With the sun shining down from the beautiful Bologna sky, it seemed like a perfect day for calcio, despite the fact that many of us awoke with the sunrise to view this match. Aside form the clear skies that enveloped the Stadio Dall’Ara, this match practically seemed like it was served up on a platter for Roma. Not only were they decidedly the better side on paper, Bologna wasn’t starting their first choice keeper, nor their second choice keeper, nor a keeper who had even played above Serie D! What could go wrong!?
For the first five or six minutes, it looked like Roma would blow the roof off of this match, the were outrunning Bologna, creating opportunities and funneling the ball through the middle of the pitch towards Patrick Schick. It seemed that at long last the kid was put in a position to succeed. However, that sublime buildup seldom troubled Antonio Santurro on his Serie A debut, as he was up to snuff on Roma’s first few chances of the match.
And while Roma wasn’t able to put one past the rookie, they were their usual resolute selves on the defensive end, with Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio keeping the ship afloat. So, if nothing else, it seemed like Roma would keep the status quo throughout this match, and maybe grab a cheap goal off a bounce or something.
However, the entire tenor of the match changed when Radja Nainggolan went down in the 17th minute, clutching his right hamstring. While Nainggolan gave it a go for a second or two, it was as clear as the sky above that couldn’t shake the sudden tightness in that oh so crucial bundle of connective tissue.
Of course, since this is Roma, you knew exactly what happened next.
Erick Pulgar: 18th Minute
I know what you’re asking yourself, who the fuck is Erick Pulgar?...same here. Whether or not Pulgar becomes a household name is irrelevant, the thing I want you to notice here is how, half-way through this sequence, the entire Roma defense just stops for a beat to throw up their hands and complain for a call, all the while Bologna keeps pinging the ball around the six before Federico “I hate my father” Di Francesco sets up Pulgar for the goal.
This thing was ugly as sin from beginning to end. Not only did the team completely fall apart once Nainggolan was subbed off, their collective mental lapse on this goal was sickening. How many times have we beared witness to that scene—to Roma’s defense throwing their hands up in frustration while the other team continues to play? It speaks to a weak mentality and weak coaching.
Roma would continue to press ahead against the newly compacted Bologna defense, which had no fewer than nine men behind the ball. Still, Roma had their chances. Diego Perotti had a shot block, Stephan El Shaarawy was caught offside, then this happened:
Wide open doesn’t even begin to describe Kevin Strootman’s position here, and rather than banging it home, or even just fucking bumping into the ball to guide it home, Strootman lamely clangs it off the post.
It was emblematic of Roma’s performance in the first half—clueless.
Oof, the first 30 minutes of the second half was a virtual carbon copy of the first. Bologna’s compact defense held firm, leaving Roma’s attack to mindlessly pass the ball back and forth in the middle third of the pitch. Unlocking a compact defense is a riddle Eusebio Di Francesco has yet to crack during his time with Roma.
With the clock dwindling down and his club fresh out of ideas, EDF did the sensible thing and brought Edin Dzeko into the fray, swapping off Stephan El Shaarawy in the process. While SES was largely ineffective, pairing Dzeko and Schick has proven to be ineffective for Roma this season, so this was still a puzzling swap.
However, when all else fails getting Dzeko on the pitch has proven to be a remarkable salve for Roma over the past couple few seasons, and today was no different.
Edin Dzeko: 76th Minute
Now this was what Roma needed, a no bullshit, smash mouth football type of goal. Diego Perotti’s run to the endline was strong and direct, wasting no effort or motion; just get to the end line, consequences be damned. From there, Perotti played an excellent cross, switching from his right to his left foot to play it across to Dzeko, who did a remarkable job getting his head on the ball considering he had a defender draped on his shoulder and the keeper charging at his face.
Roma with and without Dzeko are two dramatically different beasts, so it makes complete sense that they tried to sell him over the winter. Perish the thought of where we’d be without Dzeko—even when he’s not at his best, his influence on Roma’s attack is palpable.
Unfortunately for Roma, Dzeko could conjure any further magic, as they were unable to grab a late lead at the Dall’Ara, but scrapping a single point from this match, given how poor they were playing, is an ideal Easter gift for the Giallorossi.
Well, we really just said it didn’t we? This match should be remembered for three things. First, as we mentioned, Roma’s perpetual woes against withdrawn defenses. When they run up against an eight or nine mine backline, EDF’s men simply have no idea how to crack or find a crevice in that wall, resulting in lots of possession, sure, but nothing more than flailing attempts from 20 yards out to show for it.
Second, and it bears repeating, Di Francesco’s attack wilts without Dzeko in the lineup, and making matters worse (which is also our third point), there is no viable option behind Dzeko. Patrik Schick is a shadow of the player we saw at Sampdoria last season, only in this instance, we can’t even hang our hats on the “he’s playing out of position” excuse because he was leading the line for the first hour of the match.
I’m not sure how they remedy these points either, though for the umpteenth time we must ask, why not use Gregoire Defrel as the striker? Defrel has been absent for much of the season, but we’re still talking about a guy who scored 19 goals for Sassuolo...check that, for Di Franceso...over the past two seasons as a striker, yet he’s used as little more than a late match substitute, awkwardly jammed in as a winger.
This was an ugly match no matter which way you slice it, but thanks to one minute of brilliant execution, Roma managed to save face. At the end of the day, Dzeko’s goal turned a potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island.
Roma cannot come out like this against Barcelona next week if they have any chance at mounting a credible threat to Lionel Messi and friends.