We mentioned this at the outset of the match, but it bears repeating: Roma may have been upset at the league officials for scheduling this match for a Thursday but they had the good fortune of watching as the three clubs directly above them (Sassuolo, Napoli, and Juventus) dropped points on Wednesday. It was an auspicious start to Matchday 12, but in a sense, it put Roma under greater pressure. We've seen the league-wide results fall in Roma’s favor many times before, only to see the Giallorossi squander that opportunity, but fourth place was now theirs for the taking, they simply had to grab it.
With nearly a full squad at his disposal, Paulo Fonseca nevertheless made a couple of small tactical tweaks in this match, most notably in midfield/attack. While Pedro was available after serving his red card suspension, Fonseca opted to play Lorenzo Pellegrini in a more advanced role, subsequently slotting Gonzalo Villar as the deep-lying playmaker next to Jordan Veretout. It didn't have an immediate impact on the match, but watching those three share space and swap roles on the pitch was a tactics-lovers dream come true.
The opening moments of the match didn't produce many noteworthy moments from the men in the kits, but referee Rosario Abissio got quite a workout, passing out cards like a mall Santa handing out candy canes.
But no one drew his ire quite like Torino's young full-back Wilfried Songo, who was booked in only the 7th minute. However, following a challenge on Leonardo Spinazzola in the 14th minute, the 20-year-old was sent off, putting Torino at a disadvantage for the remaining three-fourths of the match. It was a bit of a ticky-tack call, but having just been booked, Songo should have been a bit more cautious.
While Torino did well enough to cope with the initial effects of this booking—holding a steady and compact defensive line and forcing Roma into wide spaces—it didn't take that long for Roma to find a breakthrough.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 27th Minute (Roma 1, Torino 0)
Roma got a bit lucky here as Lyanco struggled to clear and/or fully deflect Spinazzola's ball, but Mkhitaryan was in the perfect spot at the perfect moment and put a perfect shot on the ball, pinging it off the near post and watching it bulge the back of the net to put Roma up one-nil. It's hard to believe, but that's already Mkhitaryan's seventh league goal to go along with five assists—he's scorching right now.
With Torino starting to feel the effects of playing with 10 men since the 14th minute, Roma looked to press their one-man advantage, throwing eight or nine bodies within 30 yards of Torino's goal, but the visitors did well to compact their defense in the middle of the area, forcing Roma to work the wide channels. While Spinazzola and Mkhitaryan were having their way in those narrow areas, they simply couldn't find that extra inch of space to square the ball into the box.
But Roma didn't have to rely on slick passing into the penalty area to double their lead. With Roma set up deep in Torino's final third, Andrea Belotti, in an attempt to escape some of that pressure and reorganize the attack, played a rather innocuous ball back into his own area. But rather than fully clearing the lines, Belotti played what we might call an in-between ball; fast enough to clear the initial Roma threat but not sufficient enough to actually reach his defenders.
And in stepped Edin Dzeko...
Jordan Veretout: 43rd Minute PK (Roma 2, Torino 0)
With the ball drifting aimlessly in the left channel, Dzeko seized on the opportunity, beating the Torino defense to the loose ball, and drove right into the area, where he was clipped at the edge of the box, drawing a penalty in the process—one that Jordan Veretout converted with ease, blasting it past Milinkovic-Savic, who actually guessed correctly but not quickly enough.
It wasn't the sort of dominance you'd expect from a side up a man for nearly 30 minutes, but Roma caught a few breaks and did well enough to establish a two-goal lead at the half.
With Gianluca Mancini now carrying a yellow and Bruno Peres playing 45 minutes of mostly ineffective football, Fonseca brought on Marash Kumbulla and Rick Karsdorp in their place. However, with a two-goal lead and a one-man advantage, the match was decidedly toned down as the second half began. Fonseca would then make his second double swap at the one-hour mark, bringing on Borja Mayoral and Pedro for Dzeko and Villar, respectively.
With an hour gone, Roma seemed content to pass away the remaining 30 minutes, but Torino nearly stole a goal back in the 65th minute when Edera struck the upper left-hand corner of the goal frame. It was a thunderous shot with nearly perfect placement; Roma were lucky to see it clang off the post rather than tearing a hole in the back of the net.
It was a close brush with lady luck, but Roma would remove all doubt from the match moments later.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 68th Minute (Roma 3, Torino 0)
After starting the play deep in midfield off a give and go, Pellegrini continued to track the run of play into the area as the ball found its way to Pedro and then Borja Mayoral, who made an incredibly unselfish play by laying it off to Pellegrini, who took a simple touch to evade a defender before tucking it in the corner with his left foot.
It was a beautifully struck ball from Pellegrini, atoning for an early miss that he fired right at a Torino defender.
But the Toros would have their moment in the sun...
Andrea Belotti: 73rd Minute (Roma 3, Torino 1)
Roma's good luck wouldn't last the entire match, though. In the 73rd minute with a three-goal cushion, the Giallorossi backline (specifically Roger Ibañez) got a bit lazy, playing a listless ball to Pellegrini in the midfield, which was quickly snapped up by Belotti.
From there, Belotti made a clever turn to avoid Pellegrini before advancing up the pitch and firing a shot at Lopez. Pau made the save but failed to corral the rebound (watch how Belotti just puts his hands on his hips, perhaps assuming that Lopez smothered the shot before realizing the play was still alive), and after a mini scrum around the penalty spot, Belotti was able to finally finish off the play, pulling a goal back to make the scoreline a bit more respectable.
It made for a nervy moment, but Roma managed to prevent that crack from turning into a full-blown disaster and walked away 3-1 winners.
Roma got a bit lucky tonight with the quick cards shown to Songo, Mkhitaryan's shot deflecting the right way, Edera's shot deflecting the wrong way, and perhaps a bit of a soft penalty awarded to Dzeko, but the Giallorossi put five of thirteen shots on target, held two-thirds of the possession and completed nearly 90% of their passes. Luck plays a part in nearly any match, but Roma set themselves up for victory tonight with their passing, movement and shot selection.
And with this victory, which followed dropped points by Sassuolo, Napoli, and Juventus on Wednesday, Roma are now in sole possession of fourth place with only two matches remaining before the holiday break.
Things will get tougher next week, but for now, it's all smiles in the City of Seven Hills.
Roma travels to Bergamo to face Atalanta on Sunday.
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