While Roma were right to be upset and disappointed about their midweek calamity at the Camp Nou, it really obscures the point—qualifying for next year’s Champions League is what matters most. Own goals or not, beating Barcelona over two legs was probably still a bridge too far for this club, so focusing on the top four in Serie A has to remain priority number one.
So naturally Eusebio Di Francesco went with his A-team against a Fiorentina side that has won five straight, right? Well if by A-team you mean a side that features Maxime Gonalons, Juan Jesus, Gregoire Defrel and Bruno Peres, then sure, EDF brought out his best side in this critical match.
In an ironic twist, despite that squad rotation, Roma still looked heavy legged and completely lacking in energy or cohesion. Still, Roma threatened in the early moments in this match, but were effectively done in before the clock even reached double digits.
Marco Benassi: 7th Minute
GOAL: Sharp-eyed @rickysaponara finds Marco Benassi, and @acffiorentina snatch an early lead over @ASRomaEN! #RomaFiorentina— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) April 7, 2018
WATCH: https://t.co/8Vw2z6UW8i pic.twitter.com/jo6zmAXtrY
During one of the English-language telecasts, the announcers passed along a stat: the average Serie A team scores one out of every ten corners (or set pieces, I can’t recall), while Roma scores one out of every seventy-four. To say Roma has struggled on setpieces would be a massive understatement, and while I’m not sure how they stack up to the league in terms of defending set pieces, it seems like they’ve been victimized several times this season. In this instance, watch as Benassi breaks towards the ball with Federico Fazio and Maxime Gonalons moving with sloth-like urgency—he had little to no opposition finding that shot.
Although they fell behind early, Roma would press on, peppering Marco Sportiello with shots, speculative shots, but shots nonetheless. In keeping with the theme of the season, Roma could create chances seemingly at will, but were left wanting for goals. Fiorentina, meanwhile, had a fraction of Roma’s attempts but where clinical when it mattered most.
Exhibit number two...
Giovanni Simeone: 39th Minute
GOOOAAAL: @simeonegiovanni muscles his way to his third goal in three matches, and @acffiorentina lead @ASRomaEN 2-0! #RomaFiorentina— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) April 7, 2018
WATCH: https://t.co/8Vw2z6UW8i pic.twitter.com/HW4NoYU5x6
To the neutral observer, this one was kind of nice—just a perfectly executed give and go, finished off thanks to Simeone’s brute strength, but to Roma fans it’s disgusting. Simeone was cutting towards his left, dragging the ball with his right foot along the way, and yet no one could dispossess him, and then he completely manhandled Peres and Manolas in the area, leaving Alisson no choice but to make a desperate dive at the ball.
This was perhaps one of the ugliest halves of football we’ve seen from Roma all season. From the simple selection of the lineup, to the complete lack of balance to the weak attempts at goal (in terms of the force/quality, not the location), the men in red looked like they just met in the parking lot before the match and decided to give it a go.
In a rare twist, EDF opted for an immediate change at the half, pulling off the always ineffective Gregoire Defrel for Patrik Schick, and as always, the Schick-Dzeko combination was an awkward fit, though Schick was far and away Roma’s most effective attacker in the second half, nearly scoring two headed attempts late in the half.
EDF attempted to address the lack of balance in the squad by pulling off Kostas Manolas for Aleksandar Kolarov, shifting Juan Jesus back to centerback, his more natural position. While Kolarov didn’t factor into the match, one has to wonder why he didn’t start this match to begin with.
Roma’s final substitution would see Alessandro Florenzi hop into midfield for Kevin Strootman, whose lack of a final burst was on full display today—he just doesn’t have that extra gear anymore, the one that enables him to make those deep runs into the box to lash onto a loose ball or back pass—though it must be said, he very nearly beat Sportiello from 20 yards or so in the first half.
The Giallorossi would keep heaping the pressure on Fiorentina, hitting the woodwork twice in the 74th minute, as headers from Schick and Fazio were excruciatingly close to making a match of this, but in the end it was full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.
There’s not much new we can add to this summation; it was the same pattern we’ve seen all season wherein Roma builds and builds and builds but never finishes. EDF’s side amassed an impressive 23 shots on goal, while conceding only three, and it wasn’t as if they were settling for shots from distance, they were working the ball into dangerous areas, they simply could not finish and/or beat Sportiello.
So, as much as I’d love to offer some new insights into this, I simply can’t—this cycle just keeps repeating itself. At this point, it’s hard to tell what’s going on: have they simply been unlucky with those chances, or is there a systemic finishing issue going on here? And what role, if any, do tactics play?
I’m afraid we can’t really answer those questions until the season is over and more analytical minds than mine have a look at the data, but we can absolutely question EDFs lineup selection today. We mentioned it during the preview, but from here on out, every single Serie A match is the most important match of the season, so why tinker with the lineup at such a critical juncture?
With this loss, Roma’s hold on third place becomes extremely tenuous. Inter Milan (one point behind) and Lazio (three points behind) each have winnable road fixtures tomorrow, and if they each win, Roma would slide down to fifth place, even on points with Lazio, making next week’s derby MASSIVE.
So for now we just wait and see how EDF explains away this loss.