I couldn’t watch this game live on the day, and it was one of the least insightful games to watch on replay this season so far. Both Parma’s joint top scorers were either out with flu (Inglese) or only a week back from a muscle injury lay-off (Gervinho).
This meant the big counter-attacking threat Parma were meant to carry into this game was dead on arrival. And so this turned out to be a real by-the-numbers review of a by-the-numbers game.
A Zan-axed First Half
Parma near emptied out the middle of the pitch in the first half, doubling up their mezzale with both full backs to overload each wing with defenders. A giant gap went unexploited through the left centre side of midfield, and a lot of that boiled down to Zaniolo providing a limited option off the ball.
Zaniolo left the game against Sassuolo with cramp, and must have defaulted to textbook-mezzala-play against Parma out of fatigue. You run wide in midfield to drag markers with you, but if the opposing midfield men are already camping out wide anyway then these runs out wide have little point to them.
This 4-2-3-1 was largely playing out like the tepid days of 4-3-3 gone wrong. People will assume this was EDF instruction but it was really just a forced individual game from a tired Zaniolo.
The Tuscan wonderkid still managed a joint-highest 4 tackles of the game by the time Zaniolo was subbed off, always looking like a decent defender in midfield. But pro-actively looking to win the ball back high up the pitch just isn’t enough to unlock these kind of matches, and we’ve known that since last season.
The dull vibe of the match let Parma spring their only surprise of the game: Roma’s backline were caught out cold in the 27th minute by a nice cross into Siligardi, who got the run on Kolarov as soon as the move began. Kolarov arguably recovered to put off Siligardi, who fluffed his chance (xG0.30) over the bar. Parma wouldn’t get another look on goal like that for the rest of the game.
What little of Roma’s inventiveness there was came from Ünder; the Turk used one-twos to get himself space and slide balls across from the right wing into the middle on two separation occasions to tee up Kolarov and Kluivert. But, that aside, only a long-range Cristante shot and Kluivert’s own creativity late in the half were of note going into half time.
Second Half - The Return of Lorenzo Pellegrini
Roma’s response in the second half wasn’t anything to write home about from the restart.
The Giallorossi tried for 3 long shots outside the box (Cristante, Ünder and Dzeko) in the first 6 minutes of the second half alone. This wasn’t patient, but it was also a sign that Parma were beginning to lose their legs.
All Roma had to do was keep the pressure on and invent something to see out this match. That invention came from a set-piece goal.
Cengiz whipped a dipping ball into Parma’s box and Cristante shoved his man-marker to get the jump on everyone, cracking open the game for Roma. Cristante’s header nestled in the far corner, and the Italian midfielder humbly celebrated his fourth goal of the season.
Parma brought on Ceravolo to play up front, which could have been an aerial mismatch against Juan Jesus - the Brazilian defender coming on to replace an injured Kostas Manolas. But Parma’s revamped attack came to nothing for the rest of the game. Instead, all that was left in the game was the arrival of Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Roma’s number 7 racked up more key passes from open play in 17 minutes than everyone (bar Justin Kluivert) had all game; technically Pellegrini’s most important pass was chalked off the record for the deflection it took off a Parma defender before Ünder slotted the resulting ball into Parma’s net for 2-0.
Lorenzo Pellegrini was the creator in the middle of the pitch that Roma needed, and Pellegrini got nearly as many touches of the ball (20) as the man he’d replaced (Nicolo Zaniolo - 27 touches).
Roma played out the rest of the game hanging on the ball and recycling it through the middle - 52% possession took place in the middle third of the pitch over 90 minutes. This was a mature but unspectacular performance from everyone involved.
There was none more symbolic of this performance than man of the match Cristante.
Three Key Men - Cristante, Pellegrini and Ünder
Bryan Cristante took home the man of the match award for this game on every website. He contributed the joint highest tackles in the game (4), joint-most passes (67 passes with an 89.6% passing accuracy) and racked up the third most shots of any Roma player on the day (4 shots on goal - 1 on target).
Cristante is emerging as the glue in this side to keep everything ticking over, but his understanding with Lorenzo Pellegrini looks like it’ll be crucial to giving Roma a more consistent threat over opponents. With Pellegrini in space further up field, Roma played the ball faster and looked like a much more credible threat to get the opposition defence moving off the balls of their feet.
Meanwhile, Cengiz Ünder has just gone 3 straight games in 7 days, with only 20 mins on the bench in that spell. The young forward has powered through the end of the week with a goal and assist, which speaks to how much Ünder has developed his stamina and concentration over the last year.
Ünder is now a fully reliable starter, even though he remains just as enigmatic.
Ünder’s lack of defending meant 49% of Parma’s attacks (what little of them to speak of) came down Ünder’s flank, but the Turk now has 6 goals and 8 assists in all competitions, with an entire second half of the season to go.
So - Roma got the job done: 3 points and a clean sheet. Nothing more was needed going into the winter break. If the club could do the same after breaks are over, that’d be a neat trick to add to the season’s portfolio.
Next up? The winter break itself. We’re sure to have plenty of coverage of Monchi’s moves in the mercato before (during and after) Roma’s January 14th Coppia Italia game against Virtus Entella. We’ll also have the best of 2018 coming in a series of posts.
My only thought today: What becomes of Pastore’s career? The Argentine didn’t start this match over a clearly-tired 19 year old, and El Flaco had two more weeks training under his belt than Lorenzo Pellegrini, but it was Pellegrini who came on to finish out the game.