I’m writing this well in advance of whatever post match comments Eusebio Di Francesco might deign us with, but suffice it to say the buildup to this match didn’t follow any known blueprints. Who among us envisioned Nicolo Zaniolo, the 19-year-old kid included in the controversial Radja Nainggolan sale, making his professional debut in the Champions League...on the road...at the Bernabeu? It’s insane. The kid has now been called up to the Azzurri and played in one of the world’s most famous stadiums in the Champions League all before even playing in Serie A. While this is no doubt a testament to his talent and potential, it also points to a bit of desperation from Roma’s bespectacled manager.
Personnel peculiarities aside, Zaniolo didn’t really factor his this match; he played like, well, like a kid making his debut; the jump in class, particularly the speed of the match, seemed to bedevil him, but you didn’t exactly have to squint to see the talent that has made him one of Italy’s brightest prospects.
Aside from Zaniolo, EDF’s lineup wasn’t too different from what we’ve seen thus far in league play: Edin Dzeko up top, flanked by Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Ünder, with Daniele De Rossi and Steven Nzonzi holding down the fort in midfield. Ünder and Zaniolo aside, EDF’s XI were no strangers to Europe.
Playing in the Champions League is one thing, but opening against the three time defending champion on the road is quite another. Point being, kids or no kids, Roma was always up against it in this match, and while they were able to hold Madrid at bay for much of the first half, the bewildering free kick from Isco that ultimately broke the deadlock in the 45+ was long overdue. Real ran roughshod over Roma in virtually every facet of the match, dominating possession and more than doubling Roma’s shot output; in fact, they had more shots on target than Roma had full stop.
Real Madrid are perhaps the best team on the planet, but even against such long odds, all of Roma’s domestic woes were on full display; no chemistry in midfield, no creative spark and virtually no presence in the final third. But hey, big ups to Robin Olsen, he was HUGE tonight; were it not for him, Bale and the boys might have ran up six or seven goals on Roma.
While you don’t want to react too harshly on matchday one—Roma were playing the three time reigning champ on the road after all—the fact that EDFs bunch were plagued by the very same problems that prevented them from taking points from lowly Chievo is troubling indeed.
This club, this manager, and this administration have some serious systemic issues going on, and while we don’t know who or what is really guiding this ship—is Pallotta dictating terms from a far, has Monchi lost it, etc.—they’re fully invested in this voyage; one which is quickly running aground.