In a testament to how competitive Serie A has been this season, Round 37 featured multiple consequential fixtures up and down the peninsula. The relegation battle between Lecce and Genoa was certainly the most dire matter at hand, but Roma's penultimate match of the season had enormous consequences for the club's summer plans. With AC Milan routing Sampdoria earlier in the day, the Giallorossi needed a win (and only a win) to secure fifth place and avoid Europa League qualification matches later this summer—not the worst fate in the sport, but something Roma can ill afford given the compact schedule this summer.
Given those stakes, Paulo Fonseca once again kept the changes at a minimum, swapping out Jordan Veretout for Bryan Cristante and Carles Pérez for Lorenzo Pellegrini, who is recovering from surgery to correct the broken nose he suffered over the weekend against Fiorentina.
In the match preview, we focused on three key features of this match: containing Andrea Belotti (who didn’t even start, making us look like morons), Roma's shot quality and the odd timing of Torino's goals scored vs. conceded record.
Through 36 rounds of play, Torino played to a negative goal differential in every 15 minute time segment, barring the opening 15 minutes of the match, where they scored six and conceded six. But, when we drilled that figure down to home vs. road fixtures, Torino fared a bit better—playing to a +4 goal differential in the first 15 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.
Did we have to dig deep to find an angle there? Of course, but guess what, we were correct!
Torino scored the opening goal in this match in precisely the 15th minute when Simone Zaza played a diagonal through ball to Alex Berenguer, playing him past a diving Pau Lopez. Gianluca Mancini had a snowball's chance in hell at pulling it off the goal line, but just couldn't get a clean look at it.
Roma were down but they weren't out for long.
Edin Dzeko: 16th Minute (Torino 1, Roma 1)
The flip-side to the timing of Torino's goals scored vs. conceded comes immediately after the 15 minute mark: from there on out, they sport a negative goal differential in every single quarter-hour chunk. And, as luck would have it, they stuck to the script tonight.
Less than a minute after conceding the opening goal, Roma answered back with crisp and clean three-touch move: from Bryan Cristante to Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Edin Dzeko, who timed his run off the final defender brilliantly and then slotted it home as cool as you like to move into fourth place on the club's all-time scoring list. Great response and an even greater goal—just a beautiful piece of team football. You love to see it, especially after allowing a goal at the other end a minute earlier.
After conceding so early in the match, Dzeko's goal seemingly lifted the spirits of the entire team; Roma kept pressing and pressing and eventually doubled their lead thanks to a picture perfect set piece several minutes later.
Chris Smalling: 23rd Minute (Torino 1, Roma 2)
Now this was a set-piece! Carles Perez played a perfect out-swinging corner with an ideal weight, speed and trajectory to find Smalling in the middle of the box. Not to be outdone, Smalling's half of the equation was equally exquisite: perfectly timed jump and a well struck header, leaving Ujkani little to no chance at saving it.
Fonseca would keep his foot on the gas as the match moved past the half-hour mark, with Roma finding gaps in the Torino defense from the left, right and center. The tastiest choice, though, came from another set piece when Aleksandar Kolarov's 37th minute free kick struck the left upright—it was a sure fire goal as Ujkani was rooted into the pitch, standing flat footed while staring at the flight path of the ball.
The final moments of the first half played on without either side threatening to score, but Roma's first half approach was spot on: the ball movement was quick, particularly around the 18-yard-box, and the shots were precise (four of nine on target).
Despite those positive signs, you couldn’t shake the feeling that Roma would need another goal to wrap this one up.
Indeed, Torino came out with renewed attacking intent to start the second half, finding space out wide through Simone Verdi and Alex Berenguer. Roma's defense, and Smalling in particular, did well to cut out the chances but Torino definitely came out with more juice, gunning for an equalizer.
To put this momentum shift in context, consider this: from the 45th through the 60th minute, Torino held 64% possession, completed 92% of their passes, completed four dribbles and outshot Roma 4-0. It was a complete role reversal from the first half.
But Roma would catch a huge break in the 61st minute when Edin Dzeko drew a penalty in the box. And with Jordan Veretout sitting this match out, Amadou Diawara, somewhat surprisingly, was the next man up at the penalty spot. While he didn't have the panache of Diego Perotti or Veretout, Diawara narrowly beat Ujkani at the left post, scoring his first goal of the season to put Roma up 3-1.
It was a tough break for Torino (as well as a somewhat questionable penalty call), who really had gotten the better of Roma to start the second half, and as much as I'd like to say that took the wind out of their sails, Torino came right back, cutting the lead to one in the 65th minute;
Wilfried Singo: 65th Minute (Torino 2, Roma 3)
Top marks to Singo here (who was making his first league start), as he took the ball from beyond midfield, kicked it on to himself and outran two defenders before making Pau Lopez look downright amateurish. It wasn't a particularly well struck ball, as indicated by the fact that Lopez got his gloves on it, but he (for whatever reason) couldn't corral the shot—maybe he only got the edge of his hand on it or perhaps he misjudged the angle, but this was some pretty poor keeping from Lopez.
With his side looking sluggish and lacking bite, Fonseca made a triple change, bringing on Jordan Veretout, Roger Ibañez and Nicolo Zaniolo for Bryan Cristante, Carles Perez and Bruno Peres. Torino would counter that move by bringing on Andrea Belotti for Cristian Ansaldi in the 75th minute.
Those subs nearly made an immediate impact in the 76th minute when Veretout caught Zaniolo in the middle of the area with a right-to-left ball, but Zaniolo, who played a one-timed shot, pushed it wide of the far post. It was a bang-bang play but the execution just wasn't there this time.
Zaniolo mixed things up minutes later when he danced around the Torino defense through the middle of the park before finding Kolarov out wide on the left. Kolarov then played a quick low cross across the face of goal to a diving Edin Dzeko, who just barely missed the tap in goal from the seat of his pants. It was a great sequence from three of Roma's best players, but they were a split second too late in the end.
Roma were spared in the 82nd minute when Belotti was taken down in the box only to be ruled offside. It would have been a back breaker but the replay showed he was a bit too hasty making his run off the last defender.
As the match pushed past the 85th minute, Roma began to withdraw, parking the proverbial bus to squeeze the life out of this match and lock down fifth place in the process.
This match was a lesson in never letting up. After holding court in the first half—outside of Berenguer's goal that is—Roma ceded space and possession to Torino for a large swath of the second half and were lucky to not concede an equalizer multiple times.
In the end, Roma's bend but don't break approach to the second half paid dividends as they were able to absorb the Torino pressure. With Edin Dzeko making his presence felt in the area, Roma, despite seeing less of the ball in the second half, were a constant threat in the Torino end and very nearly pushed the scoreline to four or five goals to two.
And if we look back at our keys to victory—containing Belotti, scoring after the 15th minute and putting higher quality shots on goal—Roma were three for three. Sure, Belotti didn't start but he was a non-factor in his brief cameo, while Roma were able to bide their time after falling behind early, taking advantage of Torino's habit of conceding second half goals. And as far as the shot quality is concerned, top marks once again: Roma put six of their 15 attempts on target.
With this victory, Roma secured fifth place, making this weekend's match with Juventus a mere formality for both sides. Fifth wasn't the goal many of us had in mind back in August, but considering the circumstances of the season—the new coach, the pandemic, the injuries, the late tactical change—it's a fair result for this rather tumultuous season.
Roma wrap up the season on the road against Juventus on Saturday, in a match that will hopefully feature some new faces.
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