It was a day for firsts as Roma traveled to Torino today. Not only was it the first matchday of a new season, but it was the first appearance for a few of Roma’s new faces, and it was the debut of Serie A on the ESPN family of networks. And just like your first kiss, your first day on a new job and your first “time”, it was a bit awkward and uncomfortable but incredibly exciting. Roma’s attacking play was noticeably disjointed, Robin Olsen seemed to have some minor communicative issues with the backline and even ESPNs production seemed lacking in cohesion.
However, as we noted in buildup to this match, a bit of confusion was to be expected in the early goings, but the first half—which featured only one new face in the lineup—wasn’t exactly inspiring. While Roma held nearly two-thirds of the possession, there was very little by way of clear cut chances.
The intent was clear, Javier Pastore would drift from left to right following the buildup play and would attempt to serve as a fulcrum between the midfield and Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Ünder, but his through balls and connections were noticeably off by a beat or two, which, again, was to be expected considering this was their first action together.
Still, there were a few intermittent chances in the first half: Kolarov hit the woodwork following a through ball on the left from Dzeko, while Alessandro Florenzi had perhaps Roma’s best chance of the first half, seizing on a loose ball and volleying it towards Salvatore Sirigu’s net, only to be turned away.
Ultimately the first half was what one would expect given the summer circumstances (new faces, players at the World Cup, touring the States etc), so we can’t be too upset, but Roma dominated the pace of play and was left wanting in the first 45 minutes.
Oof, where to begin? Roma opted for no changes to start the second half and the first several minutes played on without issue, but in the 50th minute (ish) things changed dramatically.
With a series of 50/50 balls falling Torino’s way, Iago Falque carved out space and fired a shot under Robin Olsen’s gangly legs, crushing Roma’s opening day dreams in the process. It looked like a nightmare start for Roma; falling behind when your direct rivals (thus far) had collected three points, and on an eminently saveable shot to boot.
BUT...but Roma were saved by the VAR gods as Torino was a hairs breadth offside. Crisis averted, but Roma were woeful on that series.
Following that bailout, Roma will turned it around and put their foot on the gas...haha. No I’m just kidding. The punchless and directionless play continued on throughout the middle stages of the second half. To counter this torpid play, EDF made a tactical switch of sorts, bringing on Bryan Cristante for El Shaarawy, pushing Pastore to the wing in the process.
Pastore wouldn’t last much longer, however, as he was replaced with Patrik Schick late in the second half. Coupled with the Ünder for Justin Kluivert substitution, Roma’s attack was granted a bit of a second life, as Kluivert was particularly effective, breezing past the Torino defense seemingly at will.
Roma would knock on the door a few times, hitting the woodwork again, but Kluivert and Dzeko would team up to deliver a late winner.
Edin Dzeko: 89th Minute
This was just a fantastic exhibition of skill from both Kluivert and Dzeko. Watch as Kluivert starts driving the ball centrally before juking his way to the right, then came the best part, a hesitation/stutter dribble that bought Kluivert that last bit of space to drive to the endline where he played in a picture perfect lofting cross to Dzeko. From there, Dzeko pulled off a sensational finish, backtracking, opening his hips up and driving it home with his weaker, left foot.
In a matter of seconds, Roma erased nearly 90 minutes of futility, grabbing three crucial points.
For much of this match, it was 2017-2018 on repeat: dominating possession while rationing out clear cut chances only to be denied by the woodwork. In the match preview, we cautioned that Roma might be a bit off kilter to start the match given all the new faces they were attempting to incorporate, but it was those new faces that changed the tenor of this match.
Starting with the inclusion of Bryan Cristante, EDF’s subs had a dramatic impact on the match, save for Schick, who was once again fielded out of position. But this match was really all about Kluivert who came on for Ünder midway through the second half.
From the moment he entered the match, Roma looked smarter, more decisive and far more dangerous than they did in the first half. Kluivert was quick, he was cutting and he was patient; he was everything we’d hoped for when Roma teased us with his signing this summer.
While we can’t draw too many conclusions from the first match of the season, it was evident of one thing: Roma’s improved depth. Ünder was Roma’s savior last spring, but he was ineffective and far removed from the action today, yet Roma still had an alternative off the bench, one who may actually push Ünder for playing time this season. Ditto for Cristante, who was smooth and efficient, papering over the lackluster play from his midfield mates in the second half.
We’ll have to give it a few weeks and months before we issue edicts on the new Roma, but today they caught the breaks and did just enough to win. Make no mistake, these are three huge points.