By now we're all familiar with Roma's goals for the remaining 16 rounds of play in Serie A: somehow, by hook or by crook, they need to finish in fourth place to grab Italy's final Champions League place. Failure to do so will result in another summer purge of players and, given the impending organizational turnover, perhaps even the manager and director or sport, if certain rumors hold water.
It was against that backdrop that Roma welcomed 11th place Bologna to the Stadio Olimpico for the rare Friday night fixture. Why this match got the prime time focus and not the Milan derby is beyond me, but we'll take it.
With the usual rash of injuries and suspensions plaguing his squad, Paulo Fonseca got a bit of good news late in the week, the return of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had missed nearly a month with a quad strain. With Lorenzo Pellegrini suspended, Mkhitaryan took his place in the lineup, joined by Diego Perotti, Cengiz Ünder and Edin Dzeko in attack.
The opening 15 minutes of this match were devoid of any rhythm or fluidity as both clubs were content to use a kick and run approach, hoping to fall ass backwards into a goal. For a moment, this had all the makings of your typical wacky deflection and/or own-goal deciding type of match. You know the ones; nothing happens for 85 minutes then it all goes haywire in the final moments thanks to an unforced error or some crazy deflection.
Chris Smalling ensured that was not the case, but not in the way you'd expect.
Riccardo Orsolini: 15th Minute (Roma 0, Bologna 1)
With Bologna attacking down the left flank, Mussa Barrow played a diagonal ball in towards Roma's area from roughly 30 yards out. Smalling, as you can see in the clip, was in perfect position to hoof the ball out of bounds with his right foot, but for some reason he let the ball run through where a wide open Orsolini was more than willing to bury it past Pau Lopez.
Perhaps he though Gianluca Mancini was closer than he was, perhaps he thought the ball had enough momentum that it would carry all the way over the sideline, or perhaps he just had no idea there would be a Bologna attacker willing and waiting to tap it home, but whatever it was, this was perhaps Smalling's most egregious error of the season.
Barrow would influence the match once more, helping Roma find a little light in this match...
Stefano Denswil (OG): 22nd Minute (Roma 1, Bologna 1)
This was unequivocally an own goal, but kudos to Aleksandar Kolarov for playing a beautiful ball across the face of goal to force the issue. Of course, had Dzeko not whiffed completely on the low cross, Roma probably would have scored of their own volition, but a goal is a goal and beggars certainly cannot be choosers.
Barrow would hear his named called once more, as he scored a beautiful, albeit deflected, goal in the 26th minute. Cutting in from the left, Barrow unfurled a looping effort from about 17-yards-out, one that unfortunately caught the shin of Davide Santon before (somehow) finding the very upper corner of the far post.
The final 20 minutes of the first half were an exercise in frustration for Roma fans, as the Giallorossi looked completely out of sorts and limped into the dressing room lucky to be down one goal.
I'd like to tell you that Roma hit the pitch in the second half, playing with fury, intensity and foaming at the mouth, but sadly is was almost the complete opposite as Barrow found his brace in the 51st minute, juking Mancini out of his pink boots before blasting the ball past a hapless Pau Lopez.
Roma were completely deflated at that point. There wasn't a single man on the pitch, with the possible exception of Kolarov, who was outplaying their Bologna counterpart through the first hour or so of the match.
To combat this complacency, Paulo Fonseca made an early change, swapping out Ünder for Carles Perez in the 56th minute and then followed that up with a Bruno Peres for Santon change in the 61st minute.
Both Peres and Perez would make almost immediate contributions, with Carles Perez attempting two shots and goal and Bruno Peres nearly setting up Roma second goal short after coming on.
Bruno wouldn't be denied twice, though, as he set up Mkhitaryan with a beauty in the 72nd minute, which the Armenian converted with ease, cutting Bologna's lead to one goal with roughly 15 minutes remaining.
Fonseca's final change would see the much maligned Nikola Kalinic come on for Jordan Veretout, giving Roma a two-striker look for the final 10 minutes plus stoppage time, a task made infinitely harder when Cristante was given a straight red in the 78th minute for a studs-up tackle on the instep of Orsolini's left foot. Not the most extreme challenge we've ever seen, but it was yet another questionable decision from Cristante.
Roma were able to stem the tide on their end, thwarting any last minute rushes from Bologna, but despite the fresh legs of Peres and Perez making hay late in the match, they weren't able to grab an equalizer.
There isn’t much we can say that we didn't cover earlier in the week: Roma held more possession, attempted more shots and had a higher passing percentage, but they were done in once again by a suddenly shaky defense, a lack of genuine chances and poor finishing when they did manage to create a clear cut chance.
With this loss, Roma are in danger of falling three points behind Atalanta in fourth place and actually only have a six point cushion in fifth place over this very same Bologna side, while Cagliari can move within four with a victory over Genoa on Sunday.
Roma weren't complete bereft of bright spots, though. The second half inclusion of Peres and Perez gave Roma fresh life, as both wide players gave Roma the juice and creativity they were sorely lacking through the first hour or so of the match. In only 40 minutes of action, Carles Perez had three shots and five successful dribbles; he definitely looks like a guy who can get his own shot, which is something Roma desperately needs right now.
There are still 15 matches remaining, so all is not lost, but Fonseca is about to understand what it's really like to coach in Rome.
Roma square off against Atalanta next Saturday in an absolute must win.