Roma's round three fixture away to Udinese seemed like a gimme match for a Giallorossi side desperately seeking their first victory of the season. With nearly a full squad at his disposal, Paulo Fonseca was finally blessed with some lineup continuity and seemed to have all the pieces in place to topple an Udinese side that has been leaking goals in this young season.
But that's the thing about “gimme” matches against so called lesser sides, they can quickly turn into trap games before you know it. While Udinese were content to cede possession and control for large swaths of the match to Roma, the same old ghosts continued to haunt the Giallorossi in this match: creativity and conversion.
While Roma did well in transition, countering in the blink of an eye through Jordan Veretout's tireless and incisive running and Pedro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's quick link-up play in the final third, they were quite often frustrated by Udinese's low block defense, which was more than happy to sit back and let Pedro, Veretout and Lorenzo Pellegrini pass horizontally to their heart's content.
And with so few opportunities in the run of play, Roma had no choice but to rely on long-balls over the top and the occasional counter-attacking opportunity. Roma's best chance in the first half saw Roger Ibañez spring Edin Dzeko into a one-v-one with the keeper, teeing up a ball from well beyond midfield. Dzeko did well to settle the ball and shield himself from the last defender, but the quality of his attempt wasn't exactly commensurate with Ibañez's would-be assist, as Dzeko skied his shot well over the cross bar.
And as is so often the case when Roma are missing chances, their opponents were more than willing to take advantage at the other end. In the final 10 minutes of the first half, Udinese had two or three clear cut chances at goal, with Rodrigo De Paul setting up two chances with crosses into the area, but Udine's best chance saw Kevin Lasagna receive the ball in space with only Antonio Mirante to beat. With Mirante holding firm in his position and Ibañez charging in from behind, Lasagna seemed to lose his nerve, firing it straight at Mirante, while Roberto Pereyra's follow up effort looped just wide of the far post.
For a supposed gimme match, the first half was incredibly tight, as even with only 1⁄3 of the possession, Udinese created the half's most dangerous chances and were incredibly unlucky to grab a lead.
While there were some nervy moments to start the half—Roma still struggled to find a crack in Udinese's low block—they benefitted from some good fortune ten minutes into the half when Pedro found the back of the net for the first time in a Roma shirt.
Pedro: 55th Minute (Udinese 0, Roma 1)
PEDRO— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 3, 2020
His spectacular strike gives Roma the lead! pic.twitter.com/Rk7swv4RWW
I'm not sure exactly what Udinese were trying to do here, but Pedro was Johnny on the spot, basically receiving the ball straight from Udinese. Gaffe or no gaffe, full marks to Pedro for that effort, he drilled it directly into the right post, pinging it off the edge of the frame and into the back of the net. It wasn't exactly how Fonseca drew it up, but it was a sorely needed goal from the boys in red.
Roma almost grabbed another one moments later when Dzeko laid a ball off at the edge of the box for Mkhitaryan, but Micki was a bit too anxious, jumping offside by a hair's breadth. Despite the disallowed goal, Roma were finally playing with a purpose.
Udinese would counter with a chance of their own about ten minutes later, forcing Antonio Mirante into a double save at the edge of the six-yard box. With Lasagna slipping behind the defense after a great flicked ball into the area, Mirante was forced to come off his line to deny Lasanga, only to see Fernando Forestieri follow up Lasagna's effort almost immediately, forcing the already splayed out Mirante to make a scrambling save on his hands and knees.
Udinese would continue to press for an equalizer with Stefano Okaka and Nahuel Molina each forcing Mirante into saves. Roma were still winning the possession battle, but Udinese were pressing higher and higher up the pitch searching for a goal and may have had one were it not for Okaka's errant shot and Mirante's reflex save on Molina's snap shot.
With 15 minutes remaining in the match, Udinese shifted to a decidedly all-out attacking approach, pressing Roma's defenders the moment they tried to clear the ball or start any semblance of a counter attack.
Fonseca would make a double change in the 84th minute, bringing on Bryan Cristante and Justin Kluivert for Pellegrini and Pedro, respectively. With six minutes remaining, Roma seemed intent on running out the clock rather than putting the match to bed with a second goal.
Udinese would counter by bringing on nearly every forward they had at their disposal but Roma managed to withstand the late barrage to secure their first victory of the season.
Well, we sort of just said it all, didn't we? Roma got their first win of the season today and that's ultimately all that matters...but...having said that, this match could have easily gone Udinese's way. The home side managed 12 shots on goal with 50% going on target while only three of Roma's 13 attempts hit the mark, none more egregious than Dzeko's first half miss. Couple that with the fact that Roma's only goal came via an ugly Udinese turnover and Paulo Fonseca may still have trouble getting a good night's sleep.
As we so often say, a win is a win is a win. And Roma needed this one desperately, but they are far from a finished product at the moment and look particularly poor through the middle of the park; something definitely seems amiss between Pellegrini, Pedro, Mkhitaryan and Dzeko. Veretout does a magnificent job running Roma's transition between defense and attack, but the rest of Roma's attacking unit still seem like they're lacking chemistry and, in some instances, seem uncertain of their respective roles.
Fortunately, Fonseca now has two weeks to sort this out before the club hosts Benevento after the break. And nitpicking aside, Roma got exactly what they needed today: three undisputed points.
The international break followed by a home match against Benevento on the 18th.
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