Fresh off a frustrating two-nil defeat to Atalanta earlier in the week, today's match was seemingly served up on a platter for Roma. Needing three points, the Giallorossi made the trek south to Apulia to take on lowly Lecce. The newly promoted side was doing well enough sitting in 14th place, but Serie A's other Lupi squad hasn't exactly mastered the art of defense this season, conceding 11 goals in only five matches. And while Roma’s defensive record isn't much better, they've been pretty prolific at the other end, scoring 10 goals over that same span. Given that gulf in class, Edin Dzeko and company had to be licking their lips ahead of this match.
Well, let's hope they had chapstick on hand, because this match was no goal fest. Starting with a blatantly missed (or ignored) handball from Lecce, Roma found offense hard to come by this afternoon. With the home side remaining compact and well organized, Roma did very little with their near 70% possession in the first half, mustering only seven shots compared to Lecce's ten.
Both Aleksandar Kolarov and Justin Kluivert were getting up and down the flanks with complete ease, but when they'd check the ball back in to Lorenzo Pellegrini or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Roma's fluid attack was quickly wiped out by the collapsing Lecce defense.
And so it went for nearly the entirety of the match, and while things opened up a bit in the second frame, Roma would only manage on moment of magic.
Edin Dzeko: 56th Minute (Lecce 0, Roma 1)
This was one of the odder sequences we've seen this season. The run of play took so long that Dzeko was literally standing and waiting for the cross; you can see how he's getting himself locked and loaded, ready to snap the header. At the same time, Lecce's keeper, Gabriel, took advantage of that slow passage of play to put himself in prime position to make a save, yet for some reason he met the ball behind the line, leaving his arms at his side, not even attempting to punch it away.
And that was really the only moment that mattered. Roma (finally) won a handball call in the second half, but Kolarov's attempt to pick out the low corner on the subsequent penalty was thwarted by Gabriel, leaving the score line and one-nil for Roma.
The Giallorossi could have padded their lead in stoppage time when Nicolo Zaniolo blew bast the Lecce defense down the left flank but he (for some reason) ignored a WIDE OPEN Kluivert on the opposite side; a simple square ball would have resulted in a gimme goal from Kluivert, but Zaniolo continued his run towards the near post, eventually losing possession altogether. Roma were fortunate enough it didn't matter, but with six added minutes that lack of awareness could have been damning.
Roma kicked things up a bit in the second half, but this was far from a resounding victory.
What Went Right
Edin Dzeko at Your Service
It wasn't the best performance he's ever turned it, but Edin Dzeko put two of three shots on target, managed one key pass and was right there when Roma needed him, putting enough mustard on his header to fool Gabriel, securing three crucial points for Roma. He’ll likely always have his detractors, but when his career is done and dusted, he'll be among the best strikers the club has ever seen.
Roma's New Defensive Pairing
Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini are at drastically different points in their careers, but today they looked like they'd been playing together for years. With their collective size and speed, you knew they'd be an upgrade on Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus on appearance alone, but they were everywhere today, taking a combined 180 touches of the ball, completing well over 90% of their passes. But the work they did behind the ball was remarkable, teaming up for six tackles, four interceptions, nine clearances and four blocked shots.
Granted, this was against Lecce, but Fonseca's offensive approach requires nimble and active center backs, and if Mancini and Smalling can do this every week, the backline should bend but not break.
What Went Wrong
“It” Just Wasn't There
Whatever you ascribe the magic of Fonseca Football to just wasn’t there today. Whether it was Jordan Veretout's misplaced passes, the shoddy link-up between Kluivert, Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Pellegrini or the fact that Pau Lopez was wearing the wrong kit, there was no room for the Holy Ghost in Roma's attack today.
But I suppose when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Fonseca's football is at its best when the midfield and forwards are moving the ball quickly and acting decisively in the final third, but when even one scintilla of that equation is off, the whole math falls apart.
Until everyone is fit and he settles on an A-lineup, I'm not sure how he turns it around, but today we should be thankful it was only Lecce because this sort of performance won't cut it against most sides.
Europa League action against Wolfsberger AC on Thursday, followed quickly by another Sunday Serie A fixture against Cagliari on the sixth of October.