With his club riding a two-match winning streak, Paulo Fonseca didn't dare tempt fate, keeping in tact the 3-4-2-1 that's worked to such great effect in recent weeks. He did, however, make four personnel changes to his lineup this evening, including inserting Aleksandar Kolarov into the center of his three-man defense while also bringing Pau Lopez back into the staring eleven.
But this match got off to such a chaotic start, it was almost impossible to digest those changes. Within 30 seconds of the opening whistle, Roma were streaking down the pitch with Jordan Veretout nearly finding Edin Dzeko for an early opener, but the Frenchman's cross was just a tad too late and was easily disposed of by Verona.
Gianluca Mancini would have a crack at the Verona goal in the fifth minute following a set piece, but he was unable to control the ball, glancing his header over the post. Verona may be one of the surprise clubs of the season, but Roma were asserting their dominance before even breaking a sweat.
But Hellas Verona put Pau Lopez to the test several minutes later when they split the Roma back line with a killer diagonal ball from the right flank, playing Valerio Verre into a virtual one-v-one with Lopez. With Verre charging, Lopez hesitated to come off his line—to the point where Mancini could be seen throwing his hands up, seemingly calling for Lopez to react—and barely clipped the ball before colliding with Verre. In the run of play, it looked like a penalty, but play resumed and VAR found nothing untoward with the play.
But then, in almost the very next minute, Roma drew their own penalty as Lorenzo Pellegrini was barged off the ball in the box. It was an extremely close call and one that produced a rather evocative reaction from Verona, as Miguel Veloso and manager Ivan Juric were carded, with Juric actually getting run from the match after earning a red card for his protests.
And again, this was all within the first ten minutes of the match. Trust me when I tell you it was chaos.
Roma would keep pressing and almost doubled their lead in the 28th minute when Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was on the receiving end of give and go from 50 some odd yards out, found a seam in the middle of the pitch, racing neck and neck towards the edge of the 18 with Marco Faraoni only to see his shot strike the wood work. It was a beautiful sequence and emblematic of the kind of tight and succinct play Micki brings to the fold.
Despite Roma's early aggression, Verona were not backing down, frequently finding gaps in Roma's back-line, exploiting the wide areas and testing Lopez's willingness to come off his line and/or challenge crosses in the air.
It was an odd half in many ways as Roma held only one-third of the possession yet were able to rip off over 10 shots on Verona, while the Mastiffs, with their near 67% possession managed only five attempts on goal—but they were quality attempts that put Lopez into some uncomfortable positions.
But thanks to four added minutes to wrap up the first half, Roma were able to double their lead seconds before the half-time whistle
Edin Dzeko: 45 +4’ (Roma 2, Verona 0)
The clip doesn't show it, but this was a bit of a pinball sequence in which Mkhitaryan was able to keep the play alive, finding the tiniest seam to play the ball to Spinazzola, who then played a picture perfect cross for Dzeko to lash the header past the helpless keeper.
That may have been the strangest 45 minutes of Roma football I've ever seen. From nearly breaking it open after 25 seconds, to a 60 second sequence in which Verona called for a penalty and then were carded for a penalty, to ripping off nearly a dozen shots despite only having a third of the ball to scoring at the last gasp of the first half.
I can only imagine what's in store for the second half
Welp, within 90 seconds Veloso found Matteo Pessina in the box, who got the better position on Kolarov at the near post, and then scored a back heeled goal past Lopez. You hate to say nice things about the opposition, but that was a beautiful sequence from Verona: great ball from Veloso and perfect technique from Pessina to hold off Kolarov and score with what was essentially a behind the back flick of the heel. Roma had the numbers here, but Verona had the execution.
The ensuing ten minutes were pretty even, but Roma would craft another chance in the 58th thanks to Bruno Peres, who was sprung into space down the right from Pellegrini. After skirting around his defender, Peres probably had a half-inch of space to attempt a shot in the area, but he took another touch and found Dzeko dead-center in the box. It was a brilliant sequence from Peres, but Dzeko wasn't able to convert the effort, skying it over the bar.
The match remained pretty even as it moved past the hour mark, with Verona attacking primarily down Roma's right flank, but Pellegrini nearly set up Roma's third goal. After chasing down a loose ball on the right wing—aided by the Verona defender falling on his ass—Pellegrini found Mkhitaryan in the middle of the box. It was a rushed play as Verona were collapsing on Pellegrini, and as a result Mkhitaryan couldn't quite get a clean look at the ball, lashing his toe at it rather than his instep, but it was yet another moment of unexpected chaos.
Fonseca would make a triple change after this play, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo, Davide Zappacosta and Bryan Cristante for Pellegrini, Diawara and Peres.
Roma had a golden chance to put the match away in the 72nd minute when Dzeko had a clear look from the right side of the area but pushed his shot high and wide of the mark. Fonseca's men would soldier on, finding open ground beyond Verona's back-line on multiple occasions in the waning moments of this match, but, by that point, exhaustion had saturated their legs and they weren't able to get that final step beyond the defense.
From cradle to grave, this was a wild match. After moving past the initial penalty denial-penalty awarded chaos, it looked like Roma put the clamps on this match, but Verona would not be denied their day in the sun and hung with the Giallorossi throughout the entire match, dominating possession and creating several lively chances through Veloso and Federico Dimarco on the wings.
One look at the exhausted faces of Dzeko, Mkhitaryan and Veretout told you all you needed to know about Roma's effort tonight—they didn't let up for a moment. That Roma were able to pull off 20 shots with only 33% possession shows the urgency with which they were playing. And were it not for some poor finishing from Dzeko and pure and simple fatigue, Roma could have walked away with three or four goals.
That's not to say they were perfect tonight—they lost the possession battle, completed less than 70% of their passes and were exposed on the wings all night long—but from Dzeko's last ditch header to close out the first half to Roger Ibañez's eight interceptions and Mkhitaryan's six tackles, Roma made the plays that mattered most, when they mattered most.
Roma play host to Antonio Conte and Inter on Sunday.
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