In Roma's four prior matches since the restart, we've seen Paulo Fonseca make some wild match-to-match alterations, including swapping out ten men from one lineup to the next and shifting from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to the three-man back-lines we've seen over the past two matches. Some of that tinkering was forced by injuries, while some of it stemmed simply from realizing what he was doing wasn't working. No matter the case, Fonseca didn't rest on his laurels against Parma either.
While his varied tactical approach produced some slightly livelier results against Napoli on Sunday, Fonseca made further changes today, including a handful of surprising technical decisions prior to kickoff: dropping Justin Kluivert from the squad altogether, calling up Bruno Peres after he was left out on Sunday and perhaps most controversial of all, starting Bryan Cristante at center-back.
And you don't need to be a Roma lifer to know where this is heading. A mere six minutes into the match, Cristante's inexperience as a defender reared its ugly head as he was judged to have taken Andreas Cornelius down in the box in the sixth minute. While this incident was initially ruled benign by the referee, VAR would reverse course in the tenth minute, awarding Parma a penalty, which was easily converted by Juraj Kucka to give Parma an early lead.
Despite trailing early, Roma continued to commit numbers forward, overloading the center of the pitch to give Leonardo Spinazzola and Bruno Peres room on the wings. Roma's two wingbacks found ample space and time to create from out wide, pumping in cross after cross into the Parma box.
Roma weren't able to create any clear cut chances in the early stages of this match, but Fonseca's intent—utilizing a less wing-reliant formation—was evident, even if it did lead to more chances being created from wide areas.
The Giallorossi's best chance of the first half (to that point) came in the 17th minute thanks to a beautifully struck long and low shot from Lorenzo Pellegrini that clipped the left post of Parma's goal, missing an equalizer by a matter of inches.
Roma would win the possession battle through large swaths of the first half but just couldn't find that final breakthrough as their crosses were dealt with rather easily by Parma's defense, but Fonseca's crew would hit pay-dirt late in the half.
Henrik Mkhitaryan: 43rd Minute (Roma 1, Parma 1)
Good work all around here as Bruno Peres was able to corral the loose ball and evade a Parma defender before taking a touch and finding Mkhitaryan in the middle of the box. From there, Roma's #77 struck a quick and perfectly placed side-footed shot to knot the match at one apiece.
Moments later, Roma missed a golden chance to take the lead when Gianluca Mancini, practically wide open at the far post, shanked a header just wide of goal.
Despite some moments of frustration and a questionable penalty call, Roma headed to the dressing room on level pegging with the visitors.
The opening 15 minutes saw a reinvigorated Roma, showing more energy and sense of purpose than we've seen in quite some time: Peres and Spinazzola kept exploiting wide areas while Pellegrini, Veretout and Mkhitaryan orchestrated some quick and succinct stretches through the middle of the park.
And it wouldn't take long for that more direct and pragmatic approach to pay off.
Jordan Veretout: 57th Minute (Roma 2, Parma 1)
What a hit from Veretout here. No hesitation whatsoever, he just struck the ball with the sweet spot of his boot, giving it just enough swerve to fool the keeper into thinking it was sailing wide before tucking in the back of the net. This was an emphatic goal, and given how much they've struggled in attack recently, this was precisely the type of strike they need to buoy their spirits.
Roma would continue to surge ahead as the match approached the 70th minute, stringing together passages of play that went extinct during their three-match losing skid. With distribution coming from the back, Roma were able to transition from defense to attack in the blink of an eye, keeping the Parma defense on their toes. Perhaps even more impressive, they were able to maintain pressure on Parma's back-line without constantly pumping balls into Edin Dzeko: the pace and spread of play was as even as we've seen since the restart.
All that good will was nearly undone in the 74th minute when Gianluca Mancini was nearly cited for a handball in the box. The ref made an appeal to VAR, but Mancini was spared as Kucka was judged to have made contact with the ball before Mancini's elbow/arm. This could have crippled Roma and the sense of relief was evident on their faces almost immediately.
That sense of relief was nearly dashed seconds later. In a blink and you'll miss it kind of play, Gervinho sneaked behind the Roma defense and beat Pau Lopez one-v-one, slipping the ball right in between Pau Lopez's legs, seemingly grabbing a backbreaking equalizer against his former club. Fortunately, he was quickly judged offside, but Roma tempted fate twice with 15 minutes remaining and somehow managed to come out clean.
Fonseca would make his second set of changes in the 83rd minute, bringing on the Spanish duo of Gonzalo Villar and Carles Perez for Diawara and Pellegrini. And Villar had a clean strike at goal minutes after coming on, lashing a shot in the box right at Luigi Seppe, who was quick to knock it down, denying Roma a rebound. It was a bit of a hasty effort—he likely had more time than he realized—but kudos to Villar for getting right in the thick of things.
Nicolo Zaniolo would make his second straight appearance—albeit a short one—coming on for Mkhitaryan in the 90th minute. Roma would survive the six minutes of stoppage time, even missing a few chances to increase the lead, but their efforts were good enough to halt the three-match skid.
There were some jenky moments in the first half and plenty of people questioning Fonseca's personnel selections this evening, but the Giallrossi's effort tonight, particularly in the second half, was exactly what the club needed. Roma were far more energetic and played with much more resolve than we've seen since the restart. Punctuated by Veretout's thumping goal, Roma showcased the pace, precision and passion that's been missing for large stretches of the season.
Unfortunately, this performance came a few rounds too late to save their Champions League hopes for next season (barring a Europa League victory next month) but this victory should hopefully set them up for back-to-back wins when they face 19th place Brescia on Saturday.
Away to Brescia on July 11th.
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