Thanks to some injuries and the simple need to rest several players, Eusebio Di Francesco was forced to deviate from his typical (at least for this season) 4-2-3-1, opting instead for his true love, the 4-3-3. With Daniele De Rossi being rested following his 90 minute turn against Porto last week, EDF's midfield featured Steven Nzonzi, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini, while Edin Dzeko was flanked up top by Justin Kluivert and Nicolo Zaniolo. This may not have been Roma's A-team, but on paper it sure seemed like enough to make mincemeat of Bologna.
But you know what they say about assumptions, right?
Through the first 45 minutes of this match Roma looked confused, not really sure which path to take towards the goal: Did they go the Florenzi to Zaniolo route or flip it around and hope that Aleksandar Kolarov and Justin Kluivert get things going?
Unfortunately, this proved to be an academic matter as, no matter what path they took, the pace on the wings wasn't matched in the middle, resulting in a series of frustrating check downs from Zaniolo or Kluivert simply dribbling into a hoard of Bologna defenders.
Without Lorenzo Pellegrini pulling the strings in the hole—he was more of an advanced Nainggolan-style ball winner than a play maker in the first half—Roma simply had no balance in attack, swinging it out wildly to either wing, seldom finding Dzeko or Pellegrini in the middle. In essence, they were like a see-saw, wildly bouncing up and down with no hope of balance.
Roma were lucky that Bologna, outside of Roberto Soriano clanging one off the crossbar, were equally inept in attack, failing to take advantage of several lazy backpasses or miscued headers from Roma, or that one time that Federico Fazio completely ignored an in-swinging cross towards the back post.
Anyway you slice it, this was an ugly half of football for Roma, serving as yet another frustrating 45 minutes of play from a team that too often gets stuck in the mud.
Sensing the static in his attack, EDF made a big change coming out of the dressing room, pulling off the ineffective Bryan Cristante for Stephan El Shaarawy, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 in the process, pushing Zaniolo back to his more comfortable midfield position, with SES and Kluviert now supporting Dzeko as the lone striker.
It wasn't earth shattering, but given what had just transpired, it was an absolutely necessary change, and it's one that paid off almost immediately.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 55th Minute (Roma 1, Bologna 0)
With El Shaarawy and Dzeko playing a given and go at the edge of the 18, El Shaarawy was bounced around like a pinball by a pair of Bologna defenders, drawing a no doubt penalty in the process, one that Kolarov buried without batting an eye; he just gripped it and ripped it, pushing his tally to seven goals this season, far and away a career high.
The ensuing 15 minutes or so played on without issue, just two sides each struggling to mount a cohesive attack, though it must said Roma looked slightly better than they did through the first hour of the match, but they still couldn't string together enough passes to really look dangerous.
However, presumably sensing a tightly contested affair down the stretch, Di Francesco swapped out Kluivert for Daniele De Rossi, subtly shifting into a 4-4-2 in the process, with El Shaarawy moving up alongside Dzeko rather than behind. Not the sexiest move, but with his side struggling in attack, throttling down the midfield with DDR, Nzonzi, Pellegrini and Zaniolo was probably the correct call.
Once again, EDF's substitutions proved masterful as De Rossi played a hand in Roma's second goal.
Federico Fazio: 73rd Minute (Roma 2, Bologna 0)
After helping to force Bologna into conceding a corner, De Rossi was integral in Roma's second goal. With Kolarov delivering a pinpoint corner, De Rossi climbed high, flicking the ball right to the awaiting Fazio, who beat Lukasz Skorupski at the far post to double Roma's lead.
Two second half substitutions, two switches in formation and two goals. Not bad, eh? (The less said about the third one, the better).
As the match marched towards the 90 minute mark, the patented Roma-with-a-two-goal lead-collapse slowly started to set in, with Bologna probing and stretching the Roma defense multiple times at the edge of the 18, forcing Robin Olsen into multiple late saves.
Olsen couldn't do much about this one, though...
Nicola Sansone: 84th Minute (Roma 2, Bologna 1)
The Greyhounds would find a break through in the 84th minute, as Nicola Sansone plodded his way across Roma’s final third, dragging the defense with him, before beating Olsen. Incidentally, to call that "defense”is being extremely generous; Sansone traversed nearly the entirety of the 18-yard-box without so much as receiving a dirty look from a Roma defender.
I don't know what it is about this club and two-goal leads, but they certainly make a meal out of it, don't they?
In the end, Roma was able to avoid disaster, surviving four minutes of stoppage time to claim a victory over 18th place Bologna.
By doing so, Roma kept pace with fourth place Milan, who hold a slim one-point advantage over the Giallorossi, but more importantly Roma now have a bit of a cushion beneath them. Thanks to losses by Atalanta and Lazio over the weekend, Roma are now alone in fifth place on 41 points, three ahead of the Goddesses and the scum of Rome, respectively.
Roma were a Soriano crossbar clanger away from a 2-2 draw—and committed quite a few individual errors in the final third—but sometimes you simply have to win ugly, and that's precisely what they did this evening. Roma held roughly 51% of the possession on the night, and did precious little with it, managing only six shots in the run of play to Bologna's 16.
That's not to say Roma were completely without positives: Di Francesco's tactical change to start the second half was the correct call and yielded immediate benefits as SES drew the penalty, and the Giallrossi received a stellar turn from Robin Olsen, who kept Roma in a match they otherwise would have lost.
De Rossi, Pellegrini and Kostas Manolas were also above the fray in this ugly match, but as we just said, a win is a win, and that's precisely what Roma needed today. With Milan surging, the fight for fourth place seems like it'll drag on through May, so coming out ahead in a match like this should go a long way towards giving them life in that fight.
Roma run it back on Saturday with a mini-derby against neighboring Frosinone on the road.