Wednesday’s frustrating 1-1 draw with Sampdoria was a lesson in why one should never assume anything, not in romance, not in finance and definitely not with anything remotely related to Associazione Sportiva Roma. For weeks we held that makeup match as three-points in the bag, Roma’s magic beanstalk to the top of the table, and rather than rolling over Samp, Roma, while a bit better than in recent weeks, was still lacking precision and missing that killer edge.
Roma v. Sampdoria: January 28th, 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
So, here we are a few days later and we’re at it again, only this time trading the bucolic Luigi Ferraris for the hollow and lifeless Stadio Olimpico with its ring of death encircling the pitch. With Roma currently mired in Europa League territory (5th place), this match is as important as they come, so can Roma cast aside all their recent frustrations and mount something resembling a credible attack or will complaceny rule the day?
Umm, like, three days ago, 2018: Sampdoria 1, Roma 1
Despite all our hand wringing over Roma’s stagnant tactics—though their 17 chances created was better than their per match average—this match was ultimately a matter of penalty calls—was Kevin Strootman actually fouled when he was brought down in the box, and, moments later, was Aleksandar Kolarov’s handball intentional/avoidable?
It’s unfortunate, but when you can’t convert chances into goals, this is what happens; you leave your fate in someone else’s hands.
Despite the poor result, which, were it not for Edin Dzeko, would have been even worse, Roma did show some signs of life midweek, and a large part of that was due to Lorenzo Pellegrini and Radja Nainggolan. Pellegrini led all midfielders with 61 touches and remained firmly slotted to the forward right portion of the field, seemingly tasked with spreading the play out wide to Alessandro Florenzi, the busiest man on the pitch that evening. LP’s ability to work in tandem with his Roman brother did wonders, as he was able to create four scoring chances on Wednesday, three of which were from the wings.
Nainggolan, meanwhile, was utilized in an almost Spalletti-esque fashion, riding shotgun to Edin Dzeko, controlling the middle of the attacking third and creating three scoring chances in the process. When you look at their heatmaps, the thinking is clear—Dzeko was able to advance further up the pitch centrally with Nainggolan skirting to his immediate left or right supporting him.
While these subtle tweaks didn’t ultimately make a dent on the scoreboard, it was nevertheless a signal of intent from EDF, who has openly admitted that he needs to make adjustments to reap the best of Roma. The problem, as many people have pointed out, is that this squad needs more than minor recalibration to climb out of fifth place.
The real kicker to all this, and the reason so many people have been so visibly upset and frustrated, is that the parts are there. Between Edin Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, Kostas Manolas, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Patrik Schick and Alisson, Roma has a wonderful balance of experience and intrigue, with some of those names standing among the best in their position league wide, but for the past two plus months, Eusebio Di Francesco hasn’t been able to properly manage them.
If Roma were an F1 car, there wouldn’t be much to complain about; the chassis is lightweight yet solid, the transmission responsive, the engine finely tuned, and sure you’d like some flashier tires, but it’s built to compete. So when all the component parts are present but the results flagging, where do you look? To the man cobbling it all together, the crew chief.
With six managers in his six-and-a-half years as owner, James Pallotta hasn’t show much patience with his managers, and if EDF can’t get Roma to the podium at the end of the season, he may be tooling around on the dirt tracks next season.