Things with Roma, at least the chaotic things, tend to move fast. So while it feels like the EDF for Ranieri change was made weeks ago, truth is Ranieri has had little more than a week at the helm with his hometown club. Considering that, it's not surprising that we spent much of the week speculating exactly what Ranieri's Roma would look like this time around. We knew he was short staffed thanks to injuries and suspensions, so last week's victory against Empoli really was just a patch job, and thanks to the aura of excitement in the air at the Olimpico, I think it's safe to say they received a bit of a pyschic boost in that match.
But Roma had no such benefit this evening when they traveled to Ferrara to take on SPAL 2013, a team that defeated Roma 2-0 back in the fall, and also a team that is desperately trying to avoid relegation. Add all that up and you have a match that, while seemingly one-sided, was anything but—SPAL had just as much, if not more, to play for as Roma, and it showed.
While the opening minutes of this match featured the usual feeling out period, with each team testing its limits and simply trying to get loose, as the match progressed past the quarter hour mark, SPAL not only took the initiative, they took control.
With Roma desperately hoofing the ball forward to Edin Dzeko, Ranieri's attack looked out of sorts; Justin Kluivert getting the ball deep in the middle, Dzeko getting it out wide and Bryan Cristante just looking lost—nothing made sense.
But then things took a turn for the worse, with Roma getting beat, you guessed it, at the far post...
Mohamed Fares: 22nd Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 0)
Not the best angle there, but you can still see Fares out-leaping Federico Fazio and Rick Karsdorp, who were both just sort of idling by, while Robin Olsen was woefully out of position and/or late to react, giving himself no chance to stop Fares’ looping header.
You can change the coach, you can let the Director of Sport walk and you can make the medical staff perform the walk of shame, but a shit backline is a shit backline. With or without Kostas Manolas, the defense has been Roma's sore spot all season long.
The remaining 20 minutes offered little hope for Roma either, outside of a skirting effort from Stephan El Shaarawy—it was an impressive bit of athleticism to escape the defense, but El Shaarawy just couldn't get enough curl on the shot, or any at all really.
Normally I'd say Roma limped into half time, but for some inexplicable reason, Olsen and Dzeko decided to pick a fight with several SPAL players as they headed to the dressing room—not exactly fitting behavior from the man wearing the arm band (Dzeko).
Sensing the stagnation in his side, Ranieri opted for two changes at the half, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo and Diego Perotti for El Shaarawy and Kluivert. No real change in shape, but using two of his three swaps at half-time was a bold move from the Tinkerman.
And it's one that paid off almost immediately, albeit in an odd way.
Diego Perotti: 53rd Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 1)
Thanks to a beautiful through ball from Zaniolo around the 53 minute mark, Ranieri’s bold move proved a masterstroke. With Dzeko charging towards the box, Zaniolo played him a perfect tidy little through ball, breaking Dzeko open in the penalty area, where he was summarily brought down by the SPAL defender, resulting in a penalty that was easily converted by Diego Perotti.
Two subs, one big gamble and one big goal.
Of course, since Roma’s defense is utter shit, they conceded a penalty three minutes later as Juan Jesus brought down Andrea Petagna in the box. It was sent to VAR, who ultimately upheld the call, and Petagna wasted no time converting the penalty to give the home side their second lead of the night. Quibble with the quality of the call if you like, but it's not as if Roma were burning down the house out there; SPAL were the superior team to this point in the match and probably would have found a breakthrough anyway.
Roma would conjure up a couple of half chances, but their best opportunity of the night came just before the 75th minute when Dzeko caused havoc in the six-yard box, dragging the ball past two defenders and unleashing an attempt from maybe five feet off the goal line before Emiliano Viviano denied him.
Down a goal with roughly 10 minutes to play the obvious solution was to make an attacking substitute, which is precisely what Ranieri did when he brought on...Davide Santon?
And you don't have to be a genius or a soothsayer to figure out how that sub worked out and how this match ended. Roma looked like what they are: an ill-formed team suffering from a spate of injuries attempting to adapt to a coaching change that came two months too late.
Roma dropped six points to SPAL 2013 this year. Just let that sink in.
If this performance proved anything, it's this: Roma's problems run deeper than the man standing on the sideline. This roster is in shambles and something drastic needs to be done in order for this club to forge and sustain an identity.
Unfortunately, nothing in the club's recent history suggests they have the know how or temerity to achieve that, so I'm afraid the hamster wheel will keep spinning.
Enjoy the break, y’all!