I feel as if I've said this many times in these spaces, but we're coming off one of the stranger weeks in the Romaverse. Regardless of the fixtures or the results, any week in which Roma gets rid of their Roma-born captain is bound to cast a pall over all that follows. For the first time in over two decades, the honor of captaining Roma fell to someone not born in her streets. Strange times indeed.
With Alessandro Florenzi starting for Valencia against Celta Vigo, Edin Dzeko donned the captain's armband for the first time as Roma's true captain. At least for the first few minutes of the match, those emotional concerns subsided as Cengiz Ünder very nearly set-up a goal in the first minute. Cutting in from the right (duh), Cengiz played a perfect ball across the 18-yard-box to a waiting Lorenzo Pellegrini. As you may have noticed, Roma's leading assist man has a bit of trouble scoring goals of his own and subsequently flubbed Ünder's pass, letting a golden opportunity go to waste.
There would be plenty of chances following Pellegrini's miss-hit, though...for the men in black and green. Starting with Francesco Caputo's seventh minute goal, which was set up by a defense-splitting pass from Domenico Berardi, the Neroverdi eviscerated Roma's back-line through the first 45 minutes. And I mean eviscerated; it was almost like they were playing Juve on the road.
Caputo would add a second goal eleven minutes later, beating Roma on a fast break in the 16th minute. At this point, barely a quarter of the way into the match, Roma looked quite dispirited, but Berardi would cut their hearts out ten minutes later, setting up his second goal in little more than 20 minutes, this time finding Filip Djuricic at the edge of the 18-yard-box.
26 minutes in and Roma were down three-nil, marking the first time Roma had conceded three first-half goals on the road since a 2012 trip to Juventus. This was as ugly a spell from Roma as we've seen in years, regardless of the man on the touchline.
Not only were Roma getting pegged back by the home side, they offered very little in the way of a counter-punch. With play stagnating in the midfield and Dzeko offering very little up top, either as a reference point or goal-scoring threat, Roma looked content to just watch the minutes tick by before they could head home.
It was an U-G-L-Y first half the Giallorossi.
Paulo Fonseca would swap out Davide Santon for Bruno Peres to start the second half, presumably because Santon received a yellow in the first half, but he was pretty pitiful in all phases of the game if we're honest, giving the pro-Florenzi camp plenty of fuel for their torches.
Roma did look somewhat renewed to start the second frame and received a huge shot in the arm in the 55th minute when Edin Dzeko's 100th career Roma goal cut the deficit to two-goals. It wasn't anything fancy, but Roma did manage to maintain possession and actually had a couple cracks at it before Pellegrini played a left-to-right cross past the face of the goal to meet Dzeko's rising header.
Dzeko nearly bagged goal 101 moments later when an Andrea Consigli rebound was practically served up on a platter for him, but a diving Sassuolo defender seemed to throw off his timing, causing him to essentially whiff on the follow-up attempt. It wasn't a sitter in the strictest sense, more like an awkward-height sitter, where it's not quite high enough for a volley but still too high for a standard strike, one of those ones where he could have just run into it with his hip/torso and scored.
Fonseca would make his second change just past the hour mark, giving Carles Perez his club debut as he came on for Ünder. Shortly after that change, Sassuolo almost made it 4-1 as Caputo's gimme goal was snuff out by...you ready for this?...Bruno Peres’ toe! The newly returned right back caught Caputo from behind, just barely catching the ball with the edge of his boot.
Roma's woes would sink deeper still in the 69th minute when Pellegrini was given a red card for taking down Djuricic, reducing Roma to ten men for the final 20 minutes...with a two goal lead to erase.
The Giallorossi would catch a bit of good fortune moments later, thanks again to the magical feet of Bruno Peres, whose cross from the right flank clipped the hands of a Sassuolo defender, gifting Roma a 73rd minute PK, one that Jordan Veretout buried in the back of the net, cutting the lead to one.
In case you missed this match, I can assure you that I'm not making this up. In literally the next minute of play, Sassuolo pushed the lead back to two-goals, grabbing their fourth of the night when Jeremie Bolga cut in from the left flank and blasted one into the far corner, stomping down Roma the very minute it looked like they were getting off the canvas.
And what's worse, they almost scored their fifth goal of the evening roughly a minute later. For neutral observers, I'm sure this was calcio comedy of the highest order, but this match was Roma Happened to perfection.
Fonseca's final change could see another new kid, Gonzalo Villar, come on for Jordan Veretout, who was largely benign in this match, but the young Spaniard barely had a touch during his first taste of Serie A.
Roma provided a few exciting moments in the second half, but in the end they simply dug too deep a hole for themselves.
Put all the Florenzi controversy aside for a moment—it was hard to believe this was the same side that looked so potent, so well-drilled and so effective against Lazio in last week's derby. Through the first 30 minutes of this match, Roma looked like 11 dudes who met in the Mapei parking lot and were fortunate enough to be wearing matching shirts; there was no cohesion, no understanding and very little effort if we're being honest.
During the match we questioned what on Earth Fonseca could possibly say or do to juice up his squad for the second half, but whatever he did seemed worked, in so much as Roma looked like organized in the second half. Under normal circumstances, Dzeko's 100th career goal for Roma, only the seventh player to achieve that in nearly 100 years, would be cause for great celebration, but in a match like this, where Roma were getting so soundly whooped for so much of the match, I'm afraid it will be an after thought—so kudos to Dzeko; any way you dissect it, he's one of the best strikers the club has ever seen.
Unfortunately, that milestone goal didn't propel Roma to victory; that three-goal deficit was simply too high a mountain to climb for Roma tonight, meaning they'll spend Sunday hoping Genoa can fend off Atalanta and preserve Roma's tenuous grasp on fourth place.
Roma have the rare Friday fixture when they host Bologna on the 7th of February.
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