With their disappointing draw against Fiorentina last weekend buttressed by, you guessed it, a midweek victory in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow, it really was business as usual for Roma as they welcomed Gregoire Defrel and Sampdoria to the Olimpico on what looked like a lovely Sunday in the Eternal City. Business as usual in the sense that no one knows what the hell to expect from them at any given moment in any given match. They could have just as easily blown Sampdoria out 5-1 as they would have lost 3-1.
So, when Sampdoria appeared to take a page out of the Fiorentina playbook—pressing Robin Olsen and Roma at the back, preventing any sort of sustained buildup—it looked like we’d be destined for another low-scoring draw. Despite that Viola press, Roma managed to work the ball up the wings against their purple opponents last week, but, at least in the first 30 minutes or so, the same could not be said for Roma today, as they were frequently frustrated with the lack of breathing room.
Rather than bursting up the wings, Roma did most of their damage (or threats of damage) via setpieces or crosses. Stephan El Shaarawy and Aleksandar Kolarov each played dangerous balls from out wide, only to be denied by well positioned Sampdoria players or, in Kolarov’s case, a delivery that was just a tad too flat.
Either way, even though they were being denied their preferred method of attack, EDF’s side still managed to make things uncomfortable for the Sampdoria defense. And given all that transpired before it, it was quite fitting that Roma found a breakthrough via a setpiece.
Juan Jesus: 19th Minute (Roma 1, Sampdoria 0)
While the scoreline says Jesus, 99.99% of this goal was Bryan Cristante’s. Pretty simple but wonderfully executed stuff here from two of Roma’s youngest players. Lorenzo Pellegrini, per usual, delivered a pinpoint corner kick, one that met Cristante’s head at the apex of his leap, allowing the young midfielder to whip it past the far post. However, not one to leave things to chance, Juan Jesus tucked it home, lest it carom to the wrong side of the post; can’t really blame him, he was just being cautious, but it’s a shame Cristante won’t get credited with this one because his run, his leap and his execution were perfect.
And that was really all news worth reporting in the first half. Justin Kluivert made a couple of beautiful and incisive runs (and passes), nearly beating the keeper from 180 degrees, Kolarov almost scored the own goal of the century on a flying header and Steven Nzonzi made about 37 back passes. Roma wasn’t really sitting back, but they weren’t really gunning for a goal; they just sort of existed for the remaining 20 minutes of the first half.
Di Francesco opted for no changes to start the second half, something he seldom does anyway, so you would have been right to be cautious; yes, Roma had the lead, but they weren’t exactly pressing the issue in the first 45 minutes. That would all change in the second half, and by some measure.
Roma simply wouldn’t relent in the second half, attacking from the word go, and they wouldn’t have to wait long to double their lead.
Patrik Schick: 59th Minute (Roma 2, Sampdoria 0)
Talk about a guy who NEEDED a goal. With every passing minute spent on the bench or wasted hours playing out of position, Patrik Schick’s confidence, not mention his future with the team, began to look, shall we say, shaky, peaking with midweek rumors of a January loan.
However, with Dzeko in need of rest, it seemed as though the perfect script was written for Schick; starting alone up top against his former team. And while Schick will get his just due for scoring this, we can’t overlook El Shaarawy’s stuttering run and well-timed layoff to the overlapping Kolarov, who then served it up on a platter for Schick, leaving the young Czech with a simple tap in. It was the kind of beautifully executed run of play goal we haven’t seen in ages—Schick finishing it off was the icing on the cake.
But the Giallorossi weren’t done scoring yet...
Stephan El Shaarawy: 73rd Minute (Roma 3, Sampdoria 0)
Now, if this goal wasn’t a microcosm of El Shaarawy’s entire Roma career, I’m not sure what is—El Shaarawy made a blistering run forward, drawing the keeper out in the process, yet perhaps took it a touch too far and wasn’t able to get that little flick over the keeper’s hands. Yet he recovered the ball, turned away from the goal, circling back to the edge of the 18, and somehow still chipped the keeper Totti-style to remove all doubt from this match. El Shaarawy is frustrating, sure, but he’s also capable of the sensational, and in that moment, we witnessed the full El Shaarawy spectrum.
EDF would make a few more changes in the second half, pulling of Schick, who looked to be clutching his hamstring, for Edin Dzeko and giving Lorenzo Pellegrini some late rest in favor of Nicolo Zaniolo.
Dzeko would desperately hunt for a fourth goal throughout his half hour or so on the pitch, but it was actually another Roma player* who’d grab the matches fourth goal, Gregoire Defrel, who tucked one home in traffic to give Sampdoria a consolation prize in this match. “Tucked” actually sells it short, it was quite an exhibition of skill from Defrel to beat Olsen in tight space—as we said last season, the talent was never the question, he was just a poor fit for last year’s Roma team.
Not to be outdone, Roma continued their attacking forays, grabbing a fourth goal in stoppage time.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 94th Minute (Roma 4, Sampdoria 1)
Stephan El Shaarawy Goal (4-1) - Roma vs Sampdoria (Serie A) pic.twitter.com/GXiqgEzh6U— Ximo Pierto (@ximopiertoo) November 11, 2018
After receiving a backheeled pass from Cengiz Ünder, Dzeko calmly carried the ball up the right pitch, playing El Shaarawy through on the left with a long, diagonal pass. Somehow the Samp keeper flubbed his diving attempt, which left El Shaarawy with an absolute sitter, which he scored in the blink of an eye.
Now thats what I’m talking about! What a performance from Roma, who left absolutely no doubt as to who was the superior team this evening. While Roma’s 10 shots is far from their most this season (though some sites say 16, which speaks volumes about football stats), they were an accurate and efficient assemblage of attempts, with six going on target, four of which found the back of the net. A 40% conversion rate? Yeah, I’ll take that.
While El Shaarawy will get the majority of the plaudits (rightfully so), he was far from the only standout in this match, but let’s focus on him for a quick second. In 90 minutes, SES took three shots, scored two goals, created one scoring chance and had three successful dribbles, all while completing 87% of his passes and taking 60 touches, third most for Roma. Just a wonderful performance from El Shaarawy—we’ll have much more on him tomorrow.
Outside of SES, EDF got strong turns from Lorenzo Pellegrini, who had three key passes, two dribbles and drew four fouls, Bryan Cristante (three shots, one assist, three interceptions, three clearances and 9/10 of a goal), Juan Jesus, Justin Kluivert and Patrik Schick, to name a few. It’s a shame they didn’t keep a clean sheet, but this was as good a top-to-bottom effort we’ve seen from Roma in Serie A in weeks, if not months, and what’s more, it was Roma’s young players leading the charge.
With this victory, Roma temporarily leaps back into 6th place, depending on the Sassuolo fixture later today, who could do Roma a huge favor by beating Lazio. With 19 points from 12 matches, Roma will, at the very worst, end the weekend five points out of the top four—not bad considering how inconsistent they’ve been.
The challenge for EDF now is to simply carry this same energy through the international break, which is as wonderfully timed as ever I might add; a two week pause at this juncture could be damaging to a team seeking an identity, though it will be a boon to Roma’s walking wounded, namely Daniele De Rossi who is still shaking off the effects of his broken foot/toe.
On the flipside, though, heading into the break on a high note should do wonders for the club’s psyche. With both the men and women on international break, expect a series of absurd January transfer rumors to hit the airwaves this week.
Until then, Forza Roma!