With three month's worth of matches squeezed into eight weeks, Paulo Fonseca's creativity and personnel management skills were always going to be taxed during the re-start, but with his already fatigued squad missing several key pieces, Fonseca was really under the gun this evening. With Jordan Veretout and Lorenzo Pellegrini suspended for this match and Pau Lopez, Gianluca Mancini and Juan Jesus out injured and/or ill, Fonseca's starting eleven was like a kindergartner's art project—just throw a bunch of glitter and glue into a pile and hope people think it's cute.
Despite all that upheaval, with the likes of Chris Smalling, Aleksandar Kolarov and Cengiz Ünder, Roma had the stronger lineup on paper, but you wouldn't have known that once the opening whistle blew. Within minutes of kickoff, Udinese nearly found the back of the net with a low right-to-left cross that narrowly missed putting Roma on the back foot.
Udinese may not have found the back of the net in the opening moments of this match, but they were more energetic, more decisive, more aggressive and, let's face it, more competent than Roma. However, in a bitter twist, they broke open the match thanks to a miss-hit from Rodrigo DePaul, who likely hit the ball with too much of his heel, turning his scorcher towards the upper corner into an unintended but surprisingly accurate assist to Kevin Lasagna who tucked it home with ease.
Things would settle down a bit as the match pushed past the 20 minute mark, but the wheels really came off in the 29th minute when Diego Perotti decided to plow over three defenders during a futile Leo Messi impersonation, earning a straight red in the process leaving Roma with 10 men with an hour of match time left.
Udinese continued to hunt for that second goal as the first half played on, but Roma very nearly had an equalizer when Bryan Cristante seized upon a long rebound only to crack the cross bar with his near 30-yard effort.
The final moments of the first half were difficult to watch as Roma were gasping for air as Udinese was stringing together pass after pass.
With Roma down a man, Cengiz Ünder was the unfortunate and odd man odd, as he made way for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who now assumed Perotti's play-making role in the center of the pitch. But it would be the man ostensibly taking Ünder's job that breathed some life into Roma. It's far too early to tell what type of player Carles Perez will be, but he's quick, agile and can worm his way into the smallest gaps in the back line, and in the 49th minute he nearly put a shot in-between Musso's legs to level the match and tested him twice more in the next ten minutes.
Fonseca would go to the bench once more in the 63rd minute, bringing on Davide Zappacosta for Bruno Peres and Gonzalo Villar for Amadou Diawara, neither of whom looked particularly sharp today.
Those initial changes did very little to change the momentum in the match and Roma were an offside call away from going down 2-0 after Lukasz Teodorczyk was judged offside after getting well behind Roma's back-line and beating Mirante with a low shot.
Fonseca would counter Udinese with his final two substitutions: Edin Dzeko for Kalinic and Roger Ibañez for Federico Fazio. Shortly after this swap, Chris Smalling missed an agonizing would-be equalizer from two-yards out, only to see Rodrigo De Paul squander a chance to double Udinese's lead moments later with a rather heavy touch.
De Paul would deliver the killing blow in the 78th minute when he settled a switch of play from Seko Fofana before delivering an assist to Ilija Nesterovski, who had plenty of room to tuck it away. It was emblematic of the differences between the two clubs on the day: Udinese were able to tilt the pitch at will, finding gaps and crevices all over Roma's rearguard, and then play quick and decisive balls to exploit those weaknesses.
The final moments of the match were academic; this one was practically over before it started.
Occam's razor tells us that the simplest solution is the likely answer. In that light, this loss should fall squarely on Paulo Fonseca's shoulders, but you have to consider the circumstances here. With the compact fixture list compounded by the suspensions of Pellegrini and Veretout and the injuries to Lopez, Mancini and Jesus, Fonseca's roster was practically threadbare this evening. I'm not suggesting he's blameless, but there were extenuating circumstances forcing his lineup and rotation selections against Udinese.
Having said all that, we're still talking about a manager whose points per match is among the worst during the American era and one who hasn't guided Roma to more than three-straight wins at any point this season in all competitions. He's also the manager who just gave Udinese it's first victory since January 12th. Things aren't looking great for him or the club at the moment.
I expect there will be a cascade of stories, rumors and innuendo about his job security tomorrow morning, but at this point I'm not sure which way the scales should tip. Would changing managers during the pandemic—a time when everything is compressed and finding a replacement and building the team to suit a new identity would be tremendously difficult—be the best course of action for the club? Or should they ride it out and give Fonseca another year, a real year in which there is (god willing) not a three-month interruption in play.
One thing is for sure, with everything going on with Roma at the moment, a managerial controversy is the last thing they need.
A trip to Napoli on Sunday.