Today's Roma v. Lecce match was played under extremely odd and unfortunate circumstances. With the corona-virus spreading rapidly through the northern end of the Italian peninsula, Serie A was forced to suspend the matches being played in Bergamo (Atalanta v. Sassuolo), Torino (Torino v. Parma) and Verona (Verona v. Cagliari), as well as the Milan v. Fiorentina match in Serie A Femminile earlier in the day.
Safely away from the outbreak, Roma and Lecce were allowed to press on, but by no means under normal circumstances as a group of traveling Lecce supporters came under attack by a group of Bari fans when their bus stopped at a service station in Cerignola. I have no idea if either club were aware of this situation, but when taken with the rash of cancellations in the north, it made for a strange backdrop to a crucial match for both clubs, as Roma are still chasing fourth place Atalanta while Lecce are only three points above the drop zone.
But, as they say, the show must go on. While his side rebounded well-enough against Gent in the Europa League on Thursday, Paulo Fonseca's crew entered this match having lost their last three league contests. While Fonseca was preaching patience during his pre-match press conferences, his side was in desperate need of a shakeup.
While much of Fonseca's starting eleven remained unchanged from Thursday, his decision to reinsert Cengiz Ünder and Henrikh Mkhitaryan into the starting lineup proved to be a stroke of genius, as the duo teamed up to give Roma an early lead.
Cengiz Ünder: 13th Minute (Roma 1, Lecce 0)
Roma's luck with turnovers and unforced errors sure has changed as February is drawing to a close. On this one, Mkhitaryan was the beneficiary of a poor Lecce touch, but the rest of the play was all Miki. With Edin Dzeko right ahead of him, Mkhitaryan showed enough patience to make the proper play; threading it to the right for Ünder. With Dzeko dragging his man through the middle, Cengiz had ample time/room to slot this one home, but full marks to Mkhitaryan for corralling the turnover and waiting that extra second to let Ünder make the more dangerous run on goal.
It was an unexpected turn of events, but Roma showed the aggression and decisiveness they've lacked for much of 2020. Roma would continue pressing for the ensuing 20 minutes, generally running the show against their 16th place opponents, but as Roma fans we know all too well that a one-goal lead is seldom safe.
Enter Miki the Finisher.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 37th Minute (Roma 2, Lecce 0)
Mkhitaryan continued his flawless first half as he got on the end of an Edin Dzeko through ball, beating Mauro Vigorito with a left-footed low and away effort. With a goal and assist in a 20 minute span, Mkhitaryan was ballin’ like his Arsenal days.
Roma would have a few more cracks at goal before the half-time whistle blew, but with a lead built on two beautifully orchestrated goals, the Olimpico was all smiles for the first time in over a month.
Fonseca would make one change at half, swapping out Lorenzo Pellegrini for Justin Kluivert, pushing Mkhitaryan into the hole in place of the beleaguered Roman. Statistically speaking, Pellegrini's first half was fine, but Fonseca cleary saw something lacking from his playmaker, though there was also word he was experience muscle fatigue, so we'll have to wait for official word.
Nevertheless, with Mkhitaryan taking his place in the middle, Roma's shape and approach remained largely the same, but Mkhitaryan had so much room to run on the wings in the first half it was a shame it had to be cut short.
Fonseca would make his second change just past the hour mark, bringing on Carles Perez for Ünder, presumably with an eye towards another two-matches-in-one-week stretch next week.
With an injection of energy, Roma continued their hunt for a third goal, which would come from a familiar source.
Edin Dzeko: 70th Minute (Roma 3, Lecce 0)
Roma would get a bit an odd goal to make it three-nil in the 70th minute when Aleksandar Kolarov found Dzeko with a low cross. Dzeko initially flubbed the chance, giving Vigorito a chance to cover it up, but the Lecce keeper let it slip, giving Dzeko the chance to tap it in. Dzeko's 12th goal was initially ruled offside but was deemed legit by VAR after a quick review.
At three-nil with 20 minutes remaining, the match was effectively done and dusted, but Roma would tack on a fourth goal shortly before the close of the match.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 80th Minute (Roma 4, Lecce 0)
With Kolarov busting his ass to get in on this play, it would have been a shame to ignore him, so credit Carles Perez with the patience and presence of mind to wait for Kolarov's overlapping run. You'll also notice how he dragged three or four defenders to him while shielding the ball waiting for Kolarov's run—he's really hit the ground running in his first month with the club. From there, Kolarov just let ‘er rip, burying the ball in the back of the net.
The Giallorossi would have a shot at goal number five, but the match would end with a 4-0 scoreline as Grazie, Roma echoed around the Olimpico.
Ordinarily I'd say you have to consider the opponent here, but Lecce were the hotter side entering this fixture—winning three straight—while Roma were in the midst of one of the ugliest stretches of football we've seen since the last days of Rudi Garcia, so to win this one as convincingly as they did should (hopefully) lift their spirits ahead of another two-match week to close out February.
Propelled largely by Mkhitaryan, Roma were quick, direct and decisive in attack and could have easily ran this up to five or six-nil, but as it stood Roma were the slick passing, lane opening, and overlapping nightmare we all envisioned when Fonseca joined up this past summer.
With a lesser side coming to their ground, Roma did exactly what they needed to—they dominated. With 13 league matches remaining, let's hope Roma can ride this tide of good feelings into fourth place. A failure to do so won't be disastrous, but it sure would make the transition to Toyotathon 2021 much easier.
Roma hit the road, traveling to Belgium for the second leg of their Round of 32 Europa League fixture against Gent on Thursday.
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