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Roma Falls to Porto, Crash Out of Champions League

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Roma happened.

FC Porto v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

A lot was on the line for Roma and her manager today. Getting through to the Champions League quarter-finals would be an excellent continuation of the Giallorossi’s recent success in Europe; falling out of the competition would most definitely result in the sacking of Eusebio Di Francesco and a hard restart for whatever version of Pallotta’s Roma we’re watching now.

From the moment the lineups came out, it was apparent that Di Francesco was aware of the pressure. By going with a defensive 3-4-3/3-5-2 lineup, it would be easy to assume that the Roma manager was battening down the hatches, expecting a Porto offensive onslaught. On the flip side, such a formation meant that all Porto needed was one goal to throw Di Francesco’s tactical plan into the garbage. Factor in the fact that Roma hasn’t kept a clean sheet in the Champions League knockout rounds in Totti knows how long, and there was reason to be nervous. Was that the right move?

Well, from the outset, one thing that remained true for Roma was that Nicolo Zaniolo was trying his darnedest to drag Roma to glory. Even in the recent 3-0 loss to Lazio, Zaniolo was one of the few bright(ish) spots, and the loud chanting of the home crowd seemed to do nothing to dampen his spirit. The early going at the Estadio do Dragao saw Zaniolo back as a mezzala instead of at right winger, where he seems more comfortable. Unfortunately, insistent defending by the likes of Pepe once again made it harder for the 19-year-old to make an impact, and a yellow card in the fifteenth minute definitely put a damper on his ability to make a difference. Defensive mistakes early on from the likes of Rick Karsdorp certainly gave me pause, but on the whole, Roma seemed to be able to handle what Porto was throwing at her.

Until, of course, Roma happened.

Tiquinho Soares, 26’, Porto 1 - Roma 0 (Aggregate 2-2)

This is an embarrassing one. Soares finds himself in the right spot for Marega’s assist, sliding through the entirety of the Roman defense to tap the goal in. Kostas Manolas in particular stood out to me as one of the key causes for this goal, perhaps making Romanisti question if he would have been much help versus Lazio this past Saturday. In short, this type of play is how Roma’s defensive posture could be exploited, and as a result, Porto was ahead. If nothing changed from this moment, Roma would be eliminated on away goals.

Fortunately, Lady Luck shined on the Giallorossi, with Diego Perotti nabbing his side a penalty.

Daniele De Rossi, 37’, Porto 1 - Roma 1 (Aggregate 2-3)

There’s been quite a lot of questioning of Daniele De Rossi’s continued presence as a key cog in Roma’s midfield lately. Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean he’s the De Rossi of 2006, or 2010, or 2014, or even 2018 again. But Capitano Presente came through in the clutch when it mattered, giving Roma the bit of life she needed to soldier on in the rain against Porto. Add in the fact that De Rossi’s last encounter with Porto in the Europa League went, um, poorly, and this was undoubtedly a sweet goal for both him and Romanisti everywhere. You can tell that from the moment Roma scored, each player’s mood was lifted a bit, and there finally seemed to be some attacking drive in the Giallorossi’s hearts.

Unfortunately, De Rossi had to be substituted out at the half, with Lorenzo Pellegrini taking his place.

Second Half

Jimmy had to take off, so you're actually witnessing history: the first tag-teamed review in CdT history!

With the Dragao in full voice for the second half, you would have thought the fate of Western Civilization was at stake, and once Porto started ratcheting up the pressure the stadium seemed like it was about to burst...and then it did.

Moussa Marega: 52’ Porto 2, Roma 1 (3-3 aggregate)

I...I have no idea what Ivan Marcano was doing there. Perhaps he forgot he's no longer playing for Porto? Maybe he had momentary vertigo and lost his footing, but whatever it was, he left the door wide open for Marega, literally taking a step backwards like he was Jim Halpert and Marega was Michael Scott walking over a koi pond. With such lax defending ahead of him, there wasn't much Robin Olsen could do there, but...uh, he didn't look great either.

And you know what? Running it back and I only just noticed the pathetic excuse for a clearance from Rick Karsdorp, which really precipitated all that followed. Couple that with a similar error from Manolas in the first half and, well, there are your two goals. Unsurprisingly, Karsdorp was hauled right off the next minute for Alessandro Florenzi.

The match would get even more tense as we pushed towards the hour mark, as Pepe and Edin Dzeko traded "blows”, and by "blows” I mean pretending like they were assassinated on a grassy knoll of some sort, resulting in dual yellows.

As the match moved towards the 75th minute, Porto really began to put Roma on the back heel, pushing the ball forward deep into Roma territory, cycling the ball and retaining possession.

To counter the swing in momentum, EDF used his final sub to remove Ivan Marcano for Bryan Cristante, shifting to a 4-3-3 in the process. Ditching Marcano was a wise move, but using your last sub on a holding player in a match that seemed like it was going 120 minutes was a risky move from EDF, particularly with Diego Perotti playing the entire stretch, something he hasn't done since September. {Forgot UEFA instituted the 4th sub in extra time rule this season, my bad.}

Perotti would find his name in lights moments later as Roma capitalized on a horrific turnover by Porto deep in their own third. Perotti corralled the loose ball and cut in from the left and had Nicolo Zaniolo making a PERFECT diagonal run off the ball, completely slipping behind the defense at the far post, and rather than threading it threw, he fucking hoofed it over the crossbar...unreal stuff from Perotti there. If you're a Perotti apologist I suppose you can say the angle to Zaniolo was a bit acute and he just mishit a shot aimed at the upper 90, but I'm not buying it—he didn't even given him a glance.

Roma would find another chance with the clocking ticking towards 90 as Edin Dzeko found space behind the defense but didn't have that last gasp of energy to beat the defense, instead drawing a free kick from roughly 25 yards out. Unfortunately, Kolarov's attempt was easily snuffed out by the Porto wall.

Kolarov would have another half-chance right at the death, working a tidy little overlap with Perotti, but his low cross was deflected away without much effort from Porto.

Deep down you knew this was coming...120 minutes.

Extra Time

Following the World Cup's example, UEFA instituted the fourth substitute in extra time rule for this season's competion. Porto made the first swap with Roma seemingly content to wait just a bit before taking their final shot. However, all that went by the wayside once Lorenzo Pellegrini, himself a second half sub, pulled up lame.

And with Roma needing a goal, they obviously brought on their leading scorer Stephan El Shaarawy....what's that? They didn't? The newly headbanned Patrik Schick was the surprise swap for Pellegrini, shifting Roma into a quasi 4-2-4 in the process.

Formations or not, with so much at stake, why not ride the hot hand? El Shaarawy has been Roma's best and most consistent attacking threat this season, and leaving him riding the pine here was bound to stir up some controversy.

The first 15 minutes of extra time were about what you expected: two teams carefully attacking one another so as not to expose themselves at the back. Extra time rules aren’t perfect, but after a few minutes it inevitably devolves into a stall-for-penalties affair.

Dzeko had a several chances early in the second 15 minute period, putting a header off an Aleksandar Kolarov corner just wide and then, about five minutes later, doing well to shake a defender and cut in but misfiring over the post...and again moments later when Bryan Cristante found him streaking towards the six, but he was closed down just a touch too soon and couldn't really get enough mustard on his chipped attempt, which was pulled off the goal line by the last defender.

Shit really hit the fan in the 116th minute or so when Alessandro Florenzi tugged at the shirt of Telles, prompting a VAR consultation. While Telles would have needed eight-foot long gams to reach the low cross, Florenzi's grabbing and pulling of Telles was a) completely unnecessary and b) clear as day.

Another absolutely inexcusable error from Roma, and at the worst possible time.

Things got even crazier during stoppage time as Marega tripped up Schick at the literal edge of the 18-yard-box prompting another VAR consultation, one that was ultimately waived off by the ref.

And thanks to the time allotted for those reviews, the two minutes of stoppage time became almost four-and-a-half minutes on top of the 120 that preceded it, and at roughly the four minute and twenty nine second mark of that stoppage time, Roma very nearly had a look at goal, but a headed attempt at the corner just wasn't good enough to break Porto's back line.

And just like that, Roma's Champions League campaign is done and dusted.

Conclusions

I try not to curse too much in these spaces, but fucking hell, I have no idea what to say or how to wrap up what we just saw. Shoddy defending, questionable subs, poor finishing and even worse fitness—the total Roma package was on full display tonight.

While EDF's fate will be determined in the coming hours—if indeed that ultimatum was true—one thing is clear: This team needs a dramatic overhaul. From top to bottom something is just not right with this current vision of Roma, and while another summer of upheaval is probably the last thing you want see, it may be necessary.

Under-performing and overpaid players, out matched coaches, and overworked physio tables have plagued Roma since the American takeover, and quite frankly show no signs of abating.

With 12 matches remaining, James Pallotta finds himself in quite a quagmire: stick with EDF and hope he can somehow scrape out a fourth place finish or remove him now and hope a new voice can spark a sudden surge in this slugglish squad. It's a gamble either way as the new manager would have precious little time to turn things around but nothing in EDF's recent tenure shows he can pull Roma out of this funk.

Either way Roma are, as always, on the precipice of disaster.