First off, we’ll get the obvious out of the way: Roma were playing Frosinone. We can talk about the increased quality and competition of the Serie A table this season, but the local rivals from a town who’s entire population is smaller than most Stadio Olimpico matchday-crowds would struggle to enter that conversation. So far Frosinone had looked like a side playing for draws at best this season, so they must have been relieved to be facing a Roma side misfiring in front of goal before Wednesday’s kick off.
From a Roma point of view, the Lupi just needed to get a win from anywhere and get 3 points over the line. As an undercurrent to the game, Daniele De Rossi was also starting his 600th game in a Roma shirt. No other Romans would join him in the starting lineup, as Alessandro Florenzi would sit out for Davide Santon at right-back, and Javier Pastore re-took his mantle at trequartista between the lines while he was covered by the Steven Nzonzi-Daniele De Rossi tandem behind him. The only other shake-up was Patrick Shick starting up front as prima punta, flanked by Cengiz Ünder and Stephan El Shaarawy in a 4-2-3-1 setup. Roma were gambling everything on Pastore loading the ammo for a pacey, young front line to get the win.
The game didn’t get off to any kind of immediate Roma onslaught on Frosinone’s goal. Instead it was a Frosinone attack and corner straight from kick off, but the early exchanges in Roma’s half briefly highlighted how much more settled Robin Olsen looks with each passing week, as he helped Roma to establish some sort of an easy rhythm...
Yeah... about that...
1-0 Cengiz Ünder - 2nd Minute
Cengiz Ünder doesn’t do easy rhythm. Taking the game by the scruff of the neck, nutmegging one player and beating three Frosinone shirts on his way to a scorching left-foot shot from outside the box. Are there really any words to do justice to this?
It was a much needed boost for Ünder to give his own season, and replay-worthy through the night.
The most surprising thing about the opening half an hour was both Pastore and Santon’s emergence into the game. Pastore started off slow while Santon was shaky, but both showed the determination to rise above it and actually become key performers in the match. Santon in particular was setting the pace down his flank and offering a range of options both on and off the ball, allowing Ünder the confidence to roam around closer to goal and keep finding space off Frosinone’s markers.
While we were waiting for Pastore to feed the young guns in the frontline, Javier had something else in mind.
2-0 Javier Pastore - 28th Minute
So, is Javier Pastore only going to score backheel goals from now on? That’s the second in less than 10 days pic.twitter.com/MuYGdD2uT0— Yung Buñuelo (@Povediitz) September 26, 2018
If one Pastore backheel goal in the box wasn’t enough for you this season, he’s doubled your money for you. Who said La Maggica is gone? This is more or less three quarters of why Pastore was brought back to Italy, repaying EDF’s faith somewhat for fielding him in the hole.
Of course, it won’t just be backheel wonderflicks that’ll be needed from Pastore. Unlike against Atalanta, both the team and El Flaco didn’t settle there as he linked up minutes later with Cengiz to good effect.
3-0 Stephan El Shaarawy - 35th Minute
Having the stage opened up by two magic goals beforehand wasn’t easy, and SES’ goal more or less flew under the social media radar but it was good linkup play from the frontline to set up an easy tap-in for SES here.
First Cengiz links up and receives a layoff from Pastore before tee-ing up SES in the box, who acknowledged Cengiz in the goal celebration. Meanwhile, Frosinone looked like they really didn’t know what hit them.
There really wasn’t much to write about the second half. Kostas Manolas was subbed at half-time for Ivan Marcano as an injury pre-caution. Then there were the continuing ails of Patrick Schick in front of goal and a couple of Serie A debuts for two young Italians.
It’s worth debating whether the pace injected into Roma’s attacking movement would have even been possible without Schick - the Czech forward put himself about the pitch well and contributed effectively to Roma’s direct build-up play - but Schick knows he’ll ultimately be judged for goals playing as the front man, and tonight was another game where he struggled for composure in the box.
One such moment came after Nicolo Zaniolo entered as a sub for Pastore, the young playmaker opening up Frosinone’s defence in a team move that wound up with Schick air-kicking a free shot at goal inside 18 yards.
Roma didn’t blitz Frosinone’s goal throughout the match. This was more of a measured, possession-focused performance where they allowed themselves 18 shot attempts on Frosinone’s goal from a total 68% possession of the ball.
Steven Nzonzi showed the quality and range of passing that would sustain Roma’s rhythm through the middle, his understanding with De Rossi noticeably improving each week. The pitch coverage Nzonzi offered meant De Rossi felt more confident to push forward and DDR no longer settled for balls out wide to the full backs but began linking up with Pastore too. This midfield trio could bring something much needed to Rome.
Nonetheless, most of Roma’s attacks (44% percent of them) over 90 minutes still came down the left flank through Kolarov. The Serb offered a mixed game from wide, before moving into the middle of the pitch at defensive midfield while his understudy - Luca Pellegrini - made his Serie A debut by subbing on for captain De Rossi, who received a standing ovation from the crowd for his personal milestone tonight.
Then what came next is something I’ll probably never write again.
4-0 Aleksandar Kolarov - 87th Minute
19 year old Luca Pellegrini with a strong run and delivers the assist to Kolarov for Roma's 4th pic.twitter.com/8nyBOivtH3— Billy M (@Wideoverload) September 26, 2018
Should Roma play Luca Pellegrini or Aleksandar Kolarov? Well, to settle the dispute, here’s Luca Pellegrini assisting Kolarov for a goal.
Pellegrini was given his chance to stake a claim for the Lazio derby on the weekend and, with what limited game time he received tonight, he took it. He injected some lightning pace to Roma’s left flank in the fading moments of the game, leaving Frosinone stretched before setting up Kolarov in the middle of the box. The Serb veteran made no mistake, smashing it in via the underside of the bar for 4-0.
So all in all, job done. Three points but with some gloss on top from a side full of new signings and debutants - pretty much all of them who made a solid case for themselves in a time of club crisis. Roma climb back into the top half of the table, though there is still time for Milan to change that tomorrow.
Up next this Saturday... oh, only another derby.