Throughout his first season at Roma, Paulo Fonseca has had his man management skills tested by the club's spate of injuries and intermittent suspension issues, but today's match against the Genoa Cricket and Football Club really put those skills to the test. With both his starting full-backs suspended and a laundry list of injured players to long to recount, the man from Mozambique really had to mine the depths of his squad list today.
Without Aleksandar Kolarov and Alessandro Florenzi at his disposal, and with a razor thin bench, Fonseca's starting XI really had to pull their weight this evening, starting with the awkward return of Leonardo Spinazzola, who was cast into the starting lineup some 48 hours after being sold to Inter Milan, only to return when Roma refused Inter's extra demands.
Spinazzola was joined by Davide Santon on the opposite flank, while Monchi's dream pairing of Cengiz Ünder and Justin Kluivert manned the forward spots, flanking Edin Dzeko in the middle. Outside of that, the starting lineup was the usual cast of characters.
Short manned or not, Fonseca's tinkering paid immediate dividends.
Cengiz Ünder: 5th Minute (Genoa 0, Roma 1)
Milli oyuncumuz Cengiz Ünder deplasmanda Genoa karşısında golü buldu.— Anlık Goller (@goller_k) January 19, 2020
10. Dakikası oynanan maçta Genoa 0-1 Roma pic.twitter.com/zbNRRMW5oY
I'm not sure if a guy who's played so infrequently lately can have a patented move, but we've seen this spell from Ünder before. Cutting in from the right, Ünder unleashed a dipping effort with this left foot, and while we'll never know if it was a shot or pass attempt, Ünder's perfectly dipping ball beat Mattia Perin at the far post, giving Roma an early lead.
The ensuing 20 minutes were mad capped, as Roma were out for blood, playing fast, tight and succinct attacking football. With Lorenzo Pellegrini driving play through the middle, Kluivert probing empty spaces all over the final third and Ünder doing his thing on the right, Roma were putting on a clinic and very nearly doubled their lead in the 15th minute when Edin Dzeko's well-struck header was easily saved by Perin.
The fierce pace of this match slowed down as we crept towards the half-hour mark, but Roma's off the ball play was a site to behold. Kluivert and Ünder were changing positions and darting into diagonal spaces in the final third, Spinazzola was driving forward while Jordan Veretout and Amadou Diawara kept possession alive over and over and over again.
And just when it seemed like Roma would leave the pitch with a comfortable one-nil lead at half-time, things got interesting. With Spinazzola driving in from the left flank, he spotted Dzeko shadowing his run through the middle and played in a perfect low cross towards the Bosnian Batistuta, one that was deflected by Genoa captain Davide Biraschi and ultimately squeaked past Perin, giving Roma an unplanned but welcomed 2-0 lead.
So, Roma waltzed into the dressing room with a 2-0 lead, right?...If only.
Goran Pandev: 45th Minute (Genoa 1, Roma 2)
With only seconds remaining on the clock, Genoa played a speculative long ball over nearly half the pitch. It was about as desperate as they come but no one told that to Goran Pandev, who, at 36-years-old, beat Davide Santon down the pitch and somehow poked it past the charging Pau Lopez.
Full marks to Pandev for not giving up until he heard the whistle, but this was inexcusable from Santon.
Seemingly invigorated by Pandev's last minute heroics, Genoa came out flying in the second half, putting together several quick moves and nearly leveling the match just shy of the hour mark, only to be denied by a spectacular diving/stretch save from Pau Lopez, who plucked Goldaniga's shot out of the upper left hand corner of the goal. A quarter of the way through the second frame and Genoa were definitely the dominant side.
The pattern continued as the match marched towards the 70th minute. Pandev and Stefano Sturaro were causing headaches for Roma throughout the second half, exploiting Santon nearly every chance they had. Fortunately for Roma, Lopez was spot on, denying the Grifone twice more before the 70th minute.
Fonseca's first change would come in the 73rd minute when he brought on Bryan Cristante for Veretout, who was looking a bit fatigued by this point in the match.
Roma would finally stem the Genoa tide in the 74th minute thanks to a bit of heavy pressing in Genoa's area. With Mattia Perin settling a ball in the penalty area, Edin Dzeko quickly closed ground on him and in his haste to clear the ball Perin slipped, leaving the ball on a platter for Lorenzo Pellegrini. Roma's number seven took a quick touch at the edge of the area before laying it off to Dzeko on the left, who beat Perin with ease.
Both clubs would make late changes, but Dzeko's goal was enough to make them immaterial as Roma successfully halted a two-match league losing streak.
For all the hoopla surrounding the failed Matteo Politano transfer, we may have lost sight of the fact that Roma possess two of the most athletic and potentially dynamic young wings in the game. While they didn't necessarily stuff the stat sheet (Cengiz's goal notwithstanding) Ünder and Kluivert made full use of their physical gifts today, making mincemeat of Genoa's full-backs. If they wanted to make a last man run on a Pellegrini through ball, they could. If they wanted to make diagonal runs into the middle, they could. If they wanted to drive deep into the final third, cut back and have a pop on goal, they could.
Roma will need added depth out wide, particularly if Henrikh Mkhitrayan remains injured, but Ünder and Kluivert have more than enough talent to worry any defense in the league. All is not lost without Nicolo Zaniolo.
Fonseca's men relented a bit to start the second half, but for the most part they were the dominant side. Smalling and Mancini were solid at the back, the midfield recycled possession all evening and Pau Lopez turned in arguably his best match in a Roma shirt.
Roma face Juventus on the road in Wednesday's Coppa Italia Quarterfinal.
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