With the memories of Sunday's rain-soaked and stilted 1-0 victory over Sampdoria fresh in their minds, Roma were probably ecstatic when they saw the Calabrian sun beaming down on the pitch at the Stadio Ezio Scida in Crotone this afternoon. For the first time in what feels like weeks, Roma didn't have to deal with inclement weather or lousy pitch conditions. No, the only thing potentially troubling Roma today was 20th place Crotone, owners of one of the worst defensive records in all of Europe.
On the surface, this match seemed destined to end with a lopsided score, except no one mentioned that to Crotone. Through the first five to six minutes, Crotone were showing more guts than anyone had imagined, handling Roma's high press and even finding a few pockets of space in the Giallorossi backline. Not having the luxury of time or possession, Crotone still managed to find Simy with a couple of well-placed longballs early in the match.
Roma weren't exactly at peak anxiety yet, but you could sense an upset in the making. Fortunately, Edin Dzeko's stand-in dispelled that notion in short order.
Borja Mayoral: 8th Minute (Crotone 0, Roma 1)
➡️ ➡️ ⚽️— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 6, 2021
Villar con el pase justo para poner el equipo en ataque. Mkhitaryan control y asistencia. Mayoral, gol bien de 9.
Roma ya le gana al Crotone. Daje! pic.twitter.com/7Az9XVZV4r
After giving Crotone a bit of hope in the opening moments of this match, Roma flexed their muscle here, turning a simple three-touch move into a gimme goal for the young Spanish striker. Credit to Villar for remaining composed under slight duress and picking out Mkhitaryan down the left flank. From there, it was just a simple cross and tap-in between Micki and Mayoral, with Mkhitaryan registering his league-leading seventh assist.
Even though the match had just begun, this goal had the feel of a late match-winner. Crotone, who are among the worst teams in Europe at the moment, were showing more pluck than anyone had expected, so it was critical that Roma shut them down early. The longer they let Crotone believe, the greater the chance for disaster, so this strike couldn't have come at a better time—even though it was only 480 seconds into the match.
As one would expect, given the gulf in class between these two sides, Roma were running the show, dictating the pace and location of play throughout the first half. While the match hit its usual mid-half lull, Roma were still stitching together some tidy passing networks, facing little resistance in the process, but were left wanting in their quest for a second goal.
And that imprecision nearly came back to haunt them in the 26th minute when Simy, who was easily Crotone's most effective player in the early goings, got on the end of a cross and saw his header dip just past the near post. The Sharks would find another chance two minutes later, forcing Pau Lopez into a stretched save.
It's a pattern we've seen many times over the years: when you give a small club an inch, more often than not, they'll take a yard. But, just as he did 20 minutes earlier, Borja boosted his side with a timely (and sensational) goal.
Borja Mayoral: 29th Minute (Crotone 0, Roma 2)
Bomba Mayoral! Daje Roma! pic.twitter.com/ew1bTaocxD— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) January 6, 2021
Borja made “amends” for his tap-in goal earlier in the match with an absolute cracker just shy of the half-hour mark, BURYING this ball into the top corner from well beyond the 18-yard-box. We've seen Mayoral do a lot of clever work in the box throughout his brief Roma career, but this was perhaps the best bit of class we've seen from the young striker so far. What. A. Hit!
Mayoral continued to exert his influence on this match moments later. With Rick Karsdorp leading him into the box with a low cross/through ball from the right flank, Mayoral ran onto the ball and was immediately taken down by Vladimir Golemic, earning a penalty that was converted by Mkhitaryan with ease to put Roma on easy street: up 3-0 at the half.
It seems silly to say it now, but I swear, in the first few minutes of this match, Crotone looked like they might make a game of it. But thanks to Mayoral's impressive efforts, Roma effectively put this one to bed after half an hour.
The final 10 minutes of the first half played on without issue and Roma headed into the lockerroom comfortably ahead 3-0, setting up an easy, breezy second half.
Somewhat surprisingly, with a three-nil lead in his pocket, Paulo Fonseca opted for no changes to start the second half. And really, through the first 15 minutes of the new half, there was no need: Roma were doing as they pleased when they pleased. With the match pushing past the hour mark, Fonseca made his first subs: Marash Kumbulla on for Ibañez and Lorenzo Pellegrini on for Mkhitaryan.
Pellegrini would have an immediate pop on goal when Cristante found him streaking through the left channel with a diagonal ball, but Pellegrini's left-footed attempt was easily parried away by Crotone keeper Alex Cordaz.
To their credit, Crotone kept their composure and stuck with their gameplan and eventually found a breakthrough in the 71st minute when Golemic headed a ball home at the far post off a corner. He wasn't exactly unmarked, but Mayoral seemed to lose track of him at the post. Probably not an error Dzeko would have made, but Roma were up 3-0 at that point, so it didn't really matter in the end.
Crotone would continue to search for a second goal, finding some freedom down either flank with longballs over the top from the midfield, but Roma did well to snuff them out at the last minute. Nevertheless, it was a signal of intent from the home side; they weren't simply going to let this match fade away.
Fonseca would make another sub just shy of the 80th minute, swapping out Bryan Cristante for Jordan Veretout. Considering Crotone's sudden life, bringing in Veretout and his boundless energy was a shrewd move from Fonseca.
Edin Dzeko would receive a cameo appearance in the 85th minute, coming on for Mayoral to close out the match. And while Crotone had a couple of late looks at goal, the final whistle blew and Roma walked away deserved 3-1 winners.
Despite the somewhat surprisingly even start, this match played out pretty much how we expected: Crotone were no match for Roma, who, thanks to their 3-0 first-half lead, had plenty of cushion to sit on in the second half, which likely explains how Crotone won the possession and shooting battles this afternoon.
Thanks to the calm play and precise passing of Gonzalo Villar and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in midfield and some quick and efficient defending from Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, and Roger Ibañez at the back, this was one of the easier afternoons Roma have experienced this season. And really, if Roma had anything to play for in the second half, I doubt Crotone would have mustered up 14 shots and 52% possession, so don't fret those figures.
But...it gets even better. Thanks to Claudio Ranieri and Sampdoria hanging on to defeat Inter Milan 2-1, Roma now has a chance to tie Conte's crew for second place next week (on points at least).
Roma welcomes Inter to the Olimpico on Sunday for a MASSIVE match.
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