With two decidedly inconsistent sides in desperate need of a victory meeting at the Artemio Franchi today, this match was less about who had more quality than who made fewer mistakes. By nearly any paper measure, Roma are the more talented team (with a few exceptions) but that reputation and hype has produced the exact same 15 points as Fiorentina, a team with far less publicity. However, as we’ve seen untold times, Roma’s superior press coverage and bloated payroll don’t necessarily guarantee positive performances.
Such was the case in the first half of today’s week eleven tilt against the Viola. For much of the opening 45 minutes, it looked like Roma would take the early advantage. Though Eusebio Di Francesco had his hand forced by injury, his 4-2-3-1 was as attacking as ever.
With Lorenzo Pellegrini sitting deeper in the pivot alongside Steven Nzonzi, the Giallorossi were no less potent getting forward. Indeed, it was still Pellegrini leading the charge, linking up with Nicolo Zaniolo (his nominal replacement) and Stephan El Shaarawy. The order of the day seemed to be move the ball quickly up the pitch and get it out wide, where the Viola defense was susceptible.
However, as the match commentators so rightly pointed out, Roma were wasteful in the final third, checking the ball back when it should have been pushed forward to Dzeko. Several times in the first half, El Shaarawy or Cengiz Ünder would run onto a ball from Alessandro Florenzi or Aleksandar Kolarov, only to draw it backwards, halting any momentum Roma had built—an important point not lost on the ESPN+ crew.
From the outset, it seemed like Fiorentina’s main objective was to press Roma at the back, cutting off the back-to-front network, instead forcing Robin Olsen to play long ball after long ball. It wasn’t a perfect tactic—Roma still held 62% possession in the first half and took more attempts—but it certainly seemed to frustrate Roma, and, as we just said, Roma’s momentum was, more often than not, halted by their own reticence.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Roma’s hesitation, questionable decision making, and poor finishing came home to roost when Giovanni Simeone drew a “penalty” on Robin Olsen. With Simeone making a move on goal, Olsen charged out to dislodge the ball, only to be booted in the head and somehow get called for the penalty.
Jordan Veretout would convert said PK in the blink of an eye, putting Roma on the wrong side of the scoreline heading into the second half.
It was yet another confounding and disappointing performance from Roma, one that carried on in the second half, though Roma were far less convincing in the run of play in the second half. Where the first 45 minutes featured pretty quick transition play (which was waylaid by poor decision making in the final third), the second half was just...just bad. There was no real intent of any sort, just a mishmash of runs from Justin Kluivert, half-hearted crosses to Patrik Schick and a decent attempt by Dzeko where he dragged past two defenders and tested the keeper with Roma’s best shot of the day.
For a while it seemed like Roma were destined to be done in by that phantom penalty, but as we mentioned at the outset, this was really a test of which side would fuck up less than it was a true battle of footballing intellect, and fortunately for us, Roma capitalized last...
Alessandro Florenzi: 85th Minute (Fiorentina 1, Roma 1)
Alessandro Florenzi ⚽️ ties the match with 5 minutes left to play! #FiorentinaRoma 1-1 . #SerieA pic.twitter.com/OCtCHFroP2— Stereo Serie A (@StereoSerieA) November 3, 2018
Credit Florenzi for two things: being in the right place at the right time to bounce on that poor clearance from Fiorentina, and for having the guile to bury this shot in the pitch, thereby making it harder to defend, securing the equalizer for Roma. It’s somewhat fitting that the man who cares the most was there when it mattered most.
Neither side would take advantage of the four minutes of stoppage time, and I can’t imagine either side is walking away thinking “fuck yeah, we nailed that match!”
On Twitter we had a bit of a laugh at the objective hate thrown at this match by the British commentators on ESPN+, but I have to say, they had a point—this was not a match you’d show to a novice as an exhibition of the beautiful game. Time and time again they harangued Federico Chiesa for his selfish and immature play, and throughout the entire match they correctly assailed Roma’s wingers for their bonheaded and counterintuitive decision making, the aforementioned momentum killing check backs.
I don’t watch enough of Fiorentina to say whether or not Chiesa always plays like that, but their Roma criticisms weren’t far from the truth. Despite the Viola’s attempts to bury Roma’s build up play, EDF’s side did, particularly in the first half, manage some consistent and impressive forrays forward, only to be undone by (once again) poor decision making and errant shooting.
El Shaarawy was wasteful on the wing, Dzeko missed another sitter and even the otherwise solid Nzonzi was ineffective tonight. I’m not entirely sure where Roma turn from here—it wasn’t that long ago they seemed to have righted the ship—but something is missing between Roma’s ears. So, is the poor decision making the result of shoddy coaching, flimsy scouting, or are the players simply not good enough and/or too easily distracted by the looming fixtures?
It may be none of those, it may simply be that too many of them are being cast in awkward roles (which I guess would fall on the coach and director of sport, right?), but we keep seeing the same product match after match, with EDF’s quick fixes lasting only two or three halves before the same indiscriminate play rears its ugly head again.
While we can excuse away dropping points away to Napoli, I’m not sure we can say the same thing about this match—Roma simply had to win this one. As it stands right now, they’re in sixth place on 16 points, ahead of Fiorentina. However, if Sampdoria and Sassuolo win their week 11 matches against Torino and Chievo, respectively, then we’re back where this weekend began—outside of next year’s European places.
And, yes, it’s only November, but then it’ll be “only” December or “only” January, and nothing we’ve seen through 11 matches indicates they have this thing figured out.