The beginning of today's match was pretty much what I expected for Wednesday's fixture, Roma's first in three months. Rather than the immediate end-to-end play we saw against Sampdoria, both Roma and Milan came out quite tentative in this match, playing with a slow and disjointed rhythm. Put it this way: you could tell both sides were coming off a three-month absence. For Roma, part of that might be down to the six changes Paulo Fonseca made ahead of this match, but they looked noticeably slower and lacking in fluency at the San Siro today.
After 15 to 20 minutes of testing each other out, Roma began to open things up, threatening Gianluigi Donnarumma multiple times past the 20 minute mark, with Edin Dzeko coming excruciatingly close to heading home a deflected ball only to see it bounce just wide of the mark. Similarly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan's played a diagonal through ball to Justin Kluivert only to be denied by Donnarumma's massive wingspan once more.
While they didn't find the back of the net, Roma were at least showing signs of life, of an attacking intent, much of which was due to Mkhitaryan practically running a one-man counter attack. Whenever he'd receive the ball near the center circle, he'd immediately burst up the pitch, drawing defenders inside before pegging it out to Davide Zappacosta on the right. This combination produced Roma's best chances in the first half, but they just couldn't find that extra inch of space in front of Donnarumma, who snuffed out anything that came his way.
The match would stop for a cooling break in the 35th minute, which begs the question: why was this match played smack in the middle of the day?
With the players drenched in sweat, the final ten minutes played on without much issue, but Milan did manage one golden chance when Theo Hernandez found Hakan Calhanoglu with a cross at the far post, right in between two Roma defenders, only to flub the header over the post. It was arguably the best chance of the match to that point, so Roma should count themselves lucky that Calhanoglu was off the mark.
Mkhitaryan picked up right where he left off in the first half, forcing the issue deep in Milan territory. After shaking loose from a defender, Mkhitaryan had a beautiful look at goal from some 20 yards out, forcing a Milan defender to make a hasty block on the ball. Once again, Roma were just a hair away from scoring, and once again it was all thanks to Mkhitaryan's intuitive play and decision making.
Paulo Fonseca would make his first change in the 58th minute, swapping out Kluivert for Carles Perez. At this point in the match, Pellegrini and Mkhitaryan were swapping in and out from the hole and the left wing, leaving Perez to attend to the duties on the right.
As the match crossed the hour mark, Milan seized control of the match with Calhanoglu setting up multiple opportunities for the Rossoneri, very nearly grabbing the first goal of the match when he forced Antonio Mirante into a stretched save in the 65th minute.
Fonseca would make two more swaps in the 70th minute: Diego Perotti for Mkhitaryan and Nikola Kalinic for Dzeko. With Lorenzo Pellegrini picking up a yellow card earlier in the match, one that will force him to miss Udinese next week, the Mkhitaryan sub was likely made with an eye on that match, as he'll likely be counted on for 60 to 70 minutes against Udinese, if not more.
Despite some signs of life, things would soon turn sour for Roma...
Ante Rebic: 76th Minute (Milan 1, Roma 0)
This was hauntingly similar to the goal Roma conceded last week, only in this instance it was Zappacosta playing an aimless pass backwards that was quickly intercepted by the opponent. Mirante did well enough to deny the first attempt from Franck Kessie, but there wasn't much he could do to stop Ante Rebic, who had two cracks at it, burying the ball in the back of the net after hitting the post on his initial attempt. A little bit of bad luck on that rebound, but there's no accounting for Zappacosta's error—that was ghastly.
Roma would use their final two substitutions in the 81st minute, bringing Amadou Diawara and Javier Pastore on for Lorenzo Pellegrini and Bryan Cristante, respectively, but by this point the wind was out of Roma's sails.
Milan would double their lead in the 89th minute after Theo Hernandez was taken down in the box (a term we use loosely) by Chris Smalling, who seemed like he had a clean tackle on the ball but barely clipped Hernandez resulting in a penalty for Milan, which Calhanoglu converted with ease.
And that was that; 75 minutes of even play were done in by another lazy pass and a ticky tack call in the box.
Well, as we just said, for three-fourths of this match Roma at least deserved a draw; they were as mediocre as Milan in nearly all facets of the game. But, just as they did Wednesday against Sampdoria, Roma gifted their opponents a goal with sloppy play and poor communication. Only this time, they didn't have Edin Dzeko available to bail them out in the second half.
Beyond Zappacosta's horrific gaff, Roma looked gassed after only 30 minutes or so. Beyond Mkhitaryan's influential play in the middle and Kluivert's clever runs off the ball, there wasn’t movement or fluidity in Fonseca Football this afternoon.
It's a problem that's plagued Roma throughout Fonseca's first season at the helm—they just can't string together a solid run to save their lives. A victory today would have been their fourth straight and best stretch of the season, but as it stands careless play and a lack of precision in the final third was their undoing once more.
Udinese at home on Thursday, July 2nd.