With Roma’s excruciating exit from the Champions League still within earshot and the hunt for next season’s competition still hotly contested, no one was exactly sure where Roma’s minds would be as they made the trip to Sardinia to take on Cagliari. We knew where they should be—firmly on this match—but the product on the pitch was anything but focused, as the Giallorossi looked off the mark in nearly every facet of the game.
Making matters worse, Eusebio Di Francesco was forced to make a last minute—and I mean last minute, they had already tweeted out the original lineup—change as Kostas Manolas was scrapped with a muscular injury. In his place was Elio Capradossi, who availed himself quite well in his senior club debut, especially when you consider he was called up at literally the last second.
Outside of that unexpected change, it was nearly business as usual for EDF, as he opted for the 4-2-3-1 formation, with Edin Dzeko supported by Cengiz Ünder, Gerson and Radja Nainggolan, with Bruno Peres, Aleksandar Kolarov and Federio Fazio rounding out the outfield. Roma has used this a handful of times this year, but tonight there were some massive wrinkles.
That subtle shift in formation didn’t produce immediate results, however. Through the first ten minutes or so of this match, Roma struggled to create any cohesion in attack. Sure, they were able to dominate possession easy enough, but the Sardinians were holding up well at the back, keeping numbers any time Dzeko or Ünder would venture into the box.
Then something oh so perfectly Roma happened in the 13th minute. After missing a golden opportunity at, oh I don’t know, 12:01, Ünder would score the matches only goal before those particular 60 seconds had elapsed.
Cengiz Ünder: 13th Minute
CENGIIIIIIIZZZZZZ GOOOOOL GOOOOOL GOOOOOOOL pic.twitter.com/0E65CrPn8v— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) May 6, 2018
The speed of this shot, or lack thereof, sort of belies the skill and precision with which Ünder struck this one, but it was precisely because of that patience he was able to slot this one home. Rather than bum-rushing the goal, Ünder kept his head, taking a few jab steps to free up space before calmly pinging the ball of the corner post, scoring the matches lone goal. In this instance, Ünder’s ability on the ball kept the defender at bay, and thanks to his picture perfect technique, he was still able to score with the defense laying back.
And in all honesty, that was really about it for this match. Alisson made a couple of really spectacular saves, bailing out Peres on a near own goal and parrying away another, while Dzeko and Fazio would each come close on headed attempts, but this was about as disjointed a match as we’ve seen all season long.
Roma managed only nine shots while completing 77% of their passes and beat the Cagliari defense off the dribble only a handful of times. It could have been fatigue, uncertainty or simply a mental lapse from the stress and drama of the Champions League, but Roma were not themselves this evening.
However, as has been the theme so often this season, they found a way to get the job done. Ünder’s slow-mo goal was all that it took to deliver Roma three monstrous points. With Lazio dropping points to Atalanta earlier in the day, Roma now have two point cushion over their fourth place city rivals with two matches remaining.
Roma aren’t exactly on easy street, but they’ve got the inside track on third place, and ugly wins or not, that’s exactly where they need to be to keep this project steaming along.