While Roma did receive a bit of good news in the build-up to Wednesday's match against Udinese (the returns of Cengiz Ünder and Justin Kluivert), Paulo Fonseca was still required to make and/or maintain some injury-forced substitutions, namely keeping Gianluca Mancini in midfield, but Kluivert's return from suspension at least injected some normality into his attacking trio.
Despite that current of optimism, Roma faced their greatest nemesis today: incompetent officiating, which would rear its ugly head once more in the first half. After seizing the lead in the 13th minute thanks to Nicolo Zaniolo's one-v-one effort, Federico Fazio received a straight red in the 31st minute for taking down Stefano Okaka (more on that in the bullets), precipitating some five minutes of non-action as the players begged and pleaded their case, with Dzeko earning a yellow in the process. It was absolute chaos and the clueless look on Irrati's face didn't help matters any.
What seemed like a disaster in the making was quickly erased in second half, as quick goals from Chris Smalling and Justin Kluivert made it three-nil after 54 minutes. A penalty awarded to Roma in the 65th minute put this match well and truly to bed as Aleksandar Kolarov converted without batting an eye.
This could have been another grand Roma disappointment, albeit one out of their control thanks to Irrati's erratic whistle, but Roma's class and perseverance burst through that haze of incompetence, thoroughly dominating Udinese despite being down a man for an hour.
Seriously, had you tuned in at half-time, you would have never guessed Roma were down a man. Truly an impressive performance from the Giallorossi.
Random Observations & Thoughts
- The opening 10 minutes of this match were some of the most passive we've seen from Roma in weeks. Jordan Veretout was really the only one who seemed to know what to do when he had the ball. Thank god for him. He shows his value each and every week.
- Pastore very nearly broke the match open again, just like last week. He's definitely coming into form and should enable Fonseca to slowly re-introduce Ünder and eventually Pellegrini.
- Udinese were utilizing a basketball-style half-court trap on Roma's wide players early in this match, doubling them the minute they had possession, and then shifting the remaining defense to close off any emergency outlets. Impressive stuff.
- Roma broke that spell thanks to Kolarov's beautiful cross, which found Zaniolo in stride in the middle, who tucked it away with no issue whatsoever. That's goals in three-straight matches now for Zaniolo. Thank you, Capello.
- Of course, you wouldn't have known it from the announcers coma-like reaction. It's very odd hearing a game called by only one voice, and such a low-energy one at that.
- Stop Iracy, everyone. It's a global pandemic.
- In the 29th minute, Javier Pastore—yes, that Pastore—started a break with a tackle and wound up with a veritable one-v-one with the keeper, only to dribble it right to the keepers arms. It was inexplicably bad from a guy famed for his skill on the ball. On the balance, another solid shift from Pastore today, though.
- The red card to Fazio. What can we even say about the officiating in this league? Fazio did nothing more than inadvertently put his left forearm under Okaka's arm, who, it could be argued, initiated the contact.
- Yellow card? Sure, that's plausible given that Okaka fell, but a straight red and then nearly five minutes of non-play/chaos is an entirely different thing altogether. Reasons like this are why Serie A is struggling behind other European leagues. They're barely even hiding the corruption and incompetence at this point. Cannot wait to see how they rationalize this decision.
- Roma would finally catch a break in the 52nd minute when Chris Smalling scored off a corner. The ball wasn't really whipped in with any extraordinary force, but it did enough to fool several Udine defenders, who were caught ball watching, leaving Smalling with a tap in for the goal. A desperately needed goal given the bogus red card in the first half.
- Roma really put the match beyond all doubt when Kluivert scored three minutes later. Going down a man was a disgrace, but you wouldn't haven even know they were at a disadvantage; they remained that well-organized and Udinese barely even threatened Pau Lopez to this point. That's the mark of a well-drilled team.
- Kolarov's 65th minute penalty really, really put this match beyond all doubt.
This victory, combined with the other results on the peninsula, launches Roma into fourth place, one point clear of Napoli who were held to a 2-2 draw by Atalanta. Given all the injuries, the multiple matches per week and the horrible officiating they've encountered, that should be considered a minor miracle.
And whether it was divinely inspired or not, Roma's recent form points to one thing: this team believes in Paulo Fonseca. The manner in which he's weathered this storm, mixing and matching lineups, fixing and plugging gaps with inventive solutions, speaks volumes out his ingenuity, talent and creativity. This man is no mere Zeman clone.
Paulo Fonseca is the real deal and Roma are starting to reap the rewards. Now, if we can just get and keep everyone healthy, Fonseca Football should be fully set upon the league.
Highlights to come...
The Derby del Sole on Saturday. Roma will have a golden chance to put even more distance between themselves and Napoli. Do. Not. Miss. It.