Today was a landmark day for AS Roma. Not only did they release another new to kit to almost universal acclaim, but it was also the club's 93rd birthday. The celebrations were somewhat muted online, but with a match against last place SPAL 2013, the Giallorossi had a chance to create some fireworks this evening in Ferrara.
One never knows what to expect when facing a newly relegated side, but the early phases of this match were wide open and surprisingly even, as both sides were able to string together several tight passages of play. Roma's new look midfield—Lorenzo Pellegrini, Carles Perez and Bryan Cristante—were moving the ball with relative ease, finding passing lanes through the middle and involving Leonardo Spinazzola early and often on the left, so things were looking sharp for the boys in blue.
There wasn't an early payoff to that buildup, but Paulo Fonseca's bunch look increasingly more comfortable and more fluid with each match, so it was a welcomed site. Of course, since this is Roma we're talking about, nothing makes sense and the first goal was pure chaos and wasn't even deemed a goal at first blush.
Nikola Kalinic: 10th Minute (SPAL 0, Roma 1)
One simply cannot say enough about how well Spinazzola is playing under this new setup. With fewer defensive duties weighing him down, Spinazzola is like a caged animal going forward; the moment he sees daylight, he's gone. And in this instance, he played nearly a perfect cross into Carles Perez in the box. The young Spanish forward had a bit of trouble settling the ball—which actually seemed to bounce right off his chest—but Roma caught a bit of good luck when it fell right to Pellegrini, who then forced Karlo Letica into a rushed save off Lorenzo's side volley.
Rather than the rebound sitting on a platter for Roma, SPAL actually had the better read on the loose ball, but credit to Kalinic for hustling to the spot to beat the defense to the ball. Thanks to his efforts, Kalinic was rewarded with a relatively easy tap-in goal, which was initially called off by the referee but after a rather lengthy appeal to VAR, Kalinic's fourth goal of the season stood.
Kalinic almost bagged a brace moments later when he was leading a quick counter into the SPAL area, but rather than taking a shot from the center, he slipped the ball off to his left for Bryan Cristante, who wasn't able to corral the pass. Cristante would have another chance several minutes later, finding himself open in the middle of the six-yard box on the receiving end of another sublime Spinazzola ball, but he was closed out before he could get the edge of his boot on the ball.
Despite those half-chances, Roma were dominating the final third through the first 15 to 20 minutes, playing composed possession-based football, while poking and prodding the SPAL backline to find and/or create passing lanes. The timing and weight were a fraction off on most of them, but Roma were aggressive in their deconstruction of SPAL's defense.
But you know what they say about good intentions, and moments later all that good work came crashing down.
Alberto Cerri: 24th Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 1)
This one was a disaster from start to finish. With SPAL playing seven virtually unfettered passes on Roma's right flank, Mirko Valdofiori played a looping ball over the top to Alberto Cerri in the area, who, by that point, had gotten completely behind Gianluca Mancini and Aleksandar Kolarov. The comparatively small Kolarov was no match for Cerri, who towered over him to head the ball past Lopez, who was once again caught in no man's land; too hesitant to come out and challenge the ball yet too far off his line to have a legitimate chance at stopping the header.
Despite conceding an equalizer, Roma came right back at SPAL and nearly reclaimed the lead as both Cristante and Kolarov had decent efforts from long range narrowly miss the back of the net.
Roma eventually found a second breakthrough through an impressive individual effort from Carles Perez, who was newly deployed as an attacking midfielder.
Carles Perez: 38th Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 2)
Perez had been inching towards his first Serie A goal for weeks now, but his first league strike was well worth the wait. First, Perez shields the ball from the defender to receive the pass, temporarily loses the ball, then out-muscles the defender to win it back, then breezes past the defense and then buries it in the far post. I have no doubt he'll score prettier goals in his career, but this was a remarkable exhibition of sheer will and effort—there was no quit in Perez here.
The final ten minutes of the first half would play on without issue but Roma were giving far too much space to SPAL, making their one goal lead feel anything but safe.
Fonseca would make a curious change to start the second half, swapping out Spinazzola for Davide Zappacosta, pushing Bruno Peres into the left wing-back position in the process. Perhaps it was simply a fatigue-induced measure, but Spinazzola was one of Roma's most consistent threats going forward in the first half.
Roma's other wingback turned center back, Aleksandar Kolarov, would increase Roma’s lead minutes into the second half.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 47th Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 3)
Perhaps he saw something in Letica's positioning throughout the first half, but this was Kolarov's second or third attempt from 30+ yards out in barely 45 minutes of football. But whatever led him to have a crack again, Kolarov deserves to take a bow after this John Arne Riise-like hit. Kolarov just absolutely buried this one from some 30 yards out, hitting it hard and keeping it low, and while Letica got his gloves on it, it simply had too much momentum to stop.
Roma would deliver another birthday strike five minutes later...
Bruno Peres; 52nd Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 4)
Great ball from Zappacosta to find Peres cutting in from the left, and while Peres couldn't quite get a solid hit with his first effort, Kalinic was able to redirect the ball back to Roma's reborn wing-back, who scored this third career goal in a Roma shirt.
With the match done and dusted, Fonseca emptied the bench in the 56th minute with a triple change, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo, Mert Cetin and Gonzalo Villar for Lorenzo Pellegrini, Amadou Diawara and Gianluca Mancini.
Bruno Peres would bag his brace twenty minutes later.
Bruno Peres: 75th Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 5)
Just like they did earlier in the half, Zappacosta and Peres teamed up to push Roma's lead even further. Once again, Zappacosta found Peres with a long cross and with the defense seemingly packing it in for the night, Peres took his time before bending the ball into the upper 90 of the far post.
I was just about to type that nothing of note really happened down the stretch, but then this happened.
Nicolo Zaniolo: 90th Minute (SPAL 1, Roma 6)
The most exciting young talent in Italy, ladies and gentlemen. ⚡️Nicolò Zaniolo ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/akMQ8XTTGx— Wesley Davidson (@wesleynd2) July 22, 2020
After picking the ball up in his own half, all Zaniolo did was dribble past one defender, out run two more and, sensing the defense collapsing on him at the edge of the area, pump the brakes to give himself space, shake off the defenders again by taking a touch and then drop the ball just under the cross bar with his magic left foot.
Fuckin...and I say this with all sincerity and in full compliment to Zaniolo's skills...Hell. I still don't think we've even scratched the surface for what this kid can do, but that was one of the best individual runs we've seen in ages.
SPAL 1, Roma 6. Happy birthday, Roma!
Roma host Fiorentina on Sunday.
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