With a greater sense of identity and purpose following his successful tactical switch against Parma, Paulo Fonseca made only five changes ahead of today's match in Brescia. That still sounds like an awful lot, but it pales in comparison to the rate with which he'd been rolling over his squad in the restart—making as many as ten changes at one point. For today's tilt, Fonseca rested Edin Dzeko and Pau Lopez while the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Bryan Cristante were suspended for this match. Not a dire situation but some less heralded names would need to step up to the plate in order for Roma to win.
One of the keys to Roma's victory over Parma was the play of the Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibañez, the latest defensive duo to anchor Roma's back-line. Despite missing an open header last time out, Ibañez looked strong, composed on confident in all phases of the game—his first start in a Roma shirt.
But there's a reason we're starting this review by mentioning him—he very nearly gifted Brescia an early goal. Deep in Roma territory, and with his back to the attack, Ibañez was attempting to shake loose from a pressing forward only to be dispossessed in the fourth minute, leaving Brescia with a chance that could only be described as “wide fucking open.” While Sandro Tonali found the back of the net, the goal was disallowed, sparing Roma yet another costly error—but it was an uncharacteristically sloppy moment from a kid who looks quite sharp.
Despite that gaffe, the first half was firmly in Roma hands as Fonseca's 3-4-2-1 worked with almost textbook-like accuracy. The buildup from the back was quick, the transitions through the midfield were even quicker and, quite surprisingly, Bruno Peres was perhaps the most dangerous man on the pitch in the first half, providing quick and accurate service from the right flank.
It was clear that, Tonali aside, Brescia simply didn't have the horses to run with Roma. In the first half alone, the Giallorossi held 64% possession, out-shot Brescia 10 to 2 and completed nearly 130 more passes than the home side, but there was very little flourish to finish off all that hard work. A glancing header from Nikola Kalinic and another decent long effort from Jordan Veretout—which did produce a juicy rebound that was smothered by the Brescia keeper—were Roma's only real chances of the first half.
It's a story we've seen too many times over the years, but could they find that elusive breakthrough in the second half?
Fonseca opted for no changes to start the second half and the Giallorossi nearly rewarded his faith straight away when Mancini found Pellegrini with a long ball over the top, but Pellegrini wasn't able to corral the lofted pass. Despite the lack of execution, it was a signal of intent: Roma were looking to put this match away as soon as possible.
That breakthrough would come moments later, albeit with one of the strangest goals you'll ever see.
Federico Fazio: 48th Minute (Brescia 0, Roma 1)
I'm not sure how you'd describe this one, but here goes: Fazio had a lash at it from 10 yards or so and forced Lorenzo Andrenacci into a rather easy save, but the Brescia keeper couldn't quite control the rebound, which barely...and I mean barely...rolled over the line. There was some confusion in the immediate aftermath, but the goal-line technology was decisive and Fazio's goal stood.
Roma would cede a bit of space to Brescia over the next 10 to 12 minutes but Tonali and friends could find little more than a few vocal cries for a handball on Ibañez and Fazio, neither of which were deemed worthy by VAR.
Another unlikely source of offense would double the Giallorossi's lead in the 62nd minute.
Nikola Kalinic: 62nd Minute (Brescia 0, Roma 2)
It’s not often that Carles Perez and Nikola Kalinic link up for goals, but if this is what they're capable of Roma might want to explore this route more often. Following a lovely little left-footed chip from Perez, Kalinic put a world-class first touch on it, settling the ball and avoiding Andrenacci all in one motion. And with the keeper splayed out on the floor, all Kalinic had to do was tap it home. Beautiful service, exquisite first touch and an easy finish.
Fonseca would make a triple change moments later, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo, Diego Perotti and Gonzalo Villar for Lorenzo Pellegrini, Jordan Veretout and Carles Perez.
And one of those subs would bury Brescia shortly thereafter...
Nicolo Zaniolo: 75th Minute (Brescia 0, Roma 3)
Another beautiful passage of play from two forgotten players (though for drastically different reasons) as Diego Perotti finds a streaking Zaniolo on a diagonal left-to-right run. Without missing a beat, Zaniolo settled the ball and ran past the Brescia defense before beating Andrenacci with a left-footed effort for his first goal since December. Let's not discount Perotti's ball either—he read Zaniolo's run perfectly and served it up on a silver platter.
It's still hard to truly appreciate how miraculous Zaniolo's return has been. Simply coming back less than six months after tearing his ACL was enough to grab headlines, but he's shown little hesitation since returning last week and put that goal away like he'd never missed a minute.
Fonseca would round out his subs giving Edin Dzeko and Leonardo Spinazzola some run to end this match—and Dzeko nearly made it four-nil on two separate occasions—but this match was done and dusted by that point.
Under normal circumstances, we'd couch this victory by considering the level of the opponent, but much like Wednesday's victory, the quality of the opposing club is irrelevant when you consider how mightily Roma had been struggling during this restart. Roma took some baby steps against Napoli, found their footing against Parma and were well and truly walking on their own today in Brescia.
Outside of maybe six or seven minute letup after scoring their second goal, Roma pretty much ran the table tonight in Brescia. With quick and accurate distribution coming from Mancini and Ibañez at the back, Roma played with a pace and sense of urgency that was sorely missing during their three-match losing skid. And once the ball advanced to the attacking areas, the likes of Bruno Peres, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Aleksandar Kolarov and even Perotti in his cameo played accurate crosses and final balls into the box.
This was a statistically and aesthetically dominant performance from Paulo Fonseca's crew, one that should continue to boost morale as the fixtures get decidedly tougher next week when Roma squares off against Verona and Inter Milan.
Roma host Hellas Verona on Wednesday July 15th.
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