With injuries and suspensions once again ravaging his squad, Claudio Ranieri knew he'd have to do a bit of adjusting ahead of today's match against Udinese, but he probably didn't count on contending with a deluge from the heavens. While the match was decidedly overcast at kickoff, midway through the first half the clouds began to weep, making the pitch a sodden mess, slowing the pace of play to a crawl late in the first half.
Weather conditions aside, with Aleksandar Kolarov suspended and Alessandro Florenzi a late scratch from the starting lineup, Ranieri had no other option that to roll with four central defenders—Ivan Marcano, Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus—as the foundation of his 4-4-2, which was odd because in the buildup to the match he said that's exactly how Udinese wanted them to play.
EDF or Ranieri, Roma seems hell bent on continually misusing Patrik Schick, forcing him into yet another awkward striker partnership with Edin Dzeko; a relationship that doesn't seem to benefit either man, and with Nicolo Zaniolo awkwardly jammed in at right wing, those two strikers were suffering for chances early in this match.
And in a delicious piece of irony, perhaps the half's best chance came when Stephan El Shaarawy did play a genuinely great cross from left to right...to Zaniolo. The Kid was just a step off and couldn't quite get his foot to the ball, but Roma would manage a couple other tasty chances in the first half, one of which came from an extremely unlikely source, Ivan Marcano.
The somewhat maligned Spanish defender found himself in prime real estate late in the first half, on the receiving end of an out-swinging right-to-left cross, Marcano did a splendid job picking it out of the air, striking it with force and precision, forcing Juan Musso into a desperate parried save.
But that would really be all she wrote for the first half; the rain simply became too much of a draining factor on both offenses, with the ball frequently dying in the grass.
Sensing some disfluency from his attacking setup, Ranieri brought on his fellow Romans, Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini, to start the second half, pulling off Schick and Juan Jesus in the process. Rruan was solid enough, but only 45 minutes for Schick is a damning indictment of Ranieri's presumably waning faith in him.
Florenzi would nearly factor in Roma's downfall shortly after coming on, as Stefano Okaka skied over him at the far post, forcing Antonio Mirante into an awkward and extremely close save; Mirante had dropped to his knees and just barely got to the ball—it would have been a garbage goal for sure, but one that could have broken Roma at this critical juncture in the match.
Mirante would make yet another critical save in the 57th minute when he lept up and out to stop a looping cross/shot from D’Alessandro. Of course, since this is Roma, he very nearly blew the match a minute later thanks to some hesitation/poor positioning on another looping cross from D’Alessandro, though he was aided in his ignorance from some poor marking from Bryan Cristante, who was beaten to the spot by Sebastien De Maio.
Cristante would make his name known again (in a bad way) in the 60th minute when he flubbed a beautiful free kick from Pellegrini. This one had the perfect weight and placement, but Cristante's form and technique on the header were woeful. Given the sloppy conditions, setpieces were really either sides greatest weapon, so wasting a surefire one like that was damaging.
Roma would create another chance in the 65th minute when Florenzi fed Dzeko with an in-swinging cross, one which Dzeko actually hit remarkably well, but Musso was once again up to the task. Can't fault either party here, Musso just had it read perfectly.
Dzeko would make some noise minutes later, taking a BEAUTIFUL chip from El Shaarawy at the edge of the 18, beating Musso easy as you like.
Edin Dzeko: 68th Minute (Roma 1, Udinese 0)
This was just the perfect pass from SES, catching Dzeko in stride right in no man's land between the 18 and the 6; right past Musso's point of no return. Simply sensational from start to finish, and for Dzeko, it was his first goal at the Olimpico this season, and in fact his first at home since April of 2018.
De Rossi was actually injured moments before El Shaarawy setup Dzeko, forcing Ranieri into an awkward 68th minute change, bringing on Cengiz Ünder for Il Capitano.
With the one-goal advantage, Ranieri opted to set up a rather low block, absorbing Udinese pressure rather than pressing the issue in the other end. It was perhaps a bit too early to do so, but with Ünder and El Shaarawy on the pitch, Roma at least had the option/threat of a counter attack.
Despite the ill-timed injury to De Rossi, Ranieri's patchwork squad held firm through the final quarter of the match, even mounting several credible threats on Musso's goal, with Ünder leading the way multiple times only to come up wanting; you can just tell his timing and chemistry are off given all the injuries, but his athleticism was on full display this evening.
In the end, Dzeko's first home goal in over a year was enough to give Roma three more essential points in their quest to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Much like last week's 1-0 victory, the end result is literally all that matters. The match was sloppy in many respects, figurative and literal, but these three points put Roma back into fourth place (for a few hours at least) and should be quite the boost to their collective confidence.
Without their starting fullbacks, Roma were still able to pitch a shutout thanks to some impressive play from Marcano, Fazio, Manolas and Mirante. If nothing else, this managerial change has brought out the best in Roma's defense, as they've kept a cleansheet in consecutive league matches for the first time this season.
And, if we're being honest with ourselves, this match could have easily been 3-0, so I apologize for glossing over the attack. Had Zaniolo caught up to El Shaarawy's first half cross, or if Cristante put good wood to Pellegrini's free kick, this could have been a laugher rather than a taut, one-goal affair.
So, while they weren't glaringly obvious, these past two matches have been signs of progress for Roma. However, things won't get any easier next week when they face Inter Milan on the 20th.
In the meantime, let's all cross our fingers and hope De Rossi's muscular injury isn't too serious.