Fresh off a disappointing draw against Inter Milan last week, their third successive match without a victory, Roma were in dire straits as they crossed the Tyrrhenian Sea to take on 13th place Cagliari, a club over whom they held only a four point advantage on the table. Like we said, dire. With Roma sitting behind the likes of Parma, Sassuolo and Torino, this match was an absolute must win, a dictum we can apply to pretty much every fixture from here on out.
However, it wasn’t all bad news for Roma this afternoon, as they were granted a bit of a reprieve from the injury bug that has overwhelmed them for much of the past month. With the last minute inclusion of Kostas Manolas, Eusebio Di Francesco’s starting eleven was somewhat normalized, though they were still down Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edin Dzeko.
Despite that bit of good news, the opening minutes of this match were a bit worrisome as Roma seemed uncertain how to unlock the Cagliari defense; there was just no synchronicity, while the off the ball runs were few and far between. It had all the makings of your classic 1-1 affair.
The first ten to twelve minutes of this match weren’t very encouraging, but then one of Roma’s most criticized players broke the deadlock with a sensational strike.
Bryan Cristante: 14th Minute (Cagliari 0, Roma 1)
After nearly 15 minutes of frustrating buildup, this goal was exactly what Roma needed; a perfectly orchestrated and cohesive attack finished with a flourish. Much has been made of Cristante’s struggles this season, particularly his role in said attack, but this goal was torn straight from the pages of his Atalanta playbook; hanging back and making a well-timed late run into the box, only in this instance it was his patience that really paid off, as he held off charging into the box until Justin Kluivert laid it off. From there, he harnessed all his Canadian powers to keep this slapshot (as it were) low and hard. Well built and well struck. Beautiful work from Roma.
Cengiz Ünder would nearly follow that up moments later, when he put his wonderful little left foot to work, nearly hooking/volleying one from the edge of the box; it would have put his effort last week to shame, but nevertheless it's good to see Ünder coming to life as we head towards winter; he'll be an integral part of whatever comeback Roma can mount in 2019.
The ensuing 20 minutes or so were nothing to write home about, as neither side really threatened the scoreboard again, but Roma would double their lead late in the first half thanks to, you guessed it, a setpiece from Aleksandar Kolarov.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 41st Minute (Cagliari 0, Roma 2)
Despite all the gripes we've had about Roma's transfer policy during the American regime, we'll say this for them—they've never been lacking in set piece specialists, with Kolarov picking up right where Miralem Pjanic left off. Sure, he got a bit of help here from the Cagliari wall, but Kolarov struck this ball with such accuracy and such power, it probably would have troubled the keeper without that glancing blow.
Not the prettiest half of football, but Roma asserted themselves and headed into the break with a two-nil lead. No complaints here.
The final 45 minutes of the match weren’t quite as positive for Roma, who seemed to ceded a bit of control to Cagliari in the second half, leaving the door open several times for their Islander neighbors.
Roma were not without their own chances, however. Nicolo Zaniolo put in another solid run this evening, and were it not for Alessio Cragno in goal, the kid may have had a brace tonight. Twice in the second half alone Zaniolo forced Cragno to make stunning, one-handed saves. He may not have found the back of the net, but Zaniolo is certainly asserting himself into Roma’s hierarchy rather quickly.
While Roma had more shots in the second half, they were on the wrong side of the possession battle, and given their struggles at the back tonight, Cagliari always seemed like they were poised to capitalize, and really it’s fortunate that Roma held out as long as they did.
Artur Ionita: 84th Minute (Cagliari 1, Roma 2)
Not the best angle on this one, but what you’re struggling to see is Roma leaving the backpost open on a set-piece for what seems like the thousandth time this season; as good as Roma are at striking from setpieces, they’re equally ill-equipped at defending them.
Things would get a bit hectic as we moved towards stoppage time as Robin Olsen made a double save while also being kicked in the face, which produced some desperate and vociferous pleas from Cagliari, most notably Luca Ceppitelli and Darijo Srna, both of whom were shown the door, giving Roma a TWO MAN ADVANTAGE they, quite frankly, desperately needed at that point.
Hmm, about that...
Marco Sau: 95th Minute (Cagliari 2, Roma 2)
Here you see Sardinian superhero Marco Sau tearing the Roma back line apart, beating them right down the middle and burying the ball past a helpless Robin Olsen. It’s funny how something that happened so quickly can encapsulate 18 long months of frustration—if that moment wasn’t a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Roma under EDF, I’m not sure what is; Roma absolutely laid down in the second half, tossing away three points in the process, further putting their European ambitions for next season in doubt.
He’s gotta go.