Well, you’ve got to say that Empoli looked like they wanted it more. Roma - typically - played down to the level of the opposition in what Eusebio Di Francesco called too much of a “lighthearted” approach to the second half of yesterday evening’s win.
Should Roma have wrapped up the game earlier? How did Luca Pellegrini fair on his full debut? And how will we fill our time during the international football break?
‘Roma Needs To Close Games Sooner’ - EDF
Everyone saw Roma’s second half, a lot of people expected Roma to “happen” when the writing looked on the wall. Empoli were pressing high for nearly the entire game and, as mentioned earlier, Empoli striker Caputo was telling his mates all game long that he really liked the view 18 yards or so behind Fazio - beckoning them to launch the ball his way.
A second-half double substitution moving Roma to 3-at-the-back did just about enough in terms of result. Fazio was moved away from Caputo to the right side of defence, and the extra traffic on Roma’s 18 yard line meant Empoli finished the match without creating any clear chances from open play for the entire game. Their most threatening chance (missed penalty aside) would be Caputo’s missed shot (xG 0.11) in the 69th minute.
Meanwhile, Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko went up the other end to create Roma’s only clear chance of the game, lending credibility to both as a front-two pairing (Patrick Schick might be coughing loudly here) even if they left it late to do so.
Di Francesco assessment in the post-match conference was simply that “Roma needs to close games sooner if we want to consider ourselves among the big teams. Our approach in the second half was too light hearted.”
Luca Pellegrini’s Mixed Fortunes on Full Debut
A lot of people rate Roma’s new Italian Dutch Cafu highly; not least of all Luca Pellegrini himself. EDF commented post-match that Pellegrini has a “big awareness of his own capabilities” and, sure, Pellegrini is a teenager who’s family already secured super-villain Mino Raoila as his agent while rebuffing Liverpool’s offer to poach him this past summer.
EDF’s comments were about the fourth hint in a week that Pellegrini is headed for stardom as long as he keeps his feet on the ground, and he has plenty to work with after a debut like this - not least of all working better with Fazio.
His full debut last night started off well before he faded after half-time, having taken a knock to his calf during the first half. EDF revealed Luca Pellegrini had to spend the entire half-time team talk on the massage table. Pellegrini then took a professional yellow card in the second half when running back to goal. The caution made it inevitable EDF would sub the youngster rather than damage either his fitness or confidence by risking a red.
Empoli’s Caputo was constantly trying his luck to get behind Fazio and Roma’s defensive line. The end result was a dominant 40% of Empoli’s attacks came down their right-wing.
Fazio has to get to work and help Luca Pellegrini bed into the team defensively, should the two pair on that side of the pitch again. EDF commented post-match that Luca can learn to read the threats to defence more, which is a side of the game where Fazio’s intelligence excels and can teach Luca a lot. A work in progress.
Dzeko and De Rossi’s Trust In Team Needs Work
If one of the vero leaders Fazio could be asked to do more, then perhaps yesterday both Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi were guilty of trying to do too much.
Last night, Dzeko’s concentration levels were an erratic climbdown from the perfection of Wednesday in the Champions League. His response under pressure against Empoli betrayed a lack of trust in his younger teammates to hold the fort.
Dzeko’s individual errors in possession - and Roma’s lack of chemistry in the opposing half - just provoked him into coming deeper and deeper to get the ball, while Lorenzo Pellegrini didn’t know where to take his own cues in response. Predictably, as the team’s overall chemistry failed, it was Lorenzo Pellegrini who came off looking the most ineffective player of the game.
I’ve mentioned before that Lorenzo sees his fate in the trequarti largely in the hands of Edin Dzeko, simply because Pellegrini is a one-touch player who cannot affect games by himself. Lorenzo’s only reprieve to shine as an individual is the excellent delivery on set pieces; even then he needed Nzonzi to deliver a hell of a header last night.
I wonder if similar used to happen to Simone Perrotta whenever Francesco Totti had an off day at false 9.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, memes could be made of Eusebio Di Francesco screaming at De Rossi after the subs were done. Sounds of “Daniele! Esci! Esci! Daniele!” from the Roma bench meant EDF could only laugh at both their expense after the game, claiming “at times De Rossi chooses to be hard of hearing”. It seemed like Roma’s captain still defaults dropping deeper as a human shield whenever Roma are under pressure, leaving the Lupi risking with a backline of 6 men all in a line - something that fatally backfired in the away game to Milan earlier this season.
Ultimately, Roma didn’t slip on this eggshell yesterday. A weird sensation. The character in the team showed just enough to create a clear opening and wrap up a 2-0 win on the counter.
It wasn’t an impressive performance if you consider intent vs execution. Roma were setup to both “push Empoli back” (in EDF’s own words after the game) and, failing that, make the most of Empoli pushing high up the pitch to hit them on the break - something that happened very late into the game and left the match in the balance for the best part of 90 minutes.
However, Roma’s reaction to real events was ultimately solid even if there’s a need to find balance.
In a 4-2-3-1 setup, once again Davide Santon was the outstanding defender to help Roma’s backline whenever Empoli got the ball behind Roma’s midfield. Steven Nzonzi covered 12,025 km in the game - his highest all season and pushing him up to the 4th highest player in Serie A for average kms per game behind Brozovic, Kessie and Biglia - but doing the most running isn’t necessarily a sign of playing the most effective game as a defender. Often it can actually be a need to make better decisions.
On the other hand, Olsen is now only the 6th highest in the league for saves made, where he was 1st just a couple of weeks ago. Nzonzi’s 10 duels won on the ball yesterday was very influential as Roma’s team defending slowly comes back together. Roma now have 12 different scorers on the goalsheet this season.
The on-pitch relationships between Roma’s experienced players and their younger teammates came under a timely microscope headed into the international break, and a more equitable spread of trust needs to be found in the camp moving forward.