You'll have to forgive this somewhat scattered match recap, as I wasn't able to see the first half of the match, but believe me when I tell you, the second half was all my Roma-worn heart could handle. In those 45 minutes alone we saw Roma squander a two goal lead, a no-show from VAR, an equalizer from a forgotten Ginger, Tomas Rincon committing a dozen fouls and only getting called for one, and an El Shaarawy match winner.
There really is never a dull moment with this team, is there?
So, if you'll excuse the lack of a real narrative, please accept this mini-recap...away we goal (this was a typo, but I'm gonna leave it because it seems apt).
Go figure, I miss the first half and Zaniolo pulls off another Totti-esque effort, this time from his hind quarters.
Nicolo Zaniolo: 15th Minute (Roma 1, Torino 0)
MADONNA MIA! MADONNA MIA! MA CHE GOL ZANIOLOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/Y6ED4DGL3i— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) January 19, 2019
God bless the internet. As I mentioned, I was unable to see the first half, but as soon as I logged on for a match update, I was met with this beauty. Sure, the Torino defense was shambolic there, but Zaniolo's presence of mind and his sheer skill was on full display. Seriously, look at that! Not only did he rip off a credible attempt from his ass, but he rebounded the ball, kept possession, evaded two defenders and scored while still on his backside. And he's only 19-years-old; this kid is nuts.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 34th Minute (Roma 2, Torino 0)
Nothing special here, just Kolarov getting straight down to business after Rick Karsdorp and Stephan El Shaarawy teamed up to draw a penalty, but Kolarov's cool and calm PK was enough to give Roma a 2-0 heading into the break.
Roma picked up right where they left off in the first half, moving the ball up the pitch in quick succession on their Cristante to Pellegrini to Zaniolo assembly line. With Zaniolo leading the charge, Roma very nearly grabbed another goal early in the second half, but thanks to an unfortunate bounce, Torino would cut Roma's lead in half.
Tomas Rincon: 51st Minute (Roma 2, Torino 1)
While Roma were generally well organized and did a good job denying Andrea Belotti any effective space here, Rincon just happened to be in the right place at the right time to scoop up Belotti's rebound. Give credit where it's due, though—Rincon struck this one sublimely, taking just enough off of it to bounce it past a helpless Robin Olsen, but this was just one of those goals; not much you can do other than throw your hands up in the air.
The two sides would trade blows for the next ten minutes or so before the VAR gods intervened, or more aptly, chose not to. With Roma attacking in Torino's box, Edin Dzeko's headed attempt struck the arm/shoulder area of Lyanco, provoking pleas for a penalty from Roma. But not only was a penalty not awarded, the play WASN'T EVEN REVIEWED!
And, since this is Roma we're talking about you know what happened next—Roma got scored on...by a ginger, as Cristian Ansaldi stunned Roma with a 67th minute equalizer.
Fortunately, we wouldn't have to wait long for Roma to strike back.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 73rd Minute (Roma 3, Torino 2)
This was as tidy a goal we've seen from Roma all year long. Starting with Patrik Schick's calm little shovel pass to Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roma recaptured the lead with a succinct two pass move, but the real gem here came from Pellegrini. You can't quite tell from that angle, but Pellegrini, after waiting for El Shaarawy to make his run, dropped a picture perfect NO LOOK pocket pass to SES, who absolutely buried it at the far post. Shick to Pellegrini to El Shaarawy; I could get used to that.
With 15 minutes plus stoppage time to play, Roma's priority was throttling down the Torino attack and locking up three critical points. Torino, at least in their effort and demeanor, were up to the task, making the latter stages of this match look like a knock down, drag out NHL grudge match; clutching, grabbing, headbutts, polite Canadian swearing, the whole nine yards.
Despite being antagonized by Rincon repeatedly—who miraculously was only carded in the 91st minute—the Giallorossi very nearly doubled their lead once more, with Schick's long range effort rebounding to Kolarov, whose put back effort was ultimately ruled offside.
In the end, Torino's desperate attempts for an equalizer amounted to more bark than bite and Roma walked away from this wild match with all three points, vaulting them to fourth place pending Lazio and Milan's results.
In the buildup to this match we discussed the bevy of options at Eusebio Di Francesco's disposal and how, even without Daniele De Rossi and now Steven Nzonzi (at full fitness anyway), he still had a few new wrinkles to throw and opponents. The most intriguing of those emergency options was simultaneously deploying Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante and Nicolo Zaniolo as the meat in his 4-2-3-1 sandwich.
And with Nzonzi still nursing his possibly broken toe, that's exactly what Di Francesco did, slotting Pellegrini alongside Cristante in the double pivot, with Zaniolo serving as the attacking midfielder behind Edin Dzeko, and one poor clearance from Cristante notwithstanding, it worked like gangbusters against Torino.
Pellegrini only managed one shot on goal (not surprising given his position), but his work in the passing game was astounding. In 90 minutes, Pellegrini contributed five key passes, three crosses, three long balls and two through balls, including his assist on El Shaarawy's match winner. It says a lot about his talent and understanding that, even in that somewhat withdrawn position, he knows how/when/where to move up and facilitate the attack. Zaniolo's meteoric rise has sort of eclipsed Pellegrini's progress this season, but suffice it to say, he's every bit as talented and just as important to the club's future as his younger teammate.
Cristante won't garner as many headlines today, but outside of his lone error, he was otherwise solid in his duties, making six tackles and two clearances behind the ball, while also hitting on two long balls of his own. Cristante has come a long way since suffering the slings and arrows of Roma fans earlier this season, and even when De Rossi returns it'll be hard to dislodge Cristante from that position.
But the real star of this show was Zaniolo. In addition to yet another absurd goal, Zaniolo was efficient and accurate in attack, putting two of three shots on target while dribbling past four defenders, drawing four fouls and completing 90% of his passes in the process. He also threw in three tackles for good measure, and did this:
I'm not sure that will show up on the stat sheet, but that is one of many snapshots that shows just how absurdly special this kid is. On Twitter I compared him to baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr, which may sound like nonsense, but Zaniolo's complete lack of fear and the manner in which he has completely transformed his club reminds me of Griffey, who also made his professional debut at 19-years-old, showing a brashness seldom seen from kids his age.
Time will tell if he reaches comparatively similar heights as that Hall of Famer, but Roma's Kid looks every bit as revolutionary as Griffey did 30 years ago. We just have to hope those Arsenal scouts in the stands had obstructed views.
Despite the few mental lapses and the near blown lead, this was exactly the sort of performance we needed to see from Roma today; they were efficient, effective and creative in attack, and when they did falter, they didn't panic but stuck to their plan of attack, pressing the issue deep in Torino territory and finally toppling the Toros with a quick and intuitive movement from Pellegrini, Schick and El Shaarawy.
It wasn't flawless, but these are the sort of performances that make you believe they're turning this thing around.
Roma faces another tough task next week on the road to Atalanta, but given the way things are coming together, you can bet your bottom dollar they're coming to play and to win.