Although it was still tough to stomach, Lazio falling to Juventus earlier was probably Roma’s best case pre-match scenario heading into their crucial fixture against league- leading Napoli today. With Lazio’s loss, Roma could, at the very worst, secure fourth place once more and would vault to third if Inter falters tomorrow.
Still, facing a Napoli side this dangerous and in this stadium is far from an easy task, table be damned. However, unlike the previous few weeks, Eusebio Di Francesco had nearly a full squad at his disposal. In order to combat the Napoli threat, EDF reverted back to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, with Edin Dzeko flanked by Diego Perotti on the left and Cengiz Ünder on the right.
Normally, a match takes ten minutes or so to open up, to truly tell how each team will attack the other. Not tonight. This thing kicked off (figuratively speaking) after about 90 seconds when Diego Perotti missed a wide open header...which, umm, we did not take well.
Perotti with a wide open header...annnnd he fucked it up— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) March 3, 2018
Missing such a clear cut chance, one that would have silenced the San Paolo crowd before they even sat down, would have been quite a statement, but Perotti missed, and missed badly. These types of situations seldom bode well for Roma, and, well...
Dries Mertens: 6th Minute
While this wasn’t their now patented end-to-end-eleven-men-touch-the-ball attack, Napoli nevertheless did a hell of a job undressing the Roma defense on this one, Alessandro Florenzi in particular. Florenzi seemed caught between two minds here, to press or cover the wing, but either way he was woefully out of position giving Mario Rui acres of space to play this ball into Mertens, who was as wide open as they come.
Just horrific decision making from Florenzi and equally questionable spacing from Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio, oh and I think that was Daniele De Rossi falling down at he beginning, giving Mertens his first breath of life. It was a cascade of errors, one that would miraculously be undone a minute later.
Cengiz Ünder: 7th Minute
This is certainly one of the stranger goals we’ve seen all season. I’m not quite certain where Napoli was trying to play that ball, but for a microsecond it pinged around a crowd of about four players before finally finding its way to Radja Nainggolan. From there Nainggolan played a picture perfect long ball to a streaking Ünder down the right flank, and credit the young Turk with getting a shot off, but I’m not sure this is a goal without the kind redirect from Mario Rui.
Either way, when was the last time Roma reacted that quickly to going down? The first ten minutes of this match were absolutely unhinged. The pace continued fast and loose for the ensuing 20 minutes or so, culminating in something as rare as a properly cooked pizza from Little Caesars...
Edin Dzeko: 26th Minute
Here’s one we haven’t seen in quite a while. Not only did Florenzi atone for his earlier defensive miscues, but he served up a perfect cross for Edin Dzeko here, who beautifully snapped a header past Pepe Reina to give Roma a surprising lead midway through the second half.
It’s currently half-time as I’m writing this, and given how widely the match swung during the first 45, I’m reticent to make any predictions either way—the first half was so wide open and so unexpected, this thing could end 2-1 or 5-3.
Wow, I’m not sure what Dzeko put in his Wheaties this morning, but let’s keep that in stock. As magnificent as his earlier headed goal was, this thing was off the charts. Not only did Dzeko break Mario Rui’s ankles, albeit in super slow-mo, but he but a Beckman-esque bend on this thing...with his weaker foot! What a strike, if tonight’s performance doesn’t wake up Dzeko, nothing will—he was outstanding out there.
Roma weren’t done scoring yet, nor were they done embarrassing their former teammate Mario Rui.
Diego Perotti: 79th Minute
In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best idea for Rui to blindly kick this thing back into the middle of the area, but Napoli’s loss was Roma’s gain, as Perotti was Johnny on the spot, tapping home the goal to ice the 4-1 victory.
Roma gave away an awkward free kick in the six, thanks to a near own goal from Lorenzo Pellegrini, but Napoli were unable to convert the near-gimme, as Florenzi was perfectly positioned and pulled it off the line, even surviving a VAR challenge in the process.
While Napoli would pull one back in stoppage time, thanks to Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Ünder it was too little too late. Roma walk off surprising winners at the San Paolo, climbing back into the top four once again!
What really needs to be said? Roma was oh so typically Roma in the first few minutes, blowing a golden chance to snag a first minute lead, only to conceded thanks to some shoddy defending in the sixth minute. It seemed like the story was writing itself before the players had even broken a sweat—squandered opportunities made worse by defensive lapses.
Only it didn’t happen. Roma hit right back at Napoli, and sure it took a deflection to level the score, but that bit of luck may have otherwise belied some impressive individual performances from Dzeko, Alisson, Florenzi, Nainggolan, Fazio and several others.
While the tale of the tape isn’t overwhelming—Roma were badly outshot and out possessed by Napoli—EDF got man of the match performances from the players he needed most. Dzeko put 75% of his shots on target, scoring two beauties in the process, Florenzi not only setup a goal but cleared one off the line, and hit on 50% of his crosses, Alisson was his usual stupendous self and Fazio, Perotti, Ünder and Kolarov were solid all night long.
This was the Roma we saw shock the footballing world in the Champions League group stage, the one that did the unthinkable, winning a group with two nouveau heavyweights, the one that capitalized on every opportunity and kept their wits about them—that Roma has been absent for much of 2018.
But today when they needed it most, Roma dug deep and shocked the calcio community again. Who among us expected such a resounding victory today—ne that, in many ways, flew in the face of conventional wisdom, not to mention match statistics?
Man of the match?
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