If you've ever wondered how we get our match reviews up so quickly, it’s simply because we write while we watch. And while this can rob us of a bit of perspective, it does (if nothing else) capture the mood of the moment, good, bad or indifferent. However, I'll be honest with you, I couldn't do that this time. The first 70 minutes or so of this match were so dreadful to watch, you would have though this was the most tense/awkward biscotto in Serie A history, only neither side stood to benefit from a draw; that lack of conviction makes capturing the tenor of a match damn-near impossible.
Plus, we haven't even mentioned the Ranieri effect; one simply never knows who he'll play or how he'll approach a given match until its practically too late. And today, Ranieri continued his tinkering ways, opting for another 4-2-3-1, pairing Patrick Schick, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Justin Kluivert and Nicolo Zaniolo in an awkward yet incredibly intriguing attacking quartet.
Zaniolo hasn't been entirely convincing as a right winger/forward this season, ditto for Schick as a lone forward, but getting those four on the pitch simultaneously could have been a stroke of genius, but as it was, Sampdoria's game plan rendered Ranieri's own tinkering moot; they were able to dictate when and where Roma played the ball for large swaths of this match, particularly in the first half.
Fortunately for Roma, things were much more lucid at the back end. With the return of Kostas Manolas, Roma's back-line looked active and engaged, snuffing out Sampdoria's attacks left, right and center. There were a few nervy moments from Fabio Quagliarella, but by and large Manolas, Fazio, Karsdorp and Kolarov were up to the task tonight, while Antonio Mirante made a couple of stellar saves.
Still, the first 70 minutes of this match were incredibly frustrating for both sides and this one seemed destined to end up a boring, lifeless nil-nil draw. Ranieri didn't do himself any favors with his second half substitutions either, swapping out Lorenzo Pellegrini for Edin Dzeko midway through the second half forced Schick into a quasi-trequartista role, a position in which he should never really play, while Dzeko was his usual 2019 self; there but not really there.
Roma needed this match...needed it, so what you're about to witness could only have come from one man.
Daniele De Rossi: 75th Minute Match Winner
Leave it to the captain to bail out Roma at the most opportune time. With the match careening towards a frustrating goalless draw, Roma were given a corner in the 75th minute. With Kolarov's out-swinging effort meeting Patrik Schick at the edge of the area, Roma's #14 just gave it a simple flick on towards the far post, but it was good enough to skirt past the Samp keeper where a wide open De Rossi was waiting to guide the ball home with a simple thrust of his pelvis—one might even say he impregnated the goal. I wouldn't but one might.
It's somewhat fitting Roma scored such an odd and unexpected goal, as literally nothing was working the run of play through the first 3⁄4 of the match. Roma seemed intent to work the ball down the middle, but thanks to Sampdoria congesting that area of the pitch and forcing them out wide, Roma had little recourse beyond crosses from Nicolo Zaniolo (who did play a beauty to Pellegrini in the first half) or cut-ins from Kluivert (who had a chance to score a mirror image of his famous late week Trigoria goal), who more often than not was met with great resistance. And when that didn't work it was long ball time, for both teams—if you like kick and run football, this match was right up your alley.
Point being, Sampdoria's tactical approach, at least defensively, was practically perfect for much of the match, denying Roma any real effective space, but as he's done so many times during his brief tenure with Roma, Kolarov was a set piece savior.
Sampdoria, as one would expect, came rushing right back at Roma following that goal, but really saved their best flourish for the final five minutes of the match. With mere seconds remaining on the clock, Gregoire Defrel got behind the Roma defense on the right flank, and with a direct albeit acute angle on the goal, Defrel opted to play the ball across the face of goal rather than shoot. Seemingly caught off guard by Defrel's deference, Quagliarella was a half-step too late and the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds.
It was a nervy ending to what was otherwise a rather inert match, but thanks to De Rossi's presence of mind Roma walked away winners.
Like I said at the outset, you can't really glean much from matches like these, but this is precisely what Ranieri was hired to do—win. Whether by hook or crook, Roma simply needs to amass as many points as possible before the shades are drawn on this season. He doesn't have to play pretty football, he doesn't have to turn borderline players into superstars, he just has to win. Plain and simple.
Today's match was rough to watch, but Ranieri's defense was rock solid and two of his most experienced players showed up when it mattered most, and thanks to Juventus’ victory over AC Milan earlier today, Roma are now just one point behind the Rossoneri, whose grasp on fourth place is looking incredibly tenuous now.
With no more midweek matches on the docket and some lightweights on their schedule, and hopefully an already crowned champions Juve on May 12th, the fates look like they might be kind to Roma.