Last night’s 3-0 victory turned out to be a low quality match. Roma ended up just having to—like the the pre-match billing said—not mess it up. Chievo were bereft of confidence and looked like they just wanted the final whistle to come in the final ten minutes of the game.
But the job still needed to get done and Roma found some positive answers as far as their own confidence goes. We saw Steven Nzonzi grow into the lone regista role nicely over 90 minutes, while Ivan Marcano combined well with Fazio to snuff out the danger at the back. All three men were the most consistent over 90 minutes along with captain-for-the-day Edin Dzeko, who looks like he’s about to turn it up a gear at the business end of the season.
Nzonzi Can Play 4-3-3
I didn’t notice how consistently good Nzonzi was live, but a second viewing showed he kept the engine room ticking on the ball, and the defence protected off of it. Truthfully, Nzonzi started out the game leaving too much space behind as usual, but adjusted to drop deeper off the ball and defend more conservatively.
It took Nzonzi 36 minutes to win his first proper tackle of the game, though he’d done a few blocks and clearing headers inside Roma’s area before then. It would be his aerial dominance to help break the deadlock early on.
A Roma high press right from Chievo’s kick off forced Stefano Sorrentino to rush his goal kick out to the middle. Nzonzi judges the flight of the ball perfectly, and his header goes through two lines of Chievo’s defence. SES gets on the ball and takes it around Sorrentino to put Roma 1-0 up inside ten minutes.
With Roma up early in the game and looking for for more, Nzonzi’s dropping deep to collect the ball between the defenders was a welcome sight for Roma’s buildup play.
Marcano Can Play, Period
Marcano’s confidence on the ball helped Roma through the evening, not least of all when extending their lead to 2-0 on 17 minutes. The Spaniard switched the play out right to Rick Karsdorp, who himself could have been faster to find Patrik Schick’s well-timed run through on goal in this action.
Karsdorp preferred the shorter ball to Edin Dzeko further up wide, and Dzeko carried the ball into Chievo’s box wide right before checking back from the byline, taking out a Chievo defender in the process and lashing a shot through another defender’s legs and past Sorrentino into the far corner.
If we’re being really critical here, Dzeko ignored Nicolo Zaniolo free inside the box to grab personal glory. It was one of those game-defining moments that went well for Dzeko’s personal confidence, but strangely led to the rest of the team (except the backline) switching off all the same.
Between Dzeko’s goal and half time, Chievo got in all of the shots inside Roma’s box that the Flying Donkeys were ever going to get. In fact, Chievo took 10 shots in total during this spell of the game - over 60% of their entire shots on goal. It was a Roma mental climbdown that the combined defending of Shick, Nzonzi, Marcano and Fazio had to weather for every other Giallorosso.
There were only two notable mistakes from Marcano. In the 27th minute, the Spaniard gets pickpocketed of the ball deep inside his own half by a Chievo player, but Federico Fazio was quick to cover and clear. In the 35th minute, Marcano was too late to push up and play a diagonale on the Chievo man between the lines just ahead of him. Kolarov was beaten for pace as Chievo crossed into the box behind Roma’s backline but, once again, Fazio was there to clear.
Besides those two mistakes, Marcano did well and he could always rely on the no-nonsense performance from Fazio to clear up behind him.
Dzeko Can Lead
Why is Edin Dzeko’s left foot so deadly? It’s been years and I’ve never questioned why he looks like van Basten on his left until now.
Then there was the Bosnian dribbling past three Chievo players in the second half, while also playing one-touch football to link up well with both Karsdorp, SES and - most notably - Kolarov for Roma’s counter-attacking 3-0 goal.
The only criticism you could make of Dzeko was that he was slow to get into the game, and let Roma’s attacks die to nothing inside the first 15 minutes of the match from killing the pace and taking too many touches of the ball. But once he got going after his goal, Dzeko did everything to anchor Roma’s play in Chievo’s half whenever the game called for it.
Honourable mentions should go to Patrik Schick, Rick Karsdorp and Stephan El Shaarawy.
SES survived both Kolarov and Dzeko giving him a bollocking throughout the first half for constantly being off the pace. Then SES had EDF assaulting him from the sideline - in the 40th minute - with “addosso! addosso! addosso!” (get on him!) in order to wake the Italian up. Opening goal aside, it took SES a good 55 minutes to get into the game but he stayed solid mentally where once the Italian would have wilted from all the criticism, and he was important for Roma’s third goal too.
Schick put in an intimidating defensive performance yet again. He went ignored off the ball by Karsdorp and others in the first half, and Patrik wasn’t brilliant on the ball himself. But Schick’s work rate for the team (both in terms of the space he creates and the balls he wins back) is right up there.
Then there was Dutch Cafu, who’s passing and athletic ability have completely transformed Roma’s buildup from the back. Karsdorp finished the match with the most completed passes (59) in the side. I don’t know the kind of football they were playing at Feyenoord, but Karsdorp understands the positional play that EDF expects better than anyone in the Roma locker room besides Lorenzo Pellegrini.
On the hour, the team felt confident enough to recycle the ball through the backline for a good ten minutes in exhausting whatever energy Chievo had left. That was a legacy of Roma fielding a backline full of four ball-players, but as much to do with Karsdorp dictating play by that point of the game. Karsdorp also helps to take a ton of pressure off Kolarov, who had a good game himself as a result.
There’s plenty you could nitpick from Roma in this game.
Zaniolo-SES didn’t work well together in defending up front. Bryan Cristante was nowhere, even though he did try to get Roma’s possession going through the middle all the same. Dzeko ignored both Zaniolo and Cristante inside the box, the first for the 2-0 goal and the second for what would have been an assist for SES’s shot that cannoned back off Chievo’s post. Kolarov and Karsdorp didn’t inspire when it came to shutting down Chievo crosses into the box.
But Roma got 3 points and a clean sheet.
A very different prospect awaits Roma on Tuesday night at the Olimpico. Porto are a team who dominated the opening group phase of the Champions League in terms of aerial duels, and physical superiority at the back - two areas Roma usually relies on for her own attack. Worse than that, Porto’s modus operandi in attack is to rely on the wingers taking on opposing full-backs 1-on-1. Even if Jesus Corona is suspended for the game - a sigh of relief for Kolarov - there’ll still be Brahimi on Porto’s left wing to take on Karsdorp.
It’ll take Roma coming together as a team. It’ll take Daniele De Rossi covering his full backs. And it’ll take the entire midfield and frontline working together better than last night to keep this momentum going.