If nothing else, today's match against Milan was a gut check for Roma. With Jordan Veretout standing as the only healthy traditional midfielder, Roma's ranks were about as depleted as they come, so much so that Gianluca Mancini was pressed into service in midfield once again. Things weren't any better up front either, where Edin Dzeko was still hampered by his broken cheek bones and Justin Kluivert was out suspended. Throw all that into the mix with Roma's short rest and the Giallorossi's mettle was put to the test in virtually every way possible today.
Considering all that, if Roma played this one to the hilt and still came away with a draw, we couldn’t have been too upset. And while they missed a few chances (and were denied a few more by Donnarumma), they rose to the occasion when it mattered most—breaking a deadlock in the first half and then striking back with a match winner almost immediately after conceding an equalizer.
Paulo Fonseca had to dig to the deepest recesses of his bench today, and the manner in which his players responded leads one to believe Roma are finally building something real.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the highs and lows of today's 2-1 victory.
Roma’s Collective Musculature
You can play the what if game at the end of nearly any match, but outside of a few small stretches, this match was all Roma. The home side were a Javier Pastore miss, errant headers from Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling, and a couple Gianluigi Donnarumma saves away from two or three goal win. Hell, even the goal they did concede was due to an inadvertent and try-it-100-more-times-and-it-will-never-happen-again Chris Smalling deflection (the ball went right between his legs as he was tracking the defender, glancing off the inside of his leg).
Point being, the scoreline wasn’t entirely indicative of the comparative level of play, but we can always hang our hats on someone getting hurt. Making Roma’s continuing injury woes our one and only sinner.
While Roma didn't sustain any catastrophic injuries today against Milan, Leonardo Spinazzola looks like the latest victim in Roma's fruitless attempts to remain healthy. Hitting the pitch in the 76th minute, Spinazzola immediately asked to be replaced. Now, we don't know the extend of his injury, but given everything else we've seen this season, it doesn’t bode well. Even if it's a simple muscle strain, that's a burden Roma can't really bear at the moment.
Keep your fingers crossed for Leo.
Roma's Defensive Approach
While the balance of play was equally split between Roma's defensive end and Milan's (29% each, with the remaining 41% occurring in midfield), the Giallorossi did an exceptional job denying Milan effective attacking space, at least compared to what they were able to carve out for themselves at the opposite end.
Pushing his defenders forward and jamming the neutral zones, Fonseca's men forced Milan into low percentage shot attempts, with a full 58% of their attempts coming from outside of the box. It wasn't the sole reason they won, but limiting legitimate shot attempts is certainly a good way to start.
We just can't say it enough: we came to Fonseca for the attack, but his defense has been awfully impressive.
With only 29 touches in 83 minutes, Zaniolo wasn't heavily involved today, but he made the most of his limited action. The Kid completed 92% of his passes and was a perfect 3-3 in on-target shot attempts, including his 58th minute match winner. Zaniolo has had (and will have) better matches than this, but today was another positive step in his maturation process. He barely saw the ball, but still had the patience and presence of mind to make it matter when he did.
With his roster beset by injuries, Paulo Fonseca had to turn to some seldom seen faces to weather today's storm. While Javier Pastore, Diego Perotti and Federico Fazio each remain talented players, at this point in their respective careers none are automatic first team selections, but that didn't matter one bit today.
Javier Pastore was a thorn in Milan's side, testing Donnarumma four times today, very nearly grabbing an early goal. Somewhat surprisingly, El Flaco was just as effective in the defensive phase of the game, picking off two passes and chipping in three clearances. Meanwhile, Federio Fazio reminded us all of how intelligent and intuitive he is, picking off six passes and racking up 12 clearances while completing nealry 84% of his passes. Perotti, for his part, made the most of his limited touches, creating two scoring chances in only 52 minutes.
Times like these are when it pays to have a deep and experienced bench, and today the difference makers all hailed from Argentina.
Man of the match?
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