Not that Roma fans needed extra energy ahead of a Derby della Capitale, but there was some extra juice coming from the Curva Sud tonight, thanks to Roma’s remarkable comeback in the Champions League and all the fame and adulation that followed. Unfortunately, that new found spark didn’t translate on the pitch, as Roma, though stout defensively, were a bit disconnected in attack and couldn’t put away the few chances presented to them this evening.
Where Roma was concise and efficient against Barcelona, they were disconnected and distant in the first half against Lazio, with players making solo runs with no eye for an outlet or a cross. Not that they were particularly poor, mind you, there was just very little link up between Radja Nainggolan, Patrik Schick and Edin Dzeko, the de facto attacking trident.
The first 30 minutes or so of this match was your standard deby fare: Romans yelling at one another in the stands, players charging headlong into tackles and yellow cards falling like so many drops of rain. It was a familiar and comfortable sight despite the frustration of it all.
Still, as the match approached halftime things opened up a bit, and Roma had the game’s first genuine chance in the 37th minute.
Outnumbered on the left hand side of the box, Dzeko and Nainggolan managed to orchestrate a bit of a weave, with Nainggolan taking the ball and peeling away from the box before finding Bruno Peres with absolutely stunning ball—to hit it with that degree of accuracy and the ideal weight while your body was falling in the other direction was miraculous.
It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong on that shot, and honestly in the second or third replay you could see how tight the angle was given Strakosha’s positioning, but Peres just put a bit too much English on this one, as it sailed just a bit off track and clanged off the post. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can cut Bruno a bit of slack, though one has to wonder if he could have played it to Schick at the point rather than attempting the shot himself.
Either way, this moment of imprecision led to a chorus of hands meeting foreheads throughout the western world. As it turned out, this was not the only time Roma came excruciatingly close to stealing this match.
The second half was, by and large, a repeat of the first. Roma seemed like they were about to seize the initiative but they just couldn’t find any sense of cohesion in attack. Fortunately for the Giallorossi, Lazio was equally inept at orchestrating anything in the final third, as the two sides combined for only three shots on target at most.
Still, as is so often the case, there was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In the 80th minute Stefan Radu was ejected for accumulated yellows, giving Roma a man-advantage for the final ten minutes of the match. As it turned out this advantage was in name only, as Roma simply couldn’t crack Lazio’s backline, even with the extra attacker. Lazio seemingly always had the numerical advantage on either wing, and Roma couldn’t switch play fast enough to exploit the defense.
In classic Roma fashion they saved their best for last, bombarding Strakosha with a last minute rush. In the span of maybe 90 seconds, Edin Dzeko missed a headed goal by all of five inches and followed that up with a lashed shot that sailed wide by less than a foot.
It was an excruciating finish to a frustrating match.
What can we say? This was a dreadful match to watch, and all we can do is hope that Kostas Manolas limping off the pitch was merely a sign of exhaustion rather than a legitimate injury. Roma reverted back to their wasteful ways, missing two genuine chances between Peres’ first half clanger and Dzeko’s inch-perfect miss.
However, unlike many of the other matches in which Roma dropped points, there weren’t even that many chances to begin with, which is...good, I guess? The story of Roma’s season has been the lack of precision scuppering their bountiful buildup play, but not today; both halves of that equation were missing.
There is a silver lining to this draw, though. Thanks to Inter Milan dropping points yesterday, Roma (and Lazio) each have a one point cushion over Luciano Spalletti’s men. Rome’s two sides remain deadlocked in third place, even on 61 points, making what should have been respite fixtures against Genoa and SPAL 2013 critical matches.
To my eyes this didn’t look like a side coasting off their Barcelona victory, rather, they just looked tired. While Dzeko, Nainggolan, Strootman and Nainggolan (among others) hustled their asses off, that extra gear just wasn’t there tonight—you could see the exasperation on Manolas’ face when he was subbed off for Florenzi in the second half.
This team has a serious lack of depth, particularly at the back, but they have to find a way to combat this down the stretch. Each and every match that remains, beit Liverpool or SPAL 2013, is a life or death affair with dramatic implications for the near future of the club.
Rest ‘em up, Eusebio. It’s going to be a busy six weeks.