It was the reverse fixture from the last Champions League group game, this early evening kick-off, as Roma took on CSKA Moscow in relatively mild 3 degree celsius weather. The Giallorossi’s form in Russia has been one of the bright spots of Roma’s history on the continent, with 4 wins and 1 draw out of their last five games against Russian sides. Even if we can all still remember the last-ditch CSKA equalizer in that draw, nearly exactly 4 years ago.
As it turns out, Roma (naturally) had more of the same tentative will-they-wont-they-kill-the-game-off action in mind this evening. But not before getting off to the best possible of starts.
4th Minute: Kostas Manolas (1-0 Roma)
We can get used to more Lorenzo Pellegrini deliveries like this one. Kostas timed his jump well to make good contact on Pellegrini’s inswinger, before Akinfeev got his own deflection on the ball to send it looping into the net. Kostas scored for his 4th headed Champions League goal out of his last five in this competition.
Roma’s mentality going a goal up was disappointing, breaking out some tediously conservative passing into feet, all over the pitch. Luckily for the Giallorossi, CSKA just weren’t that up to picking them off in possession - even in the raucous cauldron of the Luzhniki Stadium. CSKA’s troubles were compounded by Mario Fernandes getting stretchered off early in the first half, after winding up worse off from a 50-50 collision with Kolarov.
The Russian side managed one real clear-cut moment in the first half, beating Santon to the byline to send the ball across the face of the Roma’s goal. It was left to Kolarov to make a last-man block to keep Roma ahead in the game. Besides that flashpoint, Robin Olsen made everything else look like regulation saves. The Swede continues to be a calming influence on Roma, from between the sticks.
One of the few bright spots for Roma’s outfield play was Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Roman number 7 began dropping deep into midfield to try and get play going through the middle, even vocally trying to get teammates fired up. Justin Kluivert also gradually grew into the game, putting in Florenzi through on goal inside the box. But the Roma stand-in captain would trip over himself and the ball, squandering a chance to put Roma 2-0 up.
The second half saw more initiative from Justin Kluivert and Lorenzo Pellegrini. Kluivert spread his runs all across the frontline, giving defenders a hard day trying to shut him down before he gets to running at full pace on the ball. His only real job this evening was avoiding any kind of contact from the much taller, imposing defender Rodrigo Becão, which Kluivert managed to do while he was on the pitch.
Kluivert managed to put Dzeko clean through on goal early in the second half; Dzeko wasted the chance by hitting his shot in near-slow-motion, overestimating how much time he had to put it away before Becão would close down his shot. No sooner was that chance done with, than the lack of will from Roma to finish immediately backfired at the other end of the pitch.
51st Minute: Arnór Sigurðsson (1-1 CSKA Moscow)
CSKA 1:1 Roma | Champions League | Day 4 | 51' Sigurdsson pic.twitter.com/6GzBtb1ELV— VISTO EN ROTOFÚTBOL PREMIUM (@Rotofutbol3) November 7, 2018
This move came about from the first real gamble CSKA took to get real numbers forward. The results speak for themselves and we can nitpick it all we want. Should Kolarov been more determined in the tackle? Was Santon bamboozled? Either way, it looked like it would be a long evening for Roma at this point.
But Kluivert had more to say at the other end, dribbling through CSKA’s defensive line, before being brought down by a desperate lunge from CSKA’s defender Hörður Magnússon. With Magnússon already on a booked going into the challenge, the referee was left no choice but to send him off; that left Roma with a man advantage for over half an hour remaining. They wouldn’t need that long to capitalize.
59th Minute: Lorenzo Pellegrini (2-1 Roma)
This goal took some more luck rubbing off on Roma in the build up, as Cristante’s scuffed wide shot turned out to be a decent assist to put the (marginally offside) Lorenzo Pellegrini through on goal. Akinfeev again made Roma’s life easier by offering Lorenzo Pellegrini a nice angle to slot the ball comfortably underneath him and into the net.
Frankly, if anyone deserved a goal on the night (besides Kluivert) it was Lorenzo Pellegrini, who again showed glimpses of emerging into a leader in this squad and kept up his impressive delivery on set pieces throughout the game.
Elsewhere, Kluivert found a improving rhythm with Dzeko; Roma’s Bosnian number nine regularly bringing down the ball into the Dutch youngster’s path. If it wasn’t Kluivert stretching CSKA’s backline with his runs, it was Dzeko pulling defenders towards him and making himself available for the direct ball over the top from Roma’s backline. Their double-act would been more of a productive duo has Dzeko not left his shooting boots at home.
That spell in the game ended when EDF saw fit to sub off Kluivert and Lorenzo Pellegrini, with Cengiz Ünder playing down the left in Kluivert’s place, and Nicolo Zaniolo coming on at trequartista.
Zaniolo did show explosive pace to run onto the ball and try to get some counter attacking going for Roma - the youngster caught in a moment of indecision where he could have either played himself or Dzeko through one-on-one with Akinfeev.
The only further substitution was Juan Jesus coming on for Alessandro Florenzi, shifting Kolarov into midfield and Jesus playing auxiliary left-back. CSKA would try to catch out Roma feeling the pressure to close out this game on their slim 1-goal lead, but Roma ultimately prevailed for a 2-1 victory.
Make no mistake, we can give a pass to the tentative and too-often-nervy play this evening on a cold away game in Russia. But the fact still remains Roma regained the lead through an offside goal, while failing to take easier chances among a Giallorossi frontline still finding its identity this season.
On the other hand, if we’re talking about football as a results business, these were two must-win games against CSKA that we knew would have a major hand on Roma’s fate Europe. This job done means Roma need just 1 more point from Group G to qualify to the knockout rounds.