With their world seemingly crumbling around them following their shocking defeat to Spezia in the Coppa Italia earlier this week, Roma welcomed Spezia to the Stadio Olimpico once again, this time for a surprisingly critical round 19 fixture.
Following the 4-2 Coppa defeat, Roma quickly became embroiled in controversy with Fonseca's relationship with his players, his grasp of procedural rules, and yes, his job coming under question. Anything short of a victory today, and Fonseca likely would be out on the streets and Roma would be searching for yet another manager—So, you know, pretty typical Roma Happened stuff.
Considering the stake at play, it would have been nice if Roma came right out and exerted their physical advantages over Spezia, but the opening salvos in this match were rather restrained. Through the opening quarter-hour, neither club seemed quite sure of itself nor certain how/when/where to take an early crack at goal. As a result, the tempo of this match was noticeably slow while both sides were bogged down in midfield.
However, with Fonseca's neck on the line and Spezia in search of their fourth-straight positive result in Seria A, that stalemate could only last so long.
Borja Mayoral: 19th Minute (Roma 1, Spezia 0)
El gol: gran pase de Spinazzola, Lorenzo Pellegrini picó a un enorme hueco y asistió a Mayoral, que fue inteligente en no ir a buscar la primera pelota (estaba en offside).— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 23, 2021
Y ya nos empataron. Nunca algo tranquilo, no? pic.twitter.com/gI047b1614
By this point in the match, Roma and Spezia spent the opening quarter-hour feeling each other out, with neither side really venturing too far forward. But that all changed just shy of the 20th minute. It was a simple yet beautiful run of play from Roma, with Leonardo Spinazzola catching Lorenzo Pellegrini narrowly onside. From there, the Roma captain ran a few meters and played a simple square ball over to Mayoral, who slotted it home cool as you like.
The goodwill from that goal last only five minutes before Spezia grabbed an equalizer thanks to another glaring defensive error.
Roberto Piccoli: 24th Minute (Roma 1, Spezia 1)
GOAL— Goal (@goalsmajor) January 23, 2021
Roma 1-1 Spezia
24’ Roberto Piccoli pic.twitter.com/vnhBfAEZgM
Following a turnover in the Roma box—Kumbulla’s headed clearance attempt hit Chris Smalling and fell right to Spezia—Diego Farias’ attempt in the box didn't really force Pau Lopez into a save, but the ball drifted listlessly across the face of goal, too far for Lopez to really corral it but in his attempt to save it, he actually deflected the ball into the path of Roberto Piccoli. And with the ball practically sitting on a platter, Piccoli pounced on it to level the match at one-all after 24 minutes.
That would be it for Piccoli as he was subbed off in the 33rd minute with an apparent injury. Roma would continue to work the ball through to Mayoral, who, in the 34th minute, nearly doubled his tally when he cut in from the left, switched the ball to his right foot, and let loose a curled attempt from the edge of the box. It was a good look from Mayoral but he just couldn't get enough bend on the ball to tuck under the crossbar.
Roma would get one more clean look at the goal before the stroke of half-time when Pellegrini fired from 20 yards out, forcing Spezia keeper Ivan Provedel into a stretched save, but the whistle sounded with the match knotted at one apiece.
With neither side making any changes to start the second frame, the early moment of this half were a near carbon copy of the first: lots of tentative possession in midfield with no daring runs into either final third.
That would quickly change, however.
Borja Mayoral: 53rd Minute (Roma 2, Spezia 1)
Doblete de Mayoral, no podía ser en un mejor momento para el español.— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 23, 2021
This was the longest give and go you'll likely ever see, as Jordan Veretout and Borja Mayoral teamed up for a three-touch, two-man move from the center of the park. With Veretout starting the play in midfield, the two players exchanged passes as they moved towards the edge of the area, with Mayoral finishing the play off with a low and away shot that tucked under the outstretched arms of Provedel—he also showcased a nifty bit of dribbling to avoid the defense as he crossed into the area.
Roam would (for the moment) put the match beyond all doubt moments later when Rick Karsdorp got his first goal of the season, and indeed his first-ever for Roma.
Rick Karsdorp: 55th Minute (Roma 3, Spezia 1)
De Spinazzola a Karsdorp, de lateral/volante por izquierda a lateral/volante por derecha.— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 23, 2021
Festejo y descarga de Fonseca en un abrazo. pic.twitter.com/oeeewxhEej
We can't see the buildup from this clip, but what a great ball from Spinazzola and an even better job from Karsdorp, who busted his ass to reach the far post in time to tap this goal home. And a rather subdued celebration for his first goal of the season, wouldn’t you say?
Spezia would scratch their way back into this match, stealing another goal just shy of the hour mark.
Diego Farias: 59th Minute (Roma 3, Spezia 2)
Farias, who nearly scored Spezia's first goal, showcased some incredible skills here, twisting and turning Max Kumbulla as he drove into Roma's area before beating Lopez low and away with a great left-footed effort. Top marks to Andrej Galabinov for the flicked assist, too—no way they score that (or even create the chance) without it. But once again, Roma's inability to effectively clear their area came back to haunt them.
Roma would recover well enough from this goal to restore a bit of order to the match and Fonseca made his first change in the 68th minute, swapping out Gonzalo Villar for Bryan Cristante. Following this swap, Roma got loose down the right flank with Carles Pérez playing a cross into Mayoral at the edge of the area, but Borja's would-be hattrick sailed well wide of the mark.
Spezia kept coming at Roma and had two clean chances at goal around the 72nd minute: first off a free-kick that Roma's wall handled and then, off the ensuing corner, Farias had an open look off a volley but seemed to rush his attempt and pushed it well wide of the far post.
Roma repaid the favor, missing two clear cut opportunities several minutes later, first through a Spinazzola-led breakaway that completely missed a wide-open Veretout down the right flank (though the ball eventually found him and he fired into the side netting) and then, following a Pellegrini shot that was saved by Provedel, Perez inexplicably missed a wide-open net off the rebound.
Perez would see his afternoon end shortly before the final whistle when Fonseca brought on the seldom seen Amadou Diawara to kill the match off...here comes the but.
But, no one told Daniele Verde
Daniele Verde: 90th Minute (Roma 3, Spezia 3)
Goooooooooool de Daniele Verde en el Olímpico de Roma. Otro jugador infrautilizado y no utilizado en su posición por Sergio pic.twitter.com/v11hAHzbON— Pucelandia (@CarlosPuceland) January 23, 2021
Man, I hate to sing the opposition's praises, but what an incredible play from Farias who threaded a ball through to Vedre, splitting two defenders WITH A HEADER. From there, Verde beat Lopez pretty easily at the near post.
And just when it seemed like the curtains closed on Fonseca's Roma career, he was rescued by his captain...
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 92nd Minute (Roma 4, Spezia 3)
Daje Roma!!!! Lorenzo Pellegrini hizo el 4-3 cuando todo se derrumbaba (aún más, sí) y el abrazo del equipo deja en claro esa necesidad de que llegue algo bueno.— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 23, 2021
Mucho por solucionar y trabajar. Pero ganando, el humor es otro para encarar lo que viene. pic.twitter.com/Jh3s63fa2s
Verde's equalizer could have been a back-breaker for Roma, but they took full advantage of the three minutes tacked on by referee Luca Pairetto. With Spinazzola charge down the left flank, Peres planted himself at the right edge of the box waiting for the perfect ball from Spinazzola, which he delivered with aplomb. From there, Peres, who had only been on the pitch for maybe 10 minutes at that point, quickly shuffled it over to Pellegrini, who BURIED the ball top shelf where momma hides the cookies to win the day.
The cascade of smiles from all the men wearing red, from Fonseca himself, and from Roma's men in the stands showed just how important this match was, and how relieved they were to win it.
Roma needed a win today, simple as that. And while it took a herculean effort to defeat newly promoted Spezia, a win was precisely what Roma got, albeit a far more dramatic one than anyone had anticipated. There were still the usual concerns—some sloppy defending at the back, particularly in terms of clearances, while Pau Lopez was, well, Pau Lopez—but you have to love the spirit with which Roma played, particularly after every conceded goal, but especially after Verde's late equalizer. In each instance, Roma came storming back, hunting for a goal, and could have easily put five or six past Spezia.
As it stands right now, Roma are once again safely in third place for the moment, though the three clubs directly below the Giallorossi—Napoli, Juventus and Atalanta—have yet to play their round 19 fixtures, while Napoli and Juve still have a game in hand over Roma.
Despite the defensive struggles and despite nearly blowing the match in stoppage time, Roma has a lot to be proud of today while Paulo Fonseca now has an increasingly difficult lineup selection to make each week: Dzeko vs. Mayoral.
Roma plays host to Hellas Verona on Sunday the 31st.
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