Regardless of what one thinks of the Coppa Italia, with two-straight losses under the belts, Roma were in desperate need of a victory. With their attack failing them against Torino and Juventus in recent weeks, losing Nicolo Zaniolo for the year, and getting jerked around by Inter Milan on the transfer market, the Romaverse was in dire need of some positive news.
Under normal circumstances, we would expect Parma to be willing participants in a Roma victory, but the Crusaders got the better of the Giallorossi in the fall, sending Roma home 2-0 losers at the Tardini—one of only two league defeats for Roma in the fall—so Roma didn't have the luxury of assumptions this evening.
With his side needing a win to prevent a three-match losing skid, Fonseca stuck with his normal starting lineup, save for the absent Edin Dzeko, who was replaced by the seldom seen Nikola Kalinic.
Throughout the first half of the season, we've seen pretty much every wrinkle of Fonseca Football, from the high-flying three or four-nil victories to the five or six goal thrillers to the surprising one-nil wins. Through it all, Paulo Fonseca has proven to be a master of adaptation, making subtle and significant changes to keep Roma ahead of the competition, but 2020 has not been so kind or so forgiving to Roma.
Against Torino, Roma dominated possession to the tune of 31 attempts on goal but wasted nearly every single attempt en route to a shocking two-nil defeat, and while they recovered nicely in the second half against Juventus, they weren't able to overcome an early deficit against the Old Lady, who grabbed a two goal lead after only 10 minutes. In each instance, Roma's trademark efficiency and precision were left wanting, as the Giallorossi squandered chance after chance and their passes into final third were always seemingly a hair off.
To combat this, Fonseca made a subtle change to his usual shape, morphing Roma into a de facto 3-5-1-1 formation, with Bryan Cristante dropping in between Mancini and Chris Smalling at the back, though the Englishman found ample opportunities to stroll up the left flank, even working a few overlaps with Kolarov in the process.
It was an interesting tweak, but through the first 45 minutes of their Round of 16 match against Parma, they pretty much stuck to their 2020 script: lots of possession and very little to show for it. Without Dzeko to serve as focal point, or even as a distraction, Roma's attack struggled to create any genuine chances, with an errant Gianluca Mancini header off a Kolarov free-kick serving as the only real clear cut chance to that point.
Coming out for the second half, it didn't take long for Roma to find their breakthrough, with Lorenzo Pellegrini and Kalinic playing a beautiful give and go in the area to break open this match. Pellegrini played the initial pass to Kalinic at the edge of the six, with the Croatian quickly giving it back to Pellegrini, who beat the keeper at the far post.
Then this happened...
January 16, 2020
Italian football is no stranger to absurdities, but in all my years covering Roma I'm not sure I've ever seen this—the sprinklers randomly shot off in the 50th minute, halting play for roughly two minutes.
Roma would soldier on for the next 20 minutes or so, generally running the show over the home side, and would double their lead in the 76th minute. Following a handball from Antonio Barillia, Pellegrini converted the penalty with Perotti-like precision, putting this match to bed and book Roma's ticket to the quarterfinals, where they will face Juventus.
Despite their lack of chances in the first half, Roma looked sharper and quicker than they have the past two weeks. Cengiz Ünder didn't factor on the score sheet tonight, but his effort should provide some solace for your post-Zaniolo anxieties; Ünder was quick up and down the flank, he split the Parma defense with a couple of beautiful through balls and was generally able to waltz past any defender as he pleased. None of them are as singularly talented as Zaniolo, but between Ünder, Kluivert and eventually Mkhitaryan and hopefully Matteo Politano, Roma's wings should be just fine.
Elsewhere on the pitch, we should give a quick shout out to Nikola Kalinic, who saw his first real bit of action in a Roma shirt. Granted, his only real attempt on goal was straight at the keeper, but Kalinic did some otherwise fantastic work in the final third, setting up Pellegrini's first goal and providing a focal point for Roma's wide players deep in Parma territory.
Things won't get any easier in the quarterfinals against Juventus, but in the grand scheme of things, this was exactly what Roma needed right now—a no-doubt victory.
Roma run it back on Sunday when they travel to Genoa.