Roma returned from what felt like an interminable international break with a home match against 20th place Brescia today, who were down Mario Balotelli, who was dismissed at the last minute by new manager Fabio Grosso. And if it weren't good enough to simply see Roma back in action, they came bearing good news as well!
With the return of Lorenzo Pellegrini from injury and Alessandro Florenzi getting his first start in nearly a month, the Giallorossi were perhaps as deep as we've see them since late September. The return of Pellegrini and Florenzi's smiling faces did not bring good weather unfortunately, as today's match was played under some persistent rain, which was pooled up on the track ringing the Olimpico.
Despite the inclement weather, the pitch held up remarkably well and didn't seem to slow down the run of play too much. Paulo Fonseca stuck with his tried and true 4-2-3-1, inserting Pellegrini into the hole behind Edin Dzeko while Florenzi returned to his normal right back role.
So let's run that back for a second; I just want to make sure we're all on the same page here.
Roma returned from international break, they had everything they needed to dominate possession (and the match), but the pitch was wet and they were facing a decidedly inferior squad. The pessimists among us probably buried their faces in their hands before the first whistle—we've seen this story unfold way too many times to feel comfortable heading into this match.
And through the first half, Roma pretty much stuck to that well-worn and somber script. Roma held 56% possession in the first 45 minutes, doubling Brescia's shot output in the process, yet didn't produce any real chances.
Brescia, meanwhile, did a fantastic job choking the center of the pitch, collapsing on the center of the area anytime Roma dared approach the 18-yard-box. As a result, Roma's offense consisted of speculative crosses, which were more often than not thwarted by Brescia's defense, and when Roma did manage to squeak one through, the corresponding runs were a half-step off.
Roma definitely had the look of a frustrated team attempting to reintegrate some missing parts, and were lucky not to head into half-time down a goal or two, as Brescia nearly beat Pau Lopez twice in the first half—one Lopez masterfully parried away while at full stretch, while the second was just a flubbed header from Alfredo Donnarumma.
Things would change dramatically when the two sides resumed play...
For all their faults in the first half, which was really just their inability to find that little bit of space/time in the final third, Roma did win several corners. The problem was simply that they couldn't produce any chances off them.
That problem would soon disappear.
Chris Smalling: 49th Minute (Roma 1, Brescia 0)
SMALLING!! GOOOOOL— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) November 24, 2019
Just a perfect corner from start to finish. Pellegrini's out-swinging cross hit Chris Smalling at the edge of the six, nearly at the apex of his leap, allowing the belated birthday boy to head it home with ease.
Roma would double their lead less than ten minutes later, with another central defender getting in on the action.
Gianluca Mancini: 57th Minute (Roma 2, Brescia 0)
MANCINI!— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) November 24, 2019
PERFECT ALSO FROM SMALLING! pic.twitter.com/20YxwoxNtT
Great switch of play/cross from Justin Kluivert, and an even better header from Smalling, who used the damp pitch to deaden the ball, finding Gianluca Mancini in a tiny bit of space between the defense. Mancini, the defender turned midfielder turned defender again, gave it a bit of an awkward hit, but he put enough English on it to beat the keeper.
Roma very nearly made it 3-0 just past the hour mark, as Aleksandar Kolarov forced Jesse Joronen into an awkward save, which Nicolo Zaniolo pounced on to temporarily put Roma up three-nil. However, VAR ruled that the ball was put over the touchline before Kolarov even took his shot from distance. It was a jenky moment for VAR, as no one was really sure why play stopped, but the goal was correctly reversed.
Roma didn't wait long to get their vengeance on VAR,t hough.
Edin Dzeko: 65th Minute (Roma 3, Brescia 0)
EDIN GOOOOOOOOOL pic.twitter.com/5KPnN0c1oc— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) November 24, 2019
The Giallorossi would get that third goal moments later when Chris Smalling set up a second goal, this time heading the ball from the edge of the area right towards Dzeko, who was screening the keeper and in the process sort of twisted himself around—you'll notice how he twisted his head each way before finding the ball. Despite the awkward attempt, Dzeko tucked it in the back of the net.
At this point, the match was done and dusted, but Paulo Fonseca's men corrected everything that dragged them down in the first half. They moved the ball quicker, the passes and crosses were more precise and, as we just saw, they were clinical in the final third, Smalling in particular, who scored one goal and set up two more.
Edin Dzeko would be denied two more times in the waning moments of this match, with one right-footed turn and fire attempt parried away by leaping Joronen, while his left-footed attempt, which was almost a carbon copy of the first, was ruled off by VAR.
Dzeko is very much a streaky player at this stage in his career, but if this match serves as a springboard for another upsurge in goals, well, you won't catch me complaining. Dzeko is a complete striker in many ways, with a far better touch and intuition than he's credited, but Roma need him scoring goals.
Roma took what looked like a another disaster in the making and quickly turned it into a cakewalk. It took about 45 or 50 minutes for everyone to settle in, but Roma's class eventually busted through. Roma were quicker, more accurate and more aggressive than their visitors, completely erasing everything that frustrated them in the first half.
While you'd like to see a bit more precision and chemistry from their wide players, the offensive contributions of Smalling and Mancini, as well as the second half injection of energy from Ünder, reminded us all of how truly deep this team can be when everyone is healthy, which they're still really not.
With Pellegrini back, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan not far behind, it won't be long before we see Roma at full capacity.
Another two-match week, with trips to Istanbul on Thursday and Verona on Sunday.
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