Given the current state of the world, home field advantage in football doesn't really mean quite as much as it once did. Even with a smattering of fans at the Stadion Wankdorf this evening, you'd be hard pressed to say that BSC Young Boys had any sort of emotional advantage over AS Roma, but this one instance in which the field itself produced an advantage. Roma may have had a chance to test out Young Boy's artificial surface yesterday, but the Giallorossi had noticeable difficulties navigating the synthetic surface this evening in Bern, doubly so one the heavens opened up and soaked the pitch.
With passes picking up extra acceleration and loose balls gaining a bit of extra bounce, Roma were quite often flummoxed in their buildup play, struggling to string together more than two passes, while their layoffs, flick-ons and give and goes were foiled by the slick surface, frequently speeding past their intended targets.
Making matters worse was Paulo Fonseca's lineup selection. With nine changes from last weekend's 5-2 victory over Benevento, Roma seemed just as uncomfortable with one another as they did with the wet and slick plastic surface. But with a Monday night fixture against first place AC Milan looming, Fonseca really had no other choice, but it certainly wasn't an encouraging performance from Roma's second unit.
Despite all that, Roma still dominated possession in the early phases of this match, holding as much as 61% of the ball in the first half, but all that went for naught. Time and time again, Roma would see their final ball sail wide or simply pick up too much speed to prove useful; all of which was compounded by the lack of a true difference maker in attack. With no Dzeko or Mkhitaryan to bail them out, Fonseca's attack completely stalled.
Under normal circumstances, the pitch and the climatic conditions would conspire to produce a boring 1-1 draw with both sides equally frustrated by the pace of play. However, as is so often the case, matches like these can swing on moments of indecision.
Despite winning the match on the stat sheet, Roma were once again done in by poor tackling in the area. With Young Boys recycling possession at the edge of the 18, Roma were provided a momentary relief when YBs final ball was off the mark, rolling into the area untouched by either club. But rather than rushing to recover the ball and hoof it out of play, Bryan Cristante hesitated for a moment, seemingly trying to turn his back to the attack and shield the ball, but in doing so he clipped the oncoming attacker with his backside, drawing a penalty at the very edge of the area—one that was converted with ease by Jean-Pierre Nsame.
With 30 minutes remaining in the half and Roma plumb out of ideas, they seemed destined for a 1-0 upset. Roma's best and only chance of the half came in the 41st minute when Carles Pérez took the initiative, splitting two defenders at the edge of the area before avoiding a third in the penalty box. It was a brilliant effort from Pérez, but he just couldn't get a clean strike on the ball and pushed it just wide of the post.
It was the lone bright spot in an incredibly frustrating and depressing first half from Roma, who looked uninspired, uninterested and seemingly content to catch the bus back home.
But things would change dramatically in the second half.
Sensing his club's passivity and frustration, Paulo Fonseca made several key changes early in the second half, inserting Leonardo Spinazzola, Edin Dzeko, Jordan Veretout and Lorenzo Pellegrini within the first 15 minutes of the second half. I'd hesitate to call it a stroke of genius—it was basically just common sense—but Fonseca's decision to reinsert several key first team players was instrumental.
Fonseca's game plan was likely to rest as many of his top players ahead of the Milan match as possible, but the complete and utter lack of quality and impactful play coming from his second team forced his hand; Roma were crying out for a bit of patience and, let's be real, a bit of quality.
Young Boys weren't doing anything to win the match of their own accord, and fortunately for us, Fonseca's swaps paid immediate dividends.
Bruno Peres: 69th Minute (Young Boys 1, Roma 1)
Dzeko played the role of creator again, springing Peres down the right flank with a fantastic defense-splitting pass. From there, Peres took a one-time shot, narrowly slipping it past the keeper, while the shot it self seemed to crawl into the back of the net—ironic given how quick the surface had been up to that point. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant ball from Dzeko and a great split-second decision from Peres to tuck it past the keeper.
From that point on, it was clear: Roma were going to win this match. Young Boys had done nothing of note through the first hour of the game and seemed ripe for a takedown, which would come four minutes later.
Max Kumbulla: 73rd Minute (Young Boys 1, Roma 2)
There's not much to dissect here, this was just a wonderful example of how experience and patience can win the day. A less experienced player may have rushed in this moment, but you'll notice Mkhitaryan calmly taking his time—knowing where he was, where the defense was and where Kumbulla was—before gently lofting a cross to the far post, where Marash Kumbulla was waiting virtually unmarked to power home the match winner.
The Giallorossi would continue to dictate terms to Young Boys through the remaining 20 minutes in this match, never really threatening for a third goal but never coming close to conceding a late equalizer either.
While the match ended with a bit of controversy when a Young Boy threw a ball at Peres’ face, Roma held on for nearly six additional minutes to claim all three points.
I'm not sure this is exactly what Fonseca wanted to happen—having to use so many of his nominal starters—but kudos to the Man from Mozambique for doing what needed to be done to win this match. Dzeko, Veretout, Mkhitaryan and Spinazzola were instant upgrades on their replacements and brought the level of quality, intellect and patience Roma so desperately needed at that point in the match.
So, while Roma’s ability to effectively win the match in a span of five minutes was incredibly encouraging, I'm not sure we can be so emboldened by the second unit's performance this evening. Yes, the pitch was unfamiliar and the weather inclement, but without Mkhitaryan or Lorenzo Pellegrini pulling the strings in midfield, Roma's attack was directionless, toothless and ineffective.
The quick passing and transition play we saw last week was replaced by hesitant and passive play from Cristante and Gonzalo Villar, both of whom seemed more focused on retaining possession than doing anything with possession; it was a Zeman nightmare come true. And without Dzeko warping time and space up front, Roma's attack had no focal point, no balance and, really, nowhere to turn; Borja Mayoral had very little impact on this match.
Considering the context of this match—the artificial surface, the unfamiliar opponent, the Milan match looming on Monday—we shouldn't read too much into Roma's struggles today, but one thing is abundantly clear: Roma's bench is sorely lacking in experience and impact players, a trend that could prove disastrous when the season really becomes thick with fixtures.
But, as it stands right now, Roma are second to Cluj in Group A (on goal differential) and Fonseca managed to get his young players some valuable experience while not overly taxing his regulars with their second half appearances.
Monday Night Calcio!!! Roma travel to the San Siro on October 26th and have a huge chance to shake up the Serie A table.
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