Roma was able to breathe a sigh of relief prior to kickoff at the Allianz Stadium today after Tammy Abraham made a late recovery from an ankle injury he sustained while on international duty with England. Juventus may be struggling at the start of the '21-’22 season but Roma still needs all hands on deck when they face the Old Lady, particularly on the road, so Abraham's beaming smile was a welcomed sight for José Mourinho and Roma fans everywhere.
Joining Abraham in the starting lineup was the rest of Mourinho's A-Team, including captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Jordan Veretout, among others. And Mourinho would need every bit of his best lineup as Juventus threatened seconds after the opening whistle as Federico Bernardeschi got loose down the wing and fired a left-footed shot at Rui Patricio.
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a very dangerous attempt, but it was an immediate reminder that you can't relent for even a second against Juventus. Despite that inauspicious start, Roma actually got the better of Juve for the first 10 to 15 minutes this evening, attacking right through the heart of the Juventus defense. With Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan, Zaniolo, and Abraham working in close concert with one another, it felt like only a matter of time before Roma drew first blood.
That, unfortunately, did not come to pass...
Moise Kean: 16th Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 0)
Bentancur or Kean?!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 17, 2021
Juventus do not mind, it’s the opening goal pic.twitter.com/3nsS7wWpu0
I don't know, you tell me: was this goal preventable? After Cuadrado switched play to Matteo De Sciglio on the left, Roma's defense was still pretty well constructed. And while De Sciglio had ample time to fire the ball into the box, there were five Giallorossi defenders in the area, and both Betancur and Kean were marked while Rui Patricio had a beat on De Sciglio's looping cross. Nevertheless, even with Roma's defense positioned well enough, both Betancur and Kean managed to get a head on the ball, setting up one of the stranger goals you'll ever see: Betancur essentially headed the ball off Kean's head, who still somehow managed to beat Patricio past the post—You definitely don't see that every day.
It was a shocking goal considering how well Roma was playing to that point, but things nearly took a dramatic and crushing turn for the worse when Zaniolo fell to the pitch grasping at his heavily bandaged left knee. While Roma fans collective hearts dropped into their small intestines, Zaniolo managed to soldier on for several minutes before Stephan El Shaarawy took his spot in the 26th minute, in what we can only presume was a precautionary move.
The bumps and bruises continued to fall on Roma's head (literally) after Mkhitaryan and Danilo clashed skulls in the middle of the park. With a one-nil lead to protect, Max Allegri didn't completely park the bus, but Juve reverted to a slightly more defensive posture while continuing to look down Roma's right flank for opportunities of their own.
With both sides trading blows in the tail end of the first half, Tammy Abraham decided to take matters into his own hands minutes before the stroke of halftime. Roma's lanky number nine once again flashed his deceptive speed and surprising dribbling ability when he went on a slaloming run straight through the heart of the Juve defense. And after dribbling around Bonucci at the edge of the box, Abraham had a veritable one-v-one against Wojciech Szczesny. Roma's former keeper was able to make the initial save, but Mkhitaryan played Johnny on the Spot, pouncing on the loose ball before being clipped by Szczesny right on the goal line.
While the ball gently sailed over Szczesny's body into the back of the net, referee Daniele Orsato decided not to give the advantage, instead of awarding Roma a penalty.
Which did not go well...
A HUGE penalty save from Wojciech Szczęsny pic.twitter.com/pItrP3qvNJ— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 17, 2021
While this wasn't the best PK attempt we've ever seen from Jordan Veretout, take a close look at Orsato and you'll notice something peculiar. Rather than standing near Veretout and looking directly at him to signal the start of the penalty attempt, Orsato was busy reining in the Juve defense, blowing the whistle multiple times while barely glancing in Veretout's direction. Small stuff, sure, but it definitely seemed to interrupt Veretout's timing and pre-shot routine, perhaps planting a seed of doubt in his mind.
But should it have even come to this, to begin with? The ball went in the back of the net as Mkhitaryan was taken to the ground, yet Orsato chose not to play the advantage.
Referee Daniele Orsato went against the guidelines by blowing the whistle too early for a Roma penalty, therefore denying a Tammy Abraham goal, and Wojciech Szczesny then saved the spot-kick https://t.co/7B5BmAl3gx #Juventus #ASRoma #JuveRoma #SerieA #SerieATIM #JuventusRoma— footballitalia (@footballitalia) October 17, 2021
Needless to say, this put a bit of a damper on an exciting end to the half. While we never want to make excuses for Roma, this match should have been knotted up at one apiece heading into halftime.
Just like they did to start the first half, Juventus wasted no time heaping pressure on Roma's defense, this time via a sensational Bernardeschi overhead volley. While Rui Patricio made the initial save, Moise Kean was in prime position to score a put-back goal but in his haste to beat Patricio to the ball, he hoofed it over the crossbar, sparing Roma for the moment.
In further first-half/second-half symmetry, we had another disputed penalty review after Giorgio Chiellini appeared to clip Pellegrini's heel as the pair contested a 50/50 ball. However, after a quick VAR check, Pellegrini was deemed to have made first contact and the no-call stood.
Bernardeschi missed another golazo in the 64th minute when he unfurled a beauty from beyond 20 yards, firing a worm-burner at Patrico and barely missing the low and away shot at the right post. Between his performance and De Sciglio dialing it up tonight, Roma was being embarrassed by a pair of Juve also-rans. And to this point in the match, Juventus managed only six shots on goal to Roma's 10 but the Old Lady's attempts were more eye-catching (and effective) than Roma's, as evidenced by Bernardeschi's video game heroics.
Roma would find a bit of space in the ensuing 10 to 12 minutes, winning a free-kick and a corner kick in succession while also seeing Matías Viña make a mini-run of his own into the box, twisting and turning the defense and nearly threatening the goal before a last-ditch intervention by Chiellini forced the Uruguayan's shot over the bar.
With the clock winding down (or up, I suppose), Mourinho made one final attacking change, swapping out Veretout for Eldor Shomurodov, giving Roma two strikers for the final 10 minutes and change.
Moments after that change, Roma nearly equalized when Bryan Cristante unleashed his own low-angled laser form 20 yards out, only to see it turned away by the Juve defense inches before it found the back of the net. Since the ball was loose, Cristante had a chance to run onto it, so this would have been an extremely difficult save for Szczesny—Cristante definitely put his entire weight behind the ball.
While Orsato tacked on additional three minutes of stoppage time, they were largely academic as the final whistle blew with the Allianz erupting in applause as Roma left the pitch after an undeserved defeat.
There's an old saying in most North American sports that holds you know an official did their job well when you never hear their name. By toiling away in anonymity and making all the correct calls without any fanfare, the match official is doing their job perfectly. That was not the case tonight. By ignoring precedent, procedure, and hell, even the basic rules of the game, Orsato made himself the story rather than the 22 men playing the game.
Roma's fate wasn't entirely decided by Orsato's decision to award the penalty kick over playing the advantage, but in a one-nil game, that decision is impossible to ignore. I'm sure Mourinho will conjure up a more measured response in his post-match presser, but when they tell the tale of this match—the dropped points from which could very well keep Roma out of the Champions League next season—Orsato will feature heavily in any narrative recapping this critical early season fixture.
Roma wasn't great by any means tonight, but Orsato's controversial decision effectively took the initiative away from José Mourinho's men. With this defeat, the Giallorossi are hanging in fourth place by a thread, one solitary point above Lazio, Atalanta, and Juventus.
Roma returns to Europa Conference League play against Bodoe/Glimt on Thursday.