The Serie A table is always full of surprises this time of the year. With only three matchdays under their collective belts, the pretenders haven't yet been separated from the contenders, while the Cinderellas have yet to lose their proverbial slippers. Roma could fall anywhere on that spectrum, while Bologna will likely fall somewhere in the middle of the pack, but after 270 minutes of league action, both sides have produced some free flowing football, amassing 14 goals between them.
So, considering all that, this was an end-to-end track meet, right?
Thanks to a somewhat sodden pitch and Bologna's compact defense, this match was far from fast and loose. Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic gave his side a pre-match talk from his hospital bed (where he's undergoing leukemia treatment), and given how they effectively throttled Roma's vaunted attack through much of this match, we can only presume his instructions were to lock down the center of the park.
With Bologna's defense essentially removing the middle channel, Roma were forced to work it out wide through Aleksandar Kolarov, who, to be fair, was serving up some delicious crosses across the face of goal today, but Bologna was there—ready, willing and able—to snuff them out.
And that was really the story of the first half. Roma had a few nice interchanges, including an end-to-end one from Pau Lopez, Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini, but by and large they simply couldn't break down the Bologna back line. Fortunately, Bologna were just as poor in attack: the first half produce maybe...maybe...one clear cut chance between the two sides.
It was an ugly and stilted first half of football, one that nearly muted the crowd in Bologna.
Things picked up a bit in the second frame. Paulo Fonseca made one early change, swapping Justin Kluivert off for Nicolo Zaniolo, but the run of play was still severely restricted.
However, as he's done so often in his Roma tenure, Kolarov came through in the clutch.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 49th Minute (Bologna 0, Roma 1)
We've seen him do this for a couple years now, but it never gets old, does it? Just another beautifully struck ball from Kolarov to give Roma a lead early in the second half. You hate to rely on set-pieces, but Kolarov is just so good at them.
Unfortunately that lead would last all of 300 seconds as Nicola Sansone converted a penalty in the 54th minute to level the match.
Fonseca would make his second change in the 70th minute, bringing on Leonardo Spinazzola for Florenzi; a pattern we'll likely see numerous times this season, though I hope Fonseca finds some chance to rest Kolarov this season.
Roma would have a couple mini-chances towards the 75th minute, but none better than a Dzeko-Spinazzola sequence at the edge of the 18, with Spinazzola finding the Bosnian Batistuta on the edge of the 18, but Dzeko's left-footed finesse attempt sailed wide of the mark.
Things would take a turn for the worse in the 85th minute when Gianluca Mancini collided with Federico Santander, drawing a red card from the official. It didn't look completely deliberate, but Mancini's arm was extended and made contact with Santander's head. Not the rashest of challenges we've ever seen, but ill-timed nonetheless.
Fonseca would counter by bringing on Juan Jesus for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to shore up the defense. Fortunately, Santander's free kick was immediately blocked by Roma's wall, averting further danger.
Still, a man down with five plus minutes to play, Roma were up against it, and while they would earn a dangerous free kick of their own, the match ended just as it started: with a whimper*
I'm going to leave that up—I wrote it at roughly the 92:59 mark—to show just how quickly a game can change.
In the literal dying moments of the match—we're talking maybe one or two seconds left—Roma pulled off a miracle.
Edin Dzeko: 94th minute (Bologna 1, Roma 2)
DZEKOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! THE WINNER! MADONNA MIA!— RomaPress (@ASRomaPress) September 22, 2019
Top marks to Jordan Veretout here; he drove this ball some 40 yards down the pitch, never relenting or assuming the whistle would blow, before finding Pellegrini on the right hand side of the pitch. And while it seemed like Pellegrini was oblivious to the time, his cross to Dzeko was delivered right at the death, leaving Dzeko with an easy header.
But, wow, what an incredible ending. I don't think we've ever seen anything quite like that before, have we? This match was dead...and I mean dead...but Veretout played to the final whistle, and without his effort Roma wouldn't have even had the chance to win this one. Remarkable.
What Went Right
Well, their effort for starters. I can ramble on about any number of things, but those final few seconds tells you all you need to know about Roma: Year Zero—the belief is building. This was a dreadfully slow and boring match, but they kept at it, pressing and pressing through the final 10 minutes or so, and thanks to Veretout's never say day attitude, they ran away with three points.
We should also make special mention of Kolarov, who was Roma's only real mover through much of this match. Set piece specialists age well, and Kolarov is certainly making a case for Roma extending his deal.
What Went Wrong
Nothing, really. Roma were dreadfully boring to watch through much of this match, but we have to credit Bologna's defensive set up for that; there was nothing Roma did wrong in the strictest sense, Bologna just drew up the perfect game plan.
A home match against Atalanta on September 25th.