This was a confusing 3 points in the bag and Roma’s relentless aggression could have turned the match either way. If you want to mirror yesterday’s game to the 2-2 home draw against Chievo in the first half of the season, the major positive is Roma’s self-belief to come back and win this time around.
Despite that, I thought EDF’s comments after the game were hypocritical in places (especially when it comes to game management that he admits he has yet to really work on with the team), but his style seems to work for the players.
They have been fighting for him throughout this whole season, come rain or shine. There was plenty of rain to pour on the parade after this game was said and done.
I’ll have to detox off the tactics for a while because... yeah... I want to be able to enjoy Roma wins. And this wasn’t an enjoyable victory.
The Good: Persistence and Pellegrini
Roma’s quick, first-time and incisive passing through spells of the match was refreshing. You’d have to single out Bryan Cristante, Rick Karsdorp and Kostas Manolas in particular as the key men supporting Lorenzo Pellegrini’s rise to prominence late in the game.
The first three finished yesterday as the top ranked players in xGBuildup of all 22 players on the pitch, something which is particularly impressive from both Karsdorp and Manolas. But buildup by itself isn’t enough. You need a tip of the spear, and that was Lorenzo Pellegrini in the final quarter of the game.
Roma’s number 7 had to be persistent in finding his place in the match, as he spent the first half either being dribbled past or fouling through his usual struggles in defending. Pellegrini’s belief never dropped and he soon started picking his moments better to cut out moves, while always helping to grease the wheels by exchanging passes on the flank with Kolarov.
If Lorenzo had just satisfied himself with that for the second half, that’d be exactly the kind of performance where Kevin Strootman was derided as a “human buoy” last season. After all, of Pellegrini’s 5 key passes, two of those were from corners early in the game and nothing else for the opening 45.
But Lorenzo shifted up a gear in attack when Roma needed it, because Nicolò Zaniolo faded badly in the second half. Pellegrini pushed up into the hole and delivered his last three key passes from there, most notably providing the assist for Stephan El Shaarawy’s winning goal.
Pellegrini’s ability to find best-mate El Shaarawy’s runs inside from the middle is one of the key facets to making EDF’s wing instructions look beautiful rather than redundant.
The same can be said about Karsdorp’s passing down the right (one that was crucial in winning Roma’s penalty and second goal), and Manolas’ beautiful slide-rule pass through to Schick in the 75th minute. With this kind of vertical passing from both deep and in the hole, Roma are able to put their attackers on the front foot before the opposition even has time to dig their heels in the ground.
The only drawback was Roma’s failure to recognise when to slow the game down and pack the midfield, but perhaps they just didn’t fancy the physical battle awaiting them with the brilliant Torino performances of Cristian Ansaldi and Ola Aina; both Granata players aided by Tomás Rincón trying his best to wind up every young Roma player into getting carded (and weirdly, the ref chose Justin Kluivert as his first yellow card of the match - complete anti-football from referee Giacomelli).
The Bad: Suicide and Santon
Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you how Roma survived all the bad defending and EDF’s risky subs.
The obvious heart-in-mouth event was the first half defending from Karsdorp, selling his backline short by trying to close down a player he had no right to try and close. That could have led to ex-Roma player Iago Falque bringing Torino back into the game at 2-1 headed into half time.
EDF chose to label this moment “suicidal” in the post-match interviews, and Karsdorp was struggling not to make panic decisions in the face of Roma’s midfield leaving their backline constantly exposed.
It eventually just led to Karsdorp spreading confusion among the entire defence. He’d push up aggressively to close down one of Torino’s midfielders, while Cristante would have a go at Manolas for not filling the hole left by Karsdorp. Manolas simply shrugged back and the Greek defender was entirely correct. It wasn’t Manolas’ job to break away from his backline and play full back.
Karsdorp was defending a different game to every one of his teammates.
But somehow his substitute Davide Santon managed to defend even worse at the end of the match. The Italian full-back was left for dead 2-3 times in nearly as many minutes by Aina and Torino’s 5-man midfield. Santon would lament what he felt was a lack of support from Cristante, but there was precious little Cristante could do on a yellow card by that time.
Overall, an overwhelming 51% of the Granata’s attacks came down Torino’s left wing through Aina and teammates. The confidence they gained led to the Granata hitting goals you wouldn’t score 99 times out of hundred.
Both Rincon and Ansaldi’s strikes were ranked at xG 0.01 each, the lowest odds you can possibly get. Paradoxically, Andrea Belotti wasted a clear-cut chance inside of Roma’s 18 yard area at the very end of the game that would have tied the match.
The buildup to the 2-2 phase of the match was just like the home game against Chievo, only with a different ending and more belief from Roma in attack from that point on. Most of that belief came down to two experienced men in the frontline.
The Ugly: Dzeko and SES Overshadowed by Superficial Zaniolo
The guy making himself constantly available all over Torino’s half through 90 minutes was Edin Dzeko, while SES did superbly coming back from injury to do what SES does best.
Both these men lasted the whole 90 minutes where Zaniolo dropped out the game very early on in the second half.
The only real criticism I can make of Dzeko (besides the flagrant miss from 3 yards out) is standing on the balls of his feet in the first half, when he could have had more belief in the opportunities Zaniolo was creating while the 19-year-old was still on a hot streak of beating 2-3 men at a time on the ball.
For the opening 45, Zaniolo brought real substance that made Torino’s gang-pressing look foolish and had commentators claiming the Maggica was back in town.
From around 56 minutes onwards, Zaniolo faded and dropped deeper to exchange duties with the rejuvenated Pellegrini as the game went on.
Zaniolo’s defending was not good and the kid must have just been tired. 5 tackles, only 2 of them won. He was pushing up to run alongside Torino’s players rather than doing anything of substance to stop their play, and left big spaces behind him.
A big part of the reason Roma’s kamikaze backline panicked was down to the badly coordinated aggression of Roma’s midfield.
For now, Zaniolo has only EDF’s lone voice after the game challenging the kid to keep going and confront his weaknesses to build on his game: “Zaniolo needs to keep his head down, stay quiet and keep improving.”
I give a mention to Patrik Schick, who did his best to try and help out Roma’s right side by giving Torino defenders something to think about. The Czech forward expertly dragged Torino’s men out of position by dropping between the lines, and punished them with good passing whenever they didn’t follow Schick on the ball.
Schick’s own closing down was also superficial and surprisingly lacking compared to his last few games, but there’s enough here to give EDF the confidence after the game to claim both Zaniolo and Schick are options for the right wing, in Cengiz’s absence through injury.
Roma have two days off before training resumes on Tuesday in preparation for a trip to the most aggressive team in the league. A very tricky fixture away to Atalanta in Bergamo awaits next weekend, and this performance didn’t fill me with faith that we’ll rack up the three points there.
This was a lucky win, despite the paradox of conceding unlucky goals, and a win that any sane person would let themselves enjoy all the same.