There’s a dearth of everything in the Europa League. Reliable streams. Match highlights. Everything. So you’ll have to be warned from the outset that this match summary is brief in parts. I didn’t even manage to catch the Wolfsberger equalizing goal live, and only saw the gist of it on replay. But that’s for later.
Roma started off this away trip to Austria making several changes to the starting lineup. It was clear from the start that Paulo Fonseca just wanted 11 men that he could trust to get through 90 minutes of action, especially against a hard-working side like Wolfsberger. I won’t pretend to know how many changes (or lack thereof) the Austrians made to their own starting lineup, but the hosts’ physicality had led them to a 4-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach last weekend and were confident they could do more of the same against Roma.
Given all of that, I’d have taken a point on the road away in Europe before kick off. Maybe many people wouldn’t. But this Roma squad is a long way away from being fluid, while Wolfsberger had their tails up in front of a home crowd.
Wolfsberger began this game looking much sharper than Roma, and that was typified by a Santon lapse within the very first minute of play (that being said, Santon defensively was simply excellent for the rest of the game). The Italian fullback tried a soft pass back to Mirante as Santon didn’t realise his opponent had been tracking him back all the way into Roma’s box. The backpass nearly landed Mirante in trouble, but the keeper was on full alert to clear it.
Nonetheless, Wolfsberger would use that invite to keep pressure on Roma’s fullbacks. The Austrians found a lot of joy running into the wide areas to receive the ball, particularly behind Leonardo Spinazzola all of the first half. But Roma had enough quality to keep Wolfsberger honest, with Zaniolo and Kluivert ready to make the most of any counter-attacking opportunities down Wolfsberger’s defensive flanks, in turn. Unfortunately, Zaniolo and Kluivert’s eagerness to take it all on their shoulders would eventually become Roma’s undoing later on.
But for the first 45, their constant taking on their men led to several set piece opportunities, while Javier Pastore was showing the kind of first-touch and ball control that had evaded the Argentinian playmaker for quite some time. Watching Pastore with this kind of confidence and determination is always a joy, even if it was unclear how Roma were going to get any sort of goal from open play. For all the determination Roma showed in building out of the back, there was little cohesiveness up front. And so it came down to a game of set-pieces in the middle of the first half.
28th Minute: Wolfsberger 0-1 Roma (Spinazzola)
Cristante and Kalinic had their shots blocked in the process of winning Roma back-to-back corners. Javier Pastore then floated in a second consecutive corner, in the 28th minute, finding Leonardo Spinazzola on the far side. Spinazzola inadvertently got himself into a game of pinball, as his header-ricochet-header eventually sailed across the ground and into the far corner to give Roma the lead.
It wasn’t a clean or pretty way to take the lead, but it certainly did put the wind beneath Roma’s wings to finish out the first half just marshalling play away. Keeping control of a European away fixture like you’d be expected to. Could they do the same for another 45?
No, no they could not. My stream cut out for the first ten minutes after the restart. So I only had CdT comments to let me know that Roma had conceeded very soon after the second half got underway.
52nd Minute - Wolfberger 1-1 Roma (Liendl)
I’m not even sure how this move got started. Apparently Roma turned the ball over to Wolfsberger, as the Austrians’ teenage midfielder Romano Schmid punished Roma’s mistake by feeding the ball to forward Michael Liendl, who (and I actually did see this part) came up with a very mean finish, off his left foot, blasted right into the top far corner of Antonio Mirante’s goal.
Mirante had come up with a couple of excellent saves in the first half but, on this one, Roma’s veteran keeper had no chance while Roma’s backline could only watch at the mercy of Liendl’s left boot. From that point on, the match devolved into Roma’s dysfunction between defence and midfield.
I’ve got a lot of time for any football side that fields a spine of Gianluca Mancini, Federico Fazio, Amadou Diawara and Javier Pastore (on tonight’s form - in Pastore’s case). That’s a proper footballing side with both control and inventiveness on the ball (and that’s not taking away anything from Chris Smalling - who’s been brilliant himself). I didn’t realise how good Mancini is in possession until rewatching the Lecce game last weekend and, together with his teammates down Roma’s spine tonight, it was no surprise that Roma finished their second-straight match with over 60% possession (65% in tonight’s game to be exact).
As many times as Roma ended up losing the ball trying to kick up the pace while moving the ball from side to side, the Giallorossi were good at fighting to win the ball back. It was no surprise Roma had the lion’s share of possession. But as much as I have faith in Roma’s back six, the play from Roma’s front four just got worse as the game went on.
Someone needs to have a sitdown with Zaniolo and Kluivert, running both 1999-born players on a crash course of how to trust their teammates. When you choose to try and run through 2 defenders as Zaniolo did, and end up falling over on your backside because you ignored your wide-open teammate Mirko Antonucci 5 yards ahead of you, then you’ve really got ask yourself whether you’re not just making life more difficult than need be. This kind of self-involved play from Roma’s young attackers wasn’t helped by Antonucci’s inclusion in the last 13 minutes.
While Antonucci did show some classic moves to try and create holes for his teammates to run into, his own performance in possession left a lot to be desired. Roma can’t bring back their more mature forwards Mkhitaryan and Perotti soon enough. Fonseca’s two other subs were the more experienced Jordan Veretout and Aleksandar Kolarov in the final 10 minutes. But by then, the match was already winding down to nothing eventful.
1-1 on a cold Thursday night in Austria. I’ll take it with the promise that Roma go back home and work on their attacking threat and unity, both of which look severely lacking without Edin Dzeko. If we went the entire summary without mentioning frontman Nikola Kalinic until now, that sums up the nature of his performance.
Though, in fairness to Kalinic, most strikers would look anonymous upfront when you’ve got Zaniolo and Kluivert ballhogging behind you. Which makes you appreciate all the more how Dzeko manages to link up play, with kids for teammates. If there is anyone Roma better wrap up in cotton wool to last through the season, on tonight’s evidence, it’s Dzeko.