Fiorentina and Roma both seriously needed a win and neither side left with the three points. Roma will feel harder done by, however, as there was very little threat from Fiorentina barring a lone Chiesa moment in the second half. Even if the penalty-that-technically-was happened in front of our VAR-ry eyes, Monchi’s gatecrashing the post-match press conferences seemed a very out-of-place call from Roma management.
Despite the penalty conceeded, Roma showed decent organization and a proactive approach to passing (which had been missing in previous weeks). Where they showed no improvement was in the area of the pitch that matters the most to the scoreline: The final third.
What can be done differently for Roma to discover that elusive killer instinct?
Nicolo Zaniolo - Di Francesco’s Unforced Error
The last couple of weeks have seen alibis made for Eusebio Di Francesco and, while you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger believer in the man than yours truly, the idea he’s a ‘victim’ of this Roma side doesn’t stack up to the calls he’s making in the starting lineup that not only don’t pay off, but further compromise his approach to the game.
Yesterday, no one forced Eusebio Di Francesco to opt for youth in starting Nicolo Zaniolo.
We don’t expect Zaniolo to be a defensive beast, but winning the ball back early and high up the pitch used to be a key facet of EDF’s attacking opportunities created with last year’s Roma side. It looked a distant prospect in yesterday’s game, thanks to Roma’s inexperience.
Zaniolo and Pellegrini’s uncertain chemistry in the first half saw Steven Nzonzi stretching more than he should have to protect the defence - eventually getting himself booked not even a half hour into the game and reduced to a passenger for the rest of the match.
Zaniolo in the second half, meanwhile, continued to let opposing men get by him and Roma began to turn to direct over-the-top balls to bypass the midfield, until Di Francesco had no choice but to take Zaniolo off for Bryan Cristante.
There are many disappointing notes to Cristante’s Roma career so far, but his sheer strength in tackling and winning the ball back isn’t one of them. The former Atalanta man made as many successful tackles as Pellegrini and Zaniolo had both pulled off in the hour before him. You have to ask what made Di Francesco opt for Zaniolo over Cristante?
Yes, Fiorentina have struggled in midfield this season with a 4-3-3 barely suited to the players they have on the books, but ultimately EDF’s risk in getting mileage for Roma’s youth didn’t pay off in the middle of the park.
EDF’s Kid Gloves with Schick
For everything said above about Zaniolo’s selection, the opposite criticism could be made of EDF’s safety-first selections in attack. But that criticism is nothing new.
Though an excellent post from Garrett highlighted what Dzeko often brings to this Roma side even on its worst days, most of the yesterday’s game happened with Roma focusing on passing the ball on the ground - effectively shifting away from their reliance on Dzeko’s aerial ability for the best part of yesterday’s game.
So, given that change in passing mentality, what would it have cost to start Patrick Schick yesterday instead?
Florenzi’s Defiance: ‘We Played Football For 90 Minutes’
Florenzi’s last 5 goals scored in a Roma shirt have all been in the last half-hour of games - often while wearing the captain’s armband in the process. He’s Mr. Keep Going when Roma needs it.
In the immediate pitchside interview after the game, Roma’s number 24 defied all criticism lobbied at the team.
“In the last few games, we’ve seen up-and-down performances,” Florenzi told Sky, “but today, instead, we saw a side that tried to play football for ninety minutes. Today we showed everyone a good Roma that was on top for the majority of the game.”
His claims weren’t all that wild, if you like mundane stats. Roma dominated in terms of possession, passing and shots while the Lupi even matched Fiorentina’s ‘anti-football’ for tackles, showing no less hunger than the Viola. Fiorentina were - penalty aside - reduced to just 0.5 expected goals for the entire 90 minutes - though it’s worth noting Chiesa failed to take a shot on goal when working himself through into a one-on-one with Olsen in the second half, that would have changed the xG picture somewhat (and likely the scoreline).
The passing from Roma was forward-looking into space from the back to the middle of the pitch. Juan Jesus offered more on the ball than Manolas and Fazio put together in previous weeks, albeit helped by Fiorentina’s lack of pressure on him. He helped to keep possession in the middle of the park for the majority of the game. But the quality from Roma was dire where it mattered.
From the Giallorossi’s 19 shots on goal came only 4 shots on target to test Lafont, including two clear-cut chances in the first half that both El Shaarawy and Dzezo squandered in the same 20th minute of the match. Roma should have been 1-0 by the time the contentious penalty call came and, from then on, their sense of anger and injustice did very little for their chances in Fiorentina’s penalty box.
Monchi Goes Overboard Post-Match
Speaking of anger and injustice, I wondered whether week-and-a-half moving apartment meant that I missed some kind of press strike from EDF, with Monchi appearing in his seat at the press conference after the game.
The Spanish director claimed it was decision taken from the club, in the light of many ‘so-so’ penalty calls in the last few weeks that had seen Roma fall foul of each of them.
Whatever Monchi’s motives yesterday, even if these were diversionary tactics to take the pressure off the team, they seemed out of place. His passive aggressive jibes at Orsato would have been better if he’d just called the man out by name (even though I don’t know what Orsato had to do with yesterday’s game because all I saw was Luca Banti - maybe Orsato was a fourth official?)
We know that different decisions could have been made in midfield yesterday, and we know the lack of determination in the final third of the pitch is nothing new in terms of deciding matches for this Roma side in desperate need of upward Serie A momentum.