After a piping hot afternoon in the Italian capital, AS Roma, decked out in their new home strip for next season, welcomed the equally aesthetically pleasing Fiorentina to Rome for the final match of the season at the Stadio Olimpico. With his squad really hitting their stride in recent matches, Paulo Fonseca continued to keep the rotations to a minimum, making only a handful of changes ahead of this Round 36 fixture.
Fonseca may have had his A-team at his disposal, but Roma's kits were about the only bit of entertainment through most of the first half. Despite having most of his nominal starting lineup in tact, the magic Roma created over their past two matches went missing against Fiorentina.
Fortunately for Roma, the Viola weren't exactly firing on all cylinders either. With both sides struggling to muster any cohesion in attack, large swaths of the first half featured ill-timed passes, wayward crosses and more head tennis than should be allowed in a sport called football. We could probably chalk it up to the accumulated fatigue associated with playing 10 matches in 30 days, but whatever it was, the first 40 minutes of this match was like watching paint dry—and not an interesting color either; we're talking dull earth tones.
With the first half whistle rapidly approaching, the match opened up as both sides soon found space deep in the attacking third. It certainly made for better viewing, but neither side really troubled either keeper, so it wasn't surprising that the first break through came via penalty.
With Bruno Peres surging into the Viola box to settle a ball, Pol Lirola clipped the Brazilian's leg from behind, drawing a penalty in the process. It wasn't the bloodiest foul we've ever seen, but the slow mo replay couldn't have been more clear: Lirola hit Peres with a Cobra Kai leg sweep. And up stepped Roma's new penalty master, Jordan Veretout, who converted the chance as cool as you like to put Roma up 1-0 in the 45th minute.
Fiorentina nearly leveled the match moments later when German Pezzella got on the end of a long free kick only to see his volley strike the near post, but he DEFINITELY had Pau Lopez beaten to the spot, so Roma were incredibly lucky to dodge that bullet.
Roma seemingly removed luck from the equation when Gianluca Mancini headed home Roma's second goal, atoning for a clear cut chance he missed earlier, but the goal was wiped out thanks to an offside call.
It's hard to really capture how monotonous the first 45 minutes of this match was, but thankfully we were treated to a stoppage time show. But would that free form carry over to the second half or would caution rule the day?
Fortunately for fans of the beautiful game, it was the former, as both sides flashed chances at goal in the opening minutes of the second half. With Iachini bringing on Roma-killer Patrick Cutrone, you knew things would get interesting in the second half.
And with the half barely underway, Cutrone had a golden chance to level the match...if only Rachid Ghezzal spotted him slipping into the Roma box. As it was, Ghezzal picked the wrong pass and Roma were sparred because Cutrone was unmarked in the box and likely would have had an easy tap-in waiting for him.
Roma would punch back when Jordan Veretout found Dzeko running into the final third, catching the Bosnian in stride with a beautifully weighted through ball. Dzeko's touch was spot on but he just didn't have enough time or space to chip the keeper. Henrikh Mkhitaryan would join the fray seconds later in a nearly identical play only on a much tighter angle, making for an nearly impossible chance but Micki nearly dinked the ball into the far post.
Those half chances would come back to haunt Roma in the 54th minute when Nikola Milenkovic headed home an equalizer.
Nikola Milenkovic: 54th Minute (Roma 1, Fiorentina 1)
This was an excruciating goal to concede here, especially since Pulgar's corner wasn't hit especially well—it was about as long and looping as a corner could possibly be. Yet, thanks to Mancini's miss-timed jump and Amadou Diawara essentially being pinned to the ground, Milenkovic had a veritable free header on goal and steered it past a leaping Pau Lopez to level the match.
Milenkovic would factor into the match once more when his shoulder essentially split open Lorenzo Pellegrini's face after the two collided deep in the final third. With blood gushing out of his forehead, Fonseca was forced to swap out Pellegrini for Nicolo Zaniolo.
The end to end stuff continued as the match crossed the hour mark, with Mkhitaryan striking the wood work in the 66th minute and Edin Dzeko then forcing Martin Caceres to throw his body to the ground to block a shot at the edge of the area.
Zaniolo almost added another stunning goal to his highlight reel in the 68th minute when, after missing a perfect slipped/through ball chance to find Dzeko in the box, cut around the defense and struck a left footed shot from 20+ yards out and barely missed tucking it into the top corner on the short side—probably a poor decision to not play the ball to Dzeko, but this was an exquisitely struck ball and would have been a golazo to end all golazos had it gone in.
Roma and Fiorentina would trade jabs for the next 15 minutes or so, but, just like it did in the first half, this match came unglued as we headed towards stoppage time.
And I mean unglued. Check out this passage of play from the 85th minute. Once again, apologies for the quality here—something is amiss with our GIFing apparently.
After Dzeko won a corner in the 85th minute, Aleksandar Kolarov found space charging down the left flank, firing a shot off the woodwork. Given the power of his shot, it produced a rather juicy rebounded attempt for Edin Dzeko, whose attempt was blocked by an outfield player, but then Carles Perez had a go at it from the edge of the 19, and his attempt was saved—only this time it left a loose ball in the box, which Dzeko immediately pounced on, forcing Terraciano to come off his line, and in doing so, the Viola keeper seemed to trip Dzeko as he was attempting the shot.
It was a close call—Beppe Iachini certainly tried to make the case that Dzeko slipped—but VAR wasn't even consulted and Vertout converted his second penalty of the day with ease.
The chaos would continue as the officials added six extra minutes to the end of this match, and while Fiorentina had a late free-kick in a dangerous area, Roma were able hang on for the victory.
Considering how well—and how pretty—Roma were playing over their past few matches, tonight's performance was kind of disappointing. The fluidity we saw against Inter and SPAL were missing tonight, but Roma rose to the occasion when it mattered most—in those chaotic sequences to close each half.
Fiorentina were probably a bit hard done on the second call, but credit Roma for forcing the issue. Dzeko's penalty may have been soft, but it came at the end of a great sequence in which Roma not only forced the issue deep in Viola territory, but won the ball back and still created three more chances before Dzeko was fouled.
In any given season, you're bound to have a few matches like this—sometimes you just have to win ugly and sometimes you need a bit of help from the ref; Roma did both and received both tonight and were able to solidify their grasp on fifth place. With a four point lead over sixth place Milan and two matches remaining, Roma should remain in the driver's seat for that automatic Europa League berth next season.
Roma face Torino on the road on Wednesday the 29th.
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