Prior to yesterday's match at the Stadio Olimpico, SPAL 2013 were rock bottom in Serie A (they still are), scratching out only two victories through 15 rounds of play while finding the back of the net only 10 times. Yet, I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a pit in my stomach throughout much of the first half. After all, this was the same side that swept Roma last season, including a shocking 2-0 shutout at the the Olimpico. So, when Andrea Petagna converted that 44th minute penalty—his third converted PK against Roma over the past 14 months—that pit inside my stomach nearly tripled in size.
Not again, there was simply no way Roma would drop three straight to this club? Impossible.
And, who knows, if EDF were still leading this club, perhaps those same demons would have reappeared, but Paulo Fonseca has soothed Roma's once fragile psyche, turning them into a robust and resilient squad capable of overcoming injuries, suspensions, inclement weather and incompetent officials.
Yesterday's victory wasn't a sweeping affair, but there were several standouts and really only one micro sin, so let's get that out of the way first, shall we?
Aleksandar Kolarov...But Just For This
Kolarov was his usual self on the day, giving Fonseca a hard charging 90 minutes of veteran football, including two shots on target, two key passes, two crosses and four long balls, but this moment of indiscretion almost sank Roma's evening.
Based on the way he sort of pulled up from the challenge as it was happening, you get the feeling he knew he was about to screw up. It wasn't the most egregious error we've ever seen, but it was a lapse in judgement you wouldn't normally expect from such an experienced player.
In the end, it didn’t matter thankfully, but against a better opponent split-second decisions like that can sometimes be the difference between victory and defeat.
We mentioned in the post-match review, but Florenzi needed a performance like this. With his spot at right-back under constant question this season, Florenzi perhaps reached rock bottom against Wolfsberger when his own goal nearly cost Roma a chance to advance out of the group stage in the Europa League.
Undaunted by the error, Florenzi approached this match with renewed vigor. In 90 minutes, Florenzi looked like his old self; jump starting attacks down the right flank, pumping in crosses and playing long balls into the final third...and he even won three aerials yesterday!
Fonseca wasn't exactly effusive in his praise, saying simply “he played very well today”, but with performances like these, he'll certainly warrant a more consistent role.
Roma's number eight has been a notoriously streaky player during his three plus season in the capital, exchanging runs of brilliance with stretches of frustration. Given how he's closing out the calendar year, it's safe to say he’s on another heater.
In 78 minutes yesterday, Perotti stuff the stat sheets despite seeing the second fewest touches among Roma’s attacking players. Perotti had four shots, two key passes, five successful dribbles, drew three fouls and scored the second half penalty, his 16th with Roma.
Having a player who can contribute across the board like that, whether he starts or not, is such an incredible luxury. I know he’s been close to leaving over the past year or so, but matches like these are proof of his continuing value.
I don't think he'll ever be bold enough to wear Totti's number ten, but Pellegrini is slowly establishing himself in an area once dominated by Francesco Totti, as Roma's chief creator. In 90 minutes yesterday, Pellegrini hit on 88% of his passes, chipped in two key passes, hit on 4/10 crosses and 3/5 long balls. While he'll never likely replicate Totti's scoring, Pellegrini was a bit more assertive yesterday, attempting three shots on goal, including forcing SPAL's own goal in the second half.
We inadvertently left Mr. Diawara off the MOTM poll yesterday, so we'll show him some love here. Unfortunately for Diawara, so much of what he does (and does exceedingly well) doesn't show up on the stat sheets. Whether he's dropping dimes from 30 or 40 or 50 yards out, clogging up opposing passing lanes, clearing balls off the line or winning 50/50s, Fonseca Football simply would not function without Diawara's deceptive brilliance.
While he did all the little things yesterday, his passing was perhaps the most impressive component of his 90 minute turn against SPAL, as he completed 91% of his passes, hitting on an impressive 7 of 12 from deep. Someday soon, Diawara will do something that will garner wider acclaim, perhaps an audacious long goal, but every inch of success Roma has had this season is down to his dirty work in the double pivot.
So that officially closes the book on Round 16. See you Friday in Fiorentina.