Generally speaking, we can whip up thoughtful prose on most Serie A clubs, but that task becomes a bit more difficult when dealing with a club that's spent its entire existence in the lower tiers. We caught a bit of a break with today's Coppa Italia match because these two clubs have squared off exactly once before: in the Coppa Italia five years ago, with Spezia shocking Roma 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
Given that symmetry, not to mention the slightly similar trajectories of Roma's managers in both of these respective matches (Rudi Garcia in ‘15 and Paulo Fonseca in ‘21), we made that the focus of our match preview, but I couldn't help but feel it was a bit too...convenient.
After all, Roma came into this fixture in third place while Spezia were in 11th; an impressive run for a debut Serie A club, but 11th place nonetheless. Surely, Roma couldn't fall to Spezia in the Coppa Italia again, right? And even if they did, there was no way they'd suffer the same scoreline, right? And even if alllll of that happened, there's no way they'd be done in by a former player, right?
If you're reading this, you know what happened: precisely all of that. So, everything underneath this line represents the moment-by-moment blows of today's match as it happened.
We weren't expecting history to repeat itself, but you know what they say: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...
With the sting of the derby defeat still in their eyes, it was important for Roma to get off to a quick start this evening against Spezia, and the fates almost complied. With only 25 to 30 seconds burned off the clock, Roma were nearly gifted a goal when a Spezia defender attempted to head a ball back to keeper Titus Krapikas, only to see the ball miss its mark and drift into no man's land. Borja Mayoral immediately seized on the ball but wasn't able to get a clean shot on goal, but it was a good omen for Roma.
Undaunted by that near-miss, Roma continued to exert their technical and physical advantages with Henrikh Mhitaryan and Leonardo Spinazzola running a sort of reverse overlap, with Mkhitaryan surging forward down the left flank in the fourth minute. While Spinazzola's ball was picture perfect, Mkhitaryan's shot was fired right at Krapikas for an easy save.
Nevertheless, four minutes into the match and this had the makings of a Roma beatdown; Spezia simply couldn't match Roma's speed, size, or technique, but then disaster struck. In the 6th minute, Spezia made their first real run at Pau Lopez's goal with a darting run into the box right between Spinazzola and Bryan Cristante. Unfortunately, Cristante got a bit too much of the Spezia forward and gifted the visitors a PK, which was easily converted by Andrej Galabinov.
It was a pretty clear cut penalty, but you have to credit Roma for their resolve; they immediately came right back at Spezia and created a decent chance in almost the very next minute when Pedro got loose in the box but overran the ball into the area by maybe a foot. That missed chance did win Roma a corner, though; one that they played short and generated a clean look from Mkhitaryan at the edge of the box but his effort sailed wide of the mark.
Penalties happen but Roma seemed determined to level the match as quickly as possible but were done in by a poor clearance in the area.
Riccardo Saponara: 15th Minute (Roma 0, Spezia 1)
Now, we've definitely seen worse errors than this before, but Marash Kumbulla's pass out of the area was hit, maybe, 10% too soft (or maybe too hard since it sailed over a Roma player) and fell right to Spezia who quickly turned that error into a beautiful two-touch sequence capped off by an incredible bit of skill from Saponara, who only just signed with the club.
Again, this wasn't the most egregious faux pas we've seen this year, but let's give credit where it's due: Spezia turned that mistake into an incredible goal in the blink of an eye. At this point, the Romaverse was in full doomscrolling mode with calls for Fonseca's head, a Friedkin sale, and more filling our timelines.
But here's the thing...
Seriously, Spezia are playing so haphazardly at the back, it's miracle Roma hasn't scored. They're trying to give the match back, they want to give the match back, but Roma aren't complying.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 19, 2021
At seemingly every turn, if Spezia weren't struggling to clear the ball, miss-hitting passes in their own area or generally looking out of sorts defensively, Roma were bursting through their ranks and whipping balls into the area with little resistance. Spezia were doing all they could to invite Roma back into the game but the Giallorossi simply couldn't take advantage.
Things started to tick up as we crept towards the half-hour mark as Lorenzo Pellegrini had two great looks at goal: a left-footed curler that sailed just wide of the mark and a wonderfully struck 25-yarder that forced Krapikas into a stretched save. Borja Mayoral had a clean look of his own, getting on the end of a Bruno Peres cross into the box, which was precipitated by a perfect long ball from Cristante in midfield, but Borja found little more than the side netting with his effort.
With five minutes left to play, it seemed like Roma would head into the locker room with their tails tucked between their legs but they caught a big break in the 43rd minute when Pellegrini was fed into the box by Pedro, only to be taken down by Ardian Ismajli. Roma's captain converted the penalty after faking out Krapikas with a little pigeon hope before firing the ball into the back of the net.
A little salvation but Roma still got the short end of the stick in the first half.
Despite the doom and gloom of the first half, Spezia, in no way, shape or form, looked capable of preserving a 2-1 lead. With precious little speed or size up front and an almost utter lack of composure at the back, it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out.
But...they nearly stole a third goal early in the half when Giulio Maggiore got loose on a give and go at the edge of the area, only to be taken down by Gianluca Mancini. It was a good, technical foul from Mancini as he stopped Maggiore from getting a one-v-one on Lopez and Roma were lucky that Spezia completely bungled the ensuing free-kick, firing it right at Lopez for an easy save.
Sensing blood in the water, Roma ratcheted up the pressure on their overmatched opponents, bursting down the flanks and firing cross after cross into the area. The problem, quite simply, was that the corresponding runs into the box were a split second too late or too early, particularly when Mayoral overran a left-to-right low cross from Mkhitaryan and tried to haphazardly backheel the ball into the goal as he overran the pass.
Mayoral left another chance begging in the 68th minute when Pedro played the ball across the face of goal, leaving Mayoral with no one to beat but the keeper, but his shot—which was practically on the doorstep of the goal—sailed over the crossbar.
Fonseca would make his first changes a minute later: Rick Karsdorp and Jordan Veretout on for Spinazzola and Villar, respectively. While they didn't factor immediately, Roma's patience was soon rewarded.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 73rd Minute (Roma 2, Spezia 2)
Mkhitaryan juega a otro ritmo. Y tiene otra calidad. pic.twitter.com/rgQpbKJtDC— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 19, 2021
Unfortunately, you can't see the roots of this goal in the clip, but suffice it to say, it was a deserved goal from Roma and typified Spezia's struggles in the match. Struggling to clear their area, Spezia's defense played the ball back to the keeper to seek some momentary relief from Roma's pressing, only to see Krapikas play it straight back to the same defender, who was practically trapped in the corner. As a result, the ball quickly swung back to Roma, eventually falling to Mkhitaryan for this lovely chipped effort.
With the prospect of 30 minutes of added time and potentially a penalty shoot out, Fonseca continued to make attacking changes, swapping out Mkhitaryan for Carles Pérez in the 85th minute. Mayoral would add another miss to his stat pack in the 86th minute, once again firing wide on a clear-cut chance.
Thanks to a gaggle of substitutions and a few clattering challenges, the match officials added five minutes of stoppage time to this match before it inevitably headed to extra time—though Spezia almost stole it at the death when teenager Roberto Piccoli forced Lopez into a diving save in the 94th minute.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Fonseca started extra time by swapping out Mayoral, who could have had at least two goals, for Edin Dzeko. And I wish I could say that was the storyline of extra time.
In the 91st minute, Gianluca Mancini was booked for the second time and was sent off for accumulated yellows. Not good, but those kinds of things happen. But things got so, so, so much worse 60 seconds later.
With Spezia mounting a rare rush at goal, Pau Lopez came way off his line to the edge of the box in an attempt to prevent Piccoli from getting onto a loose ball, but rather than dispossessing the ball, Lopez nearly kicked Piccoli in the face and was shown a straight red, with his only saving grace being that the foul didn't occur in the box.
To recap: two red cards in less than 60 seconds, Roma down two men with Daniel Fuzato in goal—his first competitive match since Round 38 against Juventus late last summer. I'd say this was a classic Roma Happened moment, but I've literally never seen this in my almost decade covering the club. (And, per reports during the match, even if Roma won the game they wouldn't have advanced as they illegally made six subs after Lopez's ejection.)
Despite going down two men, despite all the misses and despite everything that went wrong tonight, Roma were lucky to be facing a club as powerless as Spezia. Through the first 100 minutes of the match, Spezia weren't really worthy of praise, having been the recipient of two bits of good luck—the penalty early in the first half and Kumbulla's poor clearance—but their two-man advantage eventually proved too much for Roma to combat.
Daniele Verde: 107th Minute (Roma 2, Spezia 3)
This was almost like an NHL powerplay, with Spezia just linking passes together around the edge of the area, simply biding time until they found the perfect shot, which they eventually did as Daniele Verde ran onto a hanging cross before heading it past a helpless Fuzato.
That was the match-winner—a headed ball from a diminutive former Roma castoff—and if that didn't’ take the wind out of Roma's sails, Saponara added this beauty for good measure.
Ricardo Saponara: 119th Minute (Roma 2, Spezia 4)
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap. That was a perfect ending to the evening for Spezia.
That'll do, pig. That'll do.
Spezia...again. On Saturday at the Olimpico.