We spoke earlier this month about the extent to which Paulo Fonseca (and really all managers) would have to tinker with their squads during these unprecedented times. With three months worth of matches jammed into little more than eight weeks, Fonseca was always going to have to get creative, but he surprised many of us with his lineup selection today, throwing out a previously unseen and almost unheard of starting eleven.
In Roma's first match in three months, Fonseca inserted Javier Pastore, Carles Perez and Bruno Peres back into the starting eleven, brought Amadou Diawara back into the fold for the first time since January and gave Roger Ibañez his first-ever Serie A start. Chances are we'll see two to three (if not more) changes between every match, but it was still jarring to see so much upheaval so soon.
Despite so many seldom seen faces in the starting eleven, Roma looked no worse for the wear in the early moments of this match, finding pace and rhythm rather easily. Edin Dzeko looked in mid-season form, finding the slightest bit of space off the last defender's shoulder and/or planting himself in the box while he waited for service. Dzeko tested Emil Audero twice in the early moments, but never had a clear cut chance at goal.
Still, despite playing for the first time in over 100 days and facing an opponent whose restart campaign was already underway, Roma looked solid through the first ten minutes. But that lack of chemistry soon bit them in the ass...hard.
Manolo Gabbiadini: 11th Minute (Roma 1, Sampdoria 1)
Let's chalk this one up to a lack of experience and misunderstanding between two of Roma's youngest players: Roger Ibañez and Amadou Diawara. Rather than playing a ball directly back towards Ibañez or Antonio Mirante, Diawara played a somewhat listless ball into the no man's land between them. And Ibañez, whether he didn’t know it was coming or assumed Mirante had it, vacated the space allowing Gabbiadini free range on the ball. And while they did well enough to force him to a tight angled shot, he was on the mark, giving Samp an early 1-0 lead.
Despite that gaff, Roma pushed on unfettered, finding shots with ease. The issue was simply that they weren't getting clean enough looks at the ball, serving up rather straight forward saves for Emil Audero, though he did flash some impressive reflexes. Mkhitaryan, Dzeko and Pastore each had looks at Sampdoria's goal but Audero played the angles perfectly each time.
Through the first half-hour, the match was pretty even (and pretty open) with both sides playing a fast and loose style to the tune of Claudio Ranieri's “uno, due...uno, due” echoing in the suddenly cavernous Stadio Olimpico, though Samp very nearly capitalized on another lackadaisical pass from Diawara that Jakub Jankto thankfully pushed wide of the post.
Fortune would swing Roma's way a few minutes later. With Pastore and Carles Perez working a tight give and go in the box. Sampdoria did well enough to thwart the attempt, clearing the ball out of the 18-yard-box, but Jordan Veretout quickly made them pay, pouncing on the rebound and guiding in just under the cross bar in one succinct and smooth motion.
But his joy wouldn't last...
During Maya Yoshida's attempt to clear the ball, it struck the tucked in elbow of Carles Perez before landing at Veretout's feet, leading to a VAR appeal which quickly (and I mean quickly) voided the strike.
It was probably a bogus call, but the match remained incredibly loose and Roma faced very little opposition when carrying the ball into Samp's half but simply couldn’t find an equalizer before half-time.
Fonseca opted for no changes to start the second half and through the opening moments, it looked and felt like the first 45 minutes: plenty of open play and very few clear cut chances for either side, though Mkhitaryan came awfully close to equalizing early in the half, pushing a shot just wide of the left post.
In the 60th minute, we saw our first ever pandemic line-change as Fonseca made a triple swap, pulling off Diawara (for Bryan Cristante), Javier Pastore (for Lorenzo Pellegrini) and Bruno Peres (for Davide Zappacosta). It was an odd site to see, that's for sure.
But that triple change would pay almost immediate dividends when Lorenzo Pellegrini setup Dzeko for the equalizer.
Edin Dzeko: 64th Minute (Sampdoria 1, Roma 1)
DZEKO!!! Lovely assist from Pellegrini! pic.twitter.com/MWgbiM7ucz— asrgoals1 (@asrgoals1) June 24, 2020
Just a beautifully weighted ball from Pellegrini—who was on the pitch for all of 90 second by this point—to find Dzeko in the six-yard box. It wasn't quite as stunning as his strike against Chelsea in the Champions League a few years ago, but the skill required—picking the ball directly out of the air with an extended foot and scoring on the first touch—was remarkably similar.
Roma nearly grabbed the lead in the 69th minute off an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick, but his low, grass-clipping effort struck the right post and squirted across the goal line (running right to left) before going over the end line.
Fonseca's fourth change was made with an attacking intent, as he swapped out Perez for Cengiz Ünder in the 72nd minute. He'd follow that up in the 85th minute giving Nikola Kalinic some run in place of Mkhitaryan.
And, once again, moments after a change Roma would score thanks to a moment of brilliance from Edin Dzeko—his 104th goal in a Roma shirt, good for a tie for fifth place with Pedro Mandredini.
Edin Dzeko: 85th Minute (Roma 2, Sampdoria 1)
In what was essentially a stretched out version of his first goal, Dzeko found himself on the end of another sublimely weighted ball, this time from Cristante, before tucking it past Audero with a one-time right-footed volley. There's not much else we can say about Dzeko at this point; he's putting the finishing flourishes on one of the best Roma careers of the modern age.
Roma would survive a few later flurries from Sampdoria to walk away winners—and damn if it doesn't feel good to write that again!
I have to be honest, I was expecting a rather stilted and dull affair given the three-month layoff, but this was a wide open match that could just as easily have finished with seven or eight goals. As it stood, Roma kept their wits about them after their earlier first-half error and stuck to the plan: get the ball to Edin Dzeko.
With another match on Sunday—away to AC Milan—it will be extremely interesting (and telling) to see how Fonseca rotates his squad, but apart from the Diawara-Ibañez gaff, there weren't many glaring errors or poor performances to speak of, which once again speaks to Fonseca's abilities as a manager.
Despite scoring 104 goals in a Roma shirt, it still feels like Edin Dzeko has had an odd career in some ways, but he proved once again today that he's still among the best strikers in the league. But he'll need rest over the next eight weeks, so keep an eye on Sunday's lineup card.
As a reminder, we'll have match highlights later this evening and our Sinners & Saints breakdown tomorrow morning/afternoon.