Continuing the theme of the 2019-2020 season, Fonseca Football was once again beset by injuries and/or suspensions. In addition to the usual suspects (Bryan Cristante and Davide Zappacosta), Roma were dealt a fresh blow as they were down their usual centerback pairing, with Chris Smalling suffering an injury and Gianluca Mancini's yellow cards finally catching up with him. In their place, Fonseca relied on Federico Fazio and Mert Cetin, the latter making his first appearance since November 2nd, the night of his infamous red card against Napoli.
Still, as the ESPN announcer was quick to point out, if ever there were a fixture in which you could fudge your defense, surely this was it. SPAL 2013 had won only two matches this season while sporting a -13 goal differential, so they were ripe for the picking.
Right from the jump, Roma looked to exploit SPALs weaker left flank, as Alessandro Florenzi, Nicolo Zaniolo and Edin Dzeko each teamed up to pump the ball down that side. It very nearly paid dividends when Zaniolo's floating cross nearly found Dzeko (and Diego Perotti indirectly) at the far post, but it was just a split second off.
Florenzi was particularly effective at pushing the ball forward, stringing together some nice give and goes and overlaps with Zaniolo, but Roma's one-sided approach was pretty stark: Diego Perotti only had 30 touches in the first half, the third fewest among Roma outfield players.
And that's sort of how it went for the first 40 minutes or so: Roma would march down the pitch, recycle possession and create these little half chances that just never found that extra inch of space or that spare millisecond—though Lorenzo Pellegrini had a cracking attempt right at Berisha in the middle of the six—and SPAL did just enough to not come unglued.
But then something oh so Roma happened in the 43rd minute. Aleksandar Kolarov, perhaps Roma's most seasoned defender, committed an awkward penalty in which he pulled his leg up at the last second, but couldn't avoid colliding (a term I use loosely) with the SPAL attacker.
VAR was consulted (or so it seemed) and the call stood, leaving it to the bulky legs of Andrea Petagna, who converted with one of those bullshit stutter step penalties to give the visitors the lead just before the stroke of half-time.
Roma's luck would reverse shortly after the start of the second half when, attacking down the left for a change, Lorenzo Pellegrini unfurled an effort form the edge of the 18. It was a brilliant attempt that would have tested Berisha either way, but thanks to the misplaced leg of Nenad Tomovic, Roma found an equalizer via an own goal.
The Giallorossi nearly struck again a few minutes later when Zaniolo found a bit of space down the left in the 62nd minue, but Berisha was up to the task, snuffing out the attempt relatively easy.
But, the referee would factor once more in the 65th minute, awarding a penalty to Roma when Edin Dzeko was taken down at the point of the 18-yard-box. It was a beautiful sequence from Roma, as Pellegrini found Dzeko just as he was turning/shielding himself from the defense, but Francesco Vicari was just a bit too aggressive, taking down the Bosnian Batistuta in the process.
Diego Perotti stepped up and converted the penalty in his usual style, giving Roma a 2-1 lead as the match approached he 70th minute.
Kolarov would tempt fate once again in the 78th minute, barging right into Petgana who was playing a ball inside the six, but the referee deemed it within the bounds of fair play, despite the protestations of several SPAL players, but ironically not Petagna himself.
Roma's first sub would come in the 79th minute when Henrik Mkhitaryan came on for Perotti, and the Armenian made a difference straight away. After narrowly missing a Florenzi cross, Miki and Ale hooked up once again in the 84th minute, as Florenzi found Mkkitaryan with a low cross across the face of goal, which he tapped in with ease, putting the match to bed.
What initially seemed like a disaster quickly became a cool and confident 3-1 victory over a side that took six points from them last season.
Random Thoughts & Observations
- After falling down 1-0 at the stroke of halftime, I'm sure many of us had nightmares of these same fixtures from last season, but Roma's resolve—the way they never stopped attacking—should give you further faith that Fonseca is the right man to lead this club forward.
- Florenzi's last trip out was a horror show, as his own goal against Wolfsberger proved to be the difference in Roma's final Europa League fixture, but this was exactly the sort of performance Florenzi needed to bolster his status and confidence. Florenzi went the full 90 and was instrumental in nearly every one of Roma's best attacking runs, linking up with Zaniolo and Pellegrini several times, including his assist on Mkhitaryan's second half goal.
- In some ways, Florenzi just needs to experience immediate success to get the ball rolling, which is exactly what he did tonight, winning a header 30 seconds into the match and then playing some tight give and goes with Zaniolo.
- Overall this was a solid effort from Roma, and hopefully Fonseca will sing their praises. They didn't wilt after the penalty and really took control of the match in the second half. Bravo.
Short rest as Roma travel to Fiorentina on Friday for their final match of 2019.
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