Friday's playoff quarter final kicked off with a welcome sight: Devid Bouah returned to the Roma bench after spending 2019 recovering from his ACL injury. Roma welcomed Chievo to the Enzo Ricci stadium in Modena, both teams playing for the right to meet Inter Milan in the next round.
Roma knew a win or draw was good enough to advance, thanks to their higher league finish (3rd place) in the regular season. That was exactly how 4th-placed Torino won the other quarter final, yesterday, in a 2-2 draw against 5th placed Fiorentina.
Alberto De Rossi knew he’d have to go without top scorer Zan Celar as the Slovenian was called away on international duty (though I saw some sites list him on the bench). January arrival Felipe Estrella stepped in to lead the line, while ADR only sprung one surprise with the rest of the starting lineup.
The coach is searching for his fourth Scudetto title at this level, and he moved Alessio Riccardi back into a 3-man midfield while Ludovico d’Orazio took the right wing spot where he’s sparkled for large stretches of the season.
It would prove to be a great decision by the end of this game.
Unfortunately for me and anyone watching on the web, it took the first 13 minutes of the match for SportItalia to get their livestream working properly. Apparently the game was also live on the club’s social media feeds.
The opening half hour of this match saw Chievo controlling the ball, keeping Roma pegged back inside their half. Chievo were more lively, first to almost every ball and constantly pressuring Roma all over the pitch.
Roma were slow to realise they’d either have to turn this match into a possession game on the ground, or move faster all-round to beat Chievo’s offside traps. Meanwhile, Roma’s midfield 3 of Salvatore Pezzella, Freddi Greco and Riccardi were playing far too flat, making it easy for Chievo to beat Roma’s first line of defence by slicing through them.
22nd Minute: Roma 0-1 Chievo (Felice d’Amico)
The pressure from Chievo eventually paid off as their forward Juwara was found free on the ball down Roma’s left channel. Roma left-back Francesco Semeraro held Juwara by closing him down, but could do nothing about Roma left-winger Gianmarco Cangiano being late to track back and leaving Semeraro outnumbered.
All Juwara needed was to wait for right-back Pavlev on the overlap, who gladly ran the ball further up Roma’s right side before sliding a cross into the box. William Bianda left himself flat-footed as he failed to cut out the danger, and Chievo’s number 10 Felice d’Amico didn’t hesitate with the point-blank finish. 1-0 Chievo.
Perhaps the funniest part of this goal was Chievo’s assist-man Pavlev looking for some acknowledgement from scorer d’Amico. The number 10 managed to hug the entire Chievo bench, coaching staff and teammates before finally noticing Pavlev in their celebrations.
But Alberto De Rossi was not amused.
The away side were firmly on top while Roma faces looked around helpless. The word from the touchline was De Rossi shouting instructions at his troops, unhappy at how unresponsive they all looked to his suggestions. It took another 10 minutes before Roma really got a foothold in this game.
36 minutes into the match and the change of approach started to tell.
Roma became more compact as a team, ready to support each other in building up possession from deep-midfield into Chievo’s half. The Giallorossi started to find Pezzella with time and space on the ball many times, who himself would fire a couple of balls into Chievo’s box that landed straight at the keeper.
Despite Roma struggling for that final touch inside Chievo’s box, Alberto De Rossi was much happier by the closing of the half. The audible from the touchline could be heard: “Better! This is better!”
Yes, Roma had been beaten and knocked down the ground for the majority of this half. Chievo were deservedly in the lead. But the momentum was with Roma by half-time. More of this in the second 45, and they’d be in business.
Alberto De Rossi’s half-time sub changed the complexion of the match here: Ebrima Darboe replaced Jean Freddi Greco, who was largely a passenger for the opening 45 of this match.
Darboe relieved Pezzella of the deep playmaker role, allowing Pezzella to push further upfield. But Darboe has - and we’ve said this a couple of times this season already - been a true revelation since January while his performance today was no exception to his stellar form.
Darboe has gone from landing in the country as a refugee last year, to coming off the bench in a quarter-final knockout game and injecting some much needed pace into Roma’s passing game. Darboe was playing 1-2s to bring in the short, fast possession that the Giallorossi needed to keep control of the ball, move Chievo around and help Roma move themselves up the pitch in the second half.
It was beautiful stuff from Darboe and his teammates.
Roma spent the opening firmly camped inside Chievo’s final third, and it was only a matter of time before the comeback was made official on the scoreboard.
51st Minute: Roma 1-1 Chievo (Felipe Estrella)
It was none other than Darboe to pick up the ball in Chievo’s half and spray it out wide to d’Orazio here; the Roma wide man chested it down with sublime control before doing a 180 on the ball and curling a cross to the far post.
Opposite winger Cangiano headed the ball against a Chievo defender before Cangiano got a second bite at the rebound, heading it across Chievo’s stranded keeper to striker Estrella free at point blank range. Estrella couldn’t miss with his headed equalizer.
The next ten minutes were all Roma.
They were moving the ball around so fast that Chievo looked tired from keeping up with the Giallorossi attacks down the left, right and through the middle. But Roma were also camped that far up the pitch that one error would have left them vulnerable on the counter.
Sure enough, that error in possession came from Pezzella.
The Roma playmaker gave away the ball to leave Chievo in a 3-on-3 situation on Stefano Greco’s goal, on the hour, and it took an impressive last-man save from Greco to tip it over the bar and keep Roma on level terms. Alberto De Rossi lost his temper with Pezzella, shouting at the kid from the touchline that he “cannot make that mistake.”
And a glimpse was all Chievo needed to get back on top.
59th Minute: Roma 1-2 Chievo (Pietro Rovaglia)
Bianda successfully defended against Chievo pressure to put it out for a corner and buy his team some time., but Roma’s man marking on corners never looked convincing all afternoon.
The Giallorossi were far too casual as they left a Chievo man to win a free header in the box, slamming the underside of Stefano Greco’s bar as Pietro Rovaglia - meant to be marked by Bianda - was left free to head in the rebound and put Chievo back on course for that semi-final spot.
Yet that lead wouldn’t last long. Roma weren’t ready for their season to end.
63rd Minute: Roma 2-2 Chievo (Felipe Estrella)
Estrella may have collected the brace of point-blank finishes today, but the story of the second half was Roma doing a much better job of freeing Ludovico d’Orazio down Roma’s right wing.
The Roma wide man has the kind of motor to keep going in games through thick and thin, and his presence in the starting lineup is needed during these crunch knockout ties. I’ve seen d’Orazio hold the team together through games where Roma’s backs were firmly against the wall this season. Unlike opposite man Cangiano (later substituted), d’Orazio does not let his head drop.
Today, d’Orazio was constantly using the time and space to slide in low cross after low cross that put it on a plate for Estrella here. The striker actually needed two tries at tucking this one away, after his first point-black finish was questionably kept out by Chievo’s keeper. But Estrella made no mistake with the rebound. 2-2 and Roma had the result they needed to advance.
The rest of the match was a story of substitutions and full-blown arguments erupting across both benches, as the game’s fourth official had his hands full with keeping both dugouts calm. Chievo were upset about a ball-to-hand call off substitute Daniele Trasciani’s arm; it was one they felt should have resulted in a penalty awarded inside Roma’s box... but no dice (and the right call).
3-4 Roma players had gone down with cramp in the final five minutes of this match, but Chievo’s Juwara was by far the most animated at full time. He looked to pick a fight with the referee over the lack of stoppage time played for Chievo, and was left inconsolable as he collapsed to the ground in tears while Roma advanced to the semi finals.
Roma know that they’ve put all 3 other remaining teams to the sword at least once this season, though their last game against Inter Milan finished 3-1 in favour of the Nerazzurri. Let’s see if Roma can put that right on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Poland...
Luca Pellegrini Stars in U-20 World Cup Quarter Final Win
Pellegrini’s U-20 Italy team kicked off their own World Cup quarter final at the exact same time as the Primavera game.
Luca Pellegrini took to the field as a box-to-box midfielder for the Azzurini and collected the second-highest match rating behind Italy’s star striker and goal-getter Andrea Pinamonti. Boy, would his signing be welcome in Rome for next season. Not to mention midfield goalscorer Davide Frattesi, on whom Roma still have a buyback option.
SportNews described Luca Pellegrini’s performance as one where “he played well all over the pitch, and Roma would do well to hold him close.”
Pellegrini’s Italy will again play on the same day as Roma Primavera; the Azzurini face Ukraine in the U-20 World Cup semis on Tuesday. The future is looking bright for Roma’s next generation.