Roma and Gent met at the Stadio Olimpico tonight as two sides seemingly heading in opposite directions. Gent, currently pacing the Belgian league in scoring and sitting second on the table, are flying high under second-year coach Jess Thorup. Meanwhile, Roma entered this Round of 32 fixture in the middle of a three-match losing skid while facing rumors of a rift between the squad and first-year head coach Paulo Fonseca. With the clubs heading in such disparate directions, the outcome of this match was anyone's guess.
Facing each other for the first time in 11 years, both sides were understandably tiptoeing around the pitch for the opening moments of this match. With neither club wanting to reveal too much too soon, the first ten minutes of this match were, well, they were boring as shit—let's be real
But then Roma, for the first time in ages, caught a bit of luck.
Carles Perez: 13th Minute (Roma 1, Gent 0)
Sound on for some great French commentary.
With the ball practically gifted to him, Jordan Veretout was the first link in a chain that eventually led to Carles Perez scoring his first Roma goal. Veretout, who was quickly being closed out by a now defending Gent midfielder, quickly found Edin Dzeko in the middle of the park, but you'll notice how Perez starts to make a corresponding run the minute Veretout released the ball for Dzeko. With Perez cutting a diagonal from the right, Dzeko found him in stride, enabling the 21-year-old Spaniard to score his first goal for his new club.
Perez's first goal for Roma would stand as the only action of note in the first half. Despite the lack of highlights (and quite frankly speed; this was a slow first half), Roma looked more composed than we've seen in recent weeks and did a decent job of disrupting Gent's transition play in the middle third.
Gent would make their runs, of course, but weren’t able to muster any clear cut chances before the half-time whistle sounded.
The second half definitely started off with a greater sense of urgency from the visitors, as Gent forced Pau Lopez into multiple saves within the first ten minutes, while Roma's best chance was a Bryan Cristante header that caromed off the post and was ruled offside anyway. For the neutral observer, the opening stages of the second half were far more exciting than the doldrums of the first.
Gent would continue to heap the pressure on Lopez through the 70 minute mark. With the club solving their transition woes, they had little resistance charging their way through Roma's midfield. Fonseca's crew were only saved by Gent's lack of precision in the final third, as the acute balls Gent needed in the area simply never came, replaced instead by looping, aimless crosses and miss-hit through balls—phenomena with which Roma are quite familiar.
Gent would have the clearest of clear-cut chances in the 68th minute and would have grabbed an equalizer were it not for Laurent Depoitre's inexplicable miss right in front of goal. The Buffaloes were undeniably in control of this match through the midway point of the second half. Roma didn't come undone but had very little to offer in counter to Gent's more precise and efficient attacking methods.
With disaster lurking around the corner, Fonseca would make a trio of changes before the 80th minute, swapping out Leonardo Spinazzola for Davide Santon, Lorenzo Pellegrini for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Diego Perotti for Justin Kluivert.
Gent would have another golden opportunity in the 85th minute. Following a foul from Perez, Gent were awarded a free-kick on the outside left edge of the 18-yard-box. The whipped in cross went right to Lopez, who misjudged the ball, gifting Gent a rebound, which Lopez was incredibly fortunate to handle. It was the sort of mad scrum that made you pull your hair out, but Roma (again) caught a bit of luck here.
If Gent ran the show for the first three-fourths of the second half, Roma really kicked it up a notch in the dying moments of the match, showing the aggression that failed them for much of the second half.
Santon, who has had an up and down stretch since the club sent Alessandro Florenzi packing, would make the most of his second half cameo, showing the strength and agility that led many to salivate over his potential a decade ago.
In the waning moments of this match, Santon would serve up a pin-point right-to-left cross to Aleksandar Kolarov at the far post. Kolarov's whipped header was spot-on but was turned away by Gent's keeper Thomas Kaminiski, who nearly made a meal out of it, leaving a rebounded chance for Mkhitaryan, who was unable to get a solid hit on it off an odd bounce.
The three minutes of stoppage time were agonizing—especially since the referee magically found an additional 20 seconds at the end, during which Gent nearly scored—but Roma were able to hang on for the 1-0 victory.
While not quite the peak of Fonseca Football®, Roma were better than we've seen through much of 2020; the chances weren't flowing but the Giallrossi looked more composed, calm and organized than at any point over the past six weeks. But if we had to carve this match up into into fourths, Roma held sway in the first and final chunks of this match, ceding control to Gent in-between.
I'll be interested to see what Fonseca has to say about this match; he likely won't be 100% pleased with the run of play, but Roma averted disaster and enter the second leg with a slim advantage.
A quick turnaround as Roma welcome Lecce to the capital on Sunday.
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