Despite all the rampant transfer speculation during their winter break, speculation that could, if true, upset the apple cart, it was business as usual for Eusebio Di Francesco as Roma travelled northwards to the Mezza to take on Luciano Spalletti and Inter Milan. While there were rumblings of some tactical shifts afoot, EDF opted for his old friend the 4-3-3, albeit with a couple wrinkles.
With Daniele De Rossi sitting high in the stands with Monchi and Francesco Totti, and with Diego Perotti absent, EDF made two telling changes to his normal lineup. In place of DDR, EDF ran with Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Lorenzo Pellegrini in midfield, while Gerson manned Perotti’s spot on the frontline, though Nainggolan and Gerson were seen swapping positions several times in the first half.
The early results were not kind to either side, as the first ten to fifteen minutes were jam packed with errant passes, loose balls and fruitless runs; it had all the makings of a dull, stilted 0-0 affair. That was, until, Roma scored one of the strangest goals we’ve seen all season long.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 31st Minute
Stephan El Shaarawy SUPER GOAL HD - Inter 0-1 AS Roma 21.01.2018 https://t.co/XL31ylv41l pic.twitter.com/oGHRyZCGQx— Football (@taraskorytko1) January 21, 2018
Now here’s something you don’t see everyday, a goalkeeper assist. With Roma bereft of creativity through the first half an hour, they turned to Alisson for a creative outlet. Alisson unleashed his inner...umm...Ray Guy? Adam Vinatieri?....I don’t know, but he nailed this one, hoofing from his own 18 all the way across the center stripe, finding SES wide open on the right flank. From there El Shaarawy made Davide Santon look practically lead footed, blazing past him before beating Samir Handanovic with a deft little chip; you’ll notice how El Shaarawy settles and chips it pretty much in one motion, with his momentum rapidly carrying him towards the endline. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; El Shaarawy is as agile as the day is long.
The ensuing 15 minutes played on without issue, Alessandro Florenzi was dragged down in the box to no avail and Alisson made three huge plays, denying two quick shots in the box and rushing out to smother a Mauro Icardi attempt. Alisson has been magnificent this year, no ifs ands or buts about it.
Rather than recapping the entire second half, I’m just going to pick up where that last sentence left off, with Roma’s remarkable Brazilian keeper, Alisson, who did this:
Alisson with an incredible finger-tip save to deny Icardi! #InterRoma pic.twitter.com/kPMBzDZNDD— Matthew Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) January 21, 2018
I barely have the words to describe this one. Following the looping ball into this own area, Alisson quickly retreated to his right to cover the near post, and in the next minute he’s dashing across the goal mouth from left to right, before quickly having to change directions once more, all before splaying out to deny Mauro Icardi with an outstretched hand. It wouldn’t be the first save Alisson made in the second half, but his performance was the dominant storyline in this match.
No matter how poor Roma’s defense was playing, largely due to the insertion of Bruno Peres, Alisson was there to maintain the slim one goal lead. But when you live by the sword you die by the sword.
Matias Vecino: 86th Minute
GOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!! #Vecino with the equalizer cancelling out El Shaarawy's strike, game on! 1-1 | 86' #InterRomapic.twitter.com/hWt68131Ga— SerieAchannel (@SerieAchannel) January 21, 2018
There’s only so much one man can do, and with Vecino slipping in between two defenders, Alisson couldn’t simultaneously track the ball and keep an eye on Vecino, giving Inter just enough daylight to equalize. You’ll also want to take note of the one, two, three centerbacks on the pitch at this moment.
While Roma would make a few attempts late in the match, they couldn’t find an extra-time breakthrough, dropping two more points in a desperate attempt to recreate the end of the Rudi Garcia regime.
But hey, at least we’ve got Alisson—check out this Wayne Gretzky like deke he pulled off in stoppage time.
He doesn't just make outrageous saves, he does this too in the 93rd minute with a 1-1 scoreline.#InterRoma pic.twitter.com/lMnjf6sLul— SerieAchannel (@SerieAchannel) January 21, 2018
I’ll try not to go off the deep end here, but Roma have only one victory in their past seven matches, and today’s brilliant one-goal haul represents the tenth time they’ve failed to score more than one goal in their last eleven matches. In fact, EDF’s squad has only surpassed the one-goal mark 11 times in 27 competitive matches this year.
To say their offense is broken would be an understatement. And thanks in part to rigid tactics and poor summer purchases, they have no other leg to lean on; this is it. Roll out the 4-3-3 and give it to Aleksandar Kolarov several dozen times and/or hope that Diego Perotti or Stephan El Shaarawy are riding one of their hot streaks. And in the midst of all this, they’re considering selling their top scorer in little more than 48 hours.
Thanks to this winter dovetail, Roma now find themselves in fifth place, three points behind Inter Milan, though they still have that game in hand. However, so do Lazio, so Roma are facing an uphill climb for fourth place/Italy’s final Champions League spot.
Not exactly the position we thought we’d be in after topping Group C, eh? But here we are; Roma are plumb out of ideas and the metrics for success are slowly becoming harder to swallow.
I hesitate to say Roma are facing a shit or get off the pot moment, but they sort of are—either they make the tough tactical calls and move away from the languid 4-3-3 or they be honest with themselves (and us) and call this what it is; a complete tear down. Jettison Emerson, Edin Dzeko, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan and enter full-on rebuild mode.
To do otherwise is remain in limbo, an endless void in which every match ends in a draw.