Roma had won their last 10 Serie A league games against Udinese, and Roma’s current top-scorer SES scored his first ever Serie A goal away in Udine. What could go wrong?
Pierro Torri summed up the feeling on Il Romanista radio after the game: “Roma playing after an international break is just a guaranteed 3 points for the other team.”
So who were the biggest authors of Roma’s pain at the Dacia Arena yesterday?
Nicola’s Udinese Go Ultra Defensive
Davide Nicola inevitably went defensive for his first game in charge, and he made no pretenses to otherwise - nor did Roma waste any time recognising the nature of the play ahead of them.
Two Udinese offsides called within the first two minutes of play told the story of how aggressively Roma’s backline pushed up the field from the first whistle.
For their part, an Udinese 5-man defensive line meant Samir was free to focus exclusively on making Justin Kluivert’s day one to forget. And all of Udinese’s midfield were willing to do what every lower-table Serie A team has done against EDF’s Roma: usher the Giallorossi attack down the wings.
Roma’s Lone Threat: Alexander Kolarov
Kolarov’s use of the ball differed wildly from every other Giallorosso at 0-0.
At one point in the middle of the first half, Bryan Cristante would impressively beat out two Udinese midfielders on the ball, evading a double-team to move up the pitch with the ball into space. Cristante then lost his nerve and checked back when the attacking onus was clearly there to be had for Roma.
The Italian midfielder layed it off to Kolarov, but the Serbian wasn’t messing about.
Kolarov immediately looked for a first-time pass to Justin Kluivert on the opposing wing and attack Udinese’s weak side. On that occasion the pass was over-hit, but Kolarov continued to be the man looking to get Udinese’s defence moving off their feet.
His newfound understanding with Justin Kluivert was meant to be a departure from Kolarov’s excessive influence on Roma’s unbalanced attacking play of last season. Yesterday that understanding broke down with Justin Kluivert’s bad day at the office.
Young Wingers Afraid To Take On Their Man
Does anyone miss Diego Perotti yet?
Even though it wasn’t on Perotti’s preferred flank, EDF sounded explicitly angry about one aspect of Roma’s play in the post-match conference: the unwillingness of Roma’s wide forwards to take on their man.
In fairness to SES, he did enough of a part on the left-flank, completing 4 successful dribbles by the end of the game. That was the minimum to be expected for a match where each and every outfield Roma player lasting 90 minutes saw at least 60 touches of the ball each.
On the right-side, Justin Kluivert beats his man just once.
On that occassion, Kluivert was taken out with a cynical recovery foul from Samir. It was enough to shake the kid of his confidence for the day. Barely past the hour, Kluivert was hauled off for Cengiz and the Turkish winger somehow did even worse.
Cengiz not even finding the effort to chase down a free ball in space near the end of the game, when Roma were 1-0 down, just puts more questions on where his form and head have gone this season.
Would-Be Danger Men - Cristante and Nzonzi
Cristante was adequately supported by Nzonzi pushing up throughout, but only Bryan had the pace to dribble into midfield, beat his man and draw defenders out if he was going to make it count. If it wasn’t going to come from the wide play, then the penultimate chip was left to him to gamble.
Cristante - to his credit - would fight back from getting lured into mismatches by the midfield Udinese trio of Fofana, Behrami and Italy U-21 captain Mandragora. As we mentioned earlier, Cristante even overcame 1-on-2s to dribble to supremacy by half-time.
But would he keep the momentum going into the second half?
Instead of taking on his men even more, Cristante started making himself ever-so-unavailable to receive passes from teammates.
Though I don’t have the numbers to compare each half and back it up, we’ve seen this kind of shirking of responsibility from Cristante in the Bologna defeat earlier in the season. Maybe Bryan didn’t like EDF’s half-time team talk?
That left Roma’s only real response to going 1-0 coming from danger-man... Steven Nzonzi.
At 0-0, Roma’s shots on goal were mostly outside the box (nine shots outside the area vs 5 shots inside Udinese’s penalty area).
At 1-0 down, the Lupi started to fashion far more chances inside Udinese’s penalty box than outside - one of the few positives we can take from the game where Roma uncharacteristically didn’t lose their head and instead tried to work it in more to goal (after De Paul’s goal, 8 shots from Roma inside the box vs 4 shots outside of the box).
The problem here was the easiest chances fell to Nzonzi alone.
After missing a 48th minute header from a corner, Nzonzi would later miss Roma’s only clear-cut chance of the game by fluffing another wide open header from a corner in the 56th minute. He’d repeat this again in the 70th minute from a harder chance.
Patrik Schick may come under fire for his miss header, and his performance in general up front, but the real chances fell to Roma’s Frenchman, who isn’t known for goalscoring.
Udinese’s Strikers Get On With The Dirty Work
The only Udinese players tasked with trying to steal the ball back were the two front men. No one would envy Ignacio Pussetto and Rodrigo De Paul for the heavy work load put on their shoulders, but both men got on with the tasks given to them.
They were slide tackling to try and catch Roma on the ball when they could, and De Paul still found energy energy in the tank to beat two Roma men - Davide Santon and Juan Jesus - on his way into the box to score the winner past Mirante.
As Bren pointed out yesterday, the Argentine is inevitably set for a transfer to one of Serie A’s bigger clubs after this season.
De Paul afforded his new coach the luxury of playing 8 outfield men exclusively on defence, while De Paul turned what looked like a 0-0 draw for Udinese at best into 3 points for the Zebrette.