, the match nearly swung from 4-0 to 3-1. After a string of non-calls this season, Diego Perotti’s penalty box tricks finally paid dividends as he was awarded a penalty in the 89th minute. It, um, did not go as planned.
You live by the sword, you die by the sword, Diego. Perotti’s patented pimp strut penalty didn’t work this time, as the keeper wasn’t exactly fooled, nor did he really have it solved, but Perotti’s nonchalant attempt clanged off the post, seemingly catching everyone in a Roma shirt off guard, as no one was able to pounce on the rebound. Was it selfish of Perotti to take the PK when El Shaarawy was a goal away from a hat trick? Yeah, probably—especially given the 3-0 scoreline—but he has cemented himself as Roma’s de facto penalty taker, so what are you gonna do?
Jens Stryger Larsen: 90th Minute
Udinese would grab a consolation goal when they took advantage of a rare misstep in Roma’s offside trap, as Stryger slipped past Hector Moreno, who was just a step off where he needed to be, leaving Alisson on an island. Due to the high defensive line and Stryger’s forward momentum, there was very little Alisson could do.
Roma did the job today, just as they have the past two weeks. And while none of Verona, Benevento or Udinese are considered the class of Serie A, and indeed the former two may find themselves back in Serie B this time next year, Roma laid waste to each of them in no short order, and for a club seemingly on the brink of catastrophe after the loss to Inter, with the players openly questioning their roles, this was exactly the three-match stretch EDF needed to conjure from his squad.
Not only did Roma go nine for nine in points, but Dzeko has rediscovered his form from last season, Kolarov continued to establish himself as the league’s best left back, El Shaarawy caught fire, and even Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under have inserted themselves into the conversation. It was, in a word, a perfect storm of success for Roma.
Now, the real question, the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the room is simply this: can they carry this momentum into October? Following their trip to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in the Champions League, Roma faces an absolutely brutal stretch of matches: away to Milan, home against Napoli, away to Chelsea, and away to Torino before a three-match homestand against Crotone, Bologna and the return fixture against Chelsea to close out October.
It’ll be a hell of a test and Roma assuredly won’t run the table, but the momentum they’ve established and the belief in EDF they’re creating will go a long way towards ensuring they survive that stretch.
In the meantime, pack your bags, we’re going to Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
Who was the Uomo Against Udinese?
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Stephan El Shaarawy