Despite all the gloom descending on Trigoria over the past several days, Roma entered their round nine fixture against Napoli in pretty decent shape: 15 points after eight matches, good enough for a tenuous grasp on fourth place. But, with both Lazio and Atalanta dropping points earlier today, Roma had a chance to put a bit of distance between themselves and two of their chief rivals for Serie A's final Champions League place next season.
And, as expected, José Mourinho went right back to the well, rolling out his now standard starting eleven. From Rui Patricio at the very back to Tammy Abraham and the forefront, Mourinho's A-Team got the call in today's Derby del Sole against Luciano Spalletti and the undefeated Partenopei of Napoli.
With a sold-out (limited capacity) crowd urging them on, Roma got off to a pretty quick start, making two really nice direct runs at the Napoli defense in the opening minutes, first through a nice overlap and run between Rick Karsdorp and Nicolo Zaniolo, which was broken up by Koulibaly at the last second, and later when Tammy Abraham was played into the box with a clear path to goal only to see his first touch let him down.
Undeterred by Napoli's last-ditch defense, Roma continued to hunt for an opening goal, with Lorenzo Pellegrini getting the first crack with a left-footer from 12 yards out after an impressive long ball from Bryan Cristante unlocked the Napoli defense. Pellegrini's shot went high and wide, but Mourinho's men approached the opening 10 minutes with a clear purpose: strike right at the heart of the Napoli backline.
The first real Napoli threat came in the 15th minute via a corner kick where the Partenopei tried a bit of trickery. Rather than attempting your standard out/in-swinging corner kick, Lorenzo Insigne rushed over to the corner flag and appeared to dribble the play directly into play, claiming that Matteo Politano made the first touch but the refs weren't convinced and forced Napoli to repeat the attempt, which was eventually turned away by Tammy Abraham, who did well to clear the danger with a glancing header.
Napoli's next-best chance came via a free-kick at the right edge of the area after Matías VIña tripped Politano in the 19th minute. Mourinho's vociferous pleas did little to change the referee's decision but he was rewarded with a yellow card for his protestations. Politano's ensuing free-kick was well-struck, but the former Roma academy player's effort sailed wide to the left, sparing Roma another early deficit.
Despite the furious pace, neither club managed a clear-cut chance, or even a shot on target, through the opening 20 minutes. Roma would almost break that hex several minutes later when Cristante sprung Abraham into the box with a perfectly placed long ball, but Abraham, who was jogging gingerly after taking a knock moments earlier(requiring help to get off the pitch), couldn't create enough separation between the last defender and, as a result, his curled attempt didn't have enough power, but he barely missed his third league goal.
He may have been limping around the pitch, but Roma continued to look Abraham's way as the first half marched on, with Rick Karsdorp flashing a ball to Abraham at the near right post. The timing and placement were near perfect but Abraham was thwarted by a last-second intervention from Rrahmani, who beat Abraham to the spot by a hair's breadth.
And just when it looked like the final 10 minutes of the half would peter out without issue, the match caught a second wind in the waning moments. First, there was Lorenzo Insigne's cut-in-and-curl effort that, while incredibly well-struck, sailed wide of the mark. Roma's Lorenzo (Pellegrini) had a golden opportunity a few minutes later, leading a counter-attack through the middle but rather than laying the ball off to either side, he decided to have a crack at Ospina's goal from 25 yards out. And that moment's hesitation (the decision to pass or shoot) gave Koulibaly all the time he needed to fill the void and block Pellegrini's attempt.
Napoli would finally force a save from Rui Patricio late in the half when Giovanni Di Lorenzo floated a speculative attempt at the far right post, but Patricio was up to the task, snaring the ball with ease.
The half ended on a chippy note, with Gianluca Mancini and Victor Osimhen trading barbs on a pair of contested headers, but cooler heads ultimately prevailed and the match headed into halftime scoreless, with only one on-target attempt between both clubs.
Neither José Mourinho nor Luciano Spalletti made any changes to star the second half, neither in personnel nor approach. Roma's best looks in the first half came Abraham's way, so it was no surprise to see Cristante look to him early in the half, dropping another sublime long ball to the English striker, but the Napoli defense did well to snuff out the chance before any imminent threat.
Napoli went back to their well-worn playbook, looking again to set up Osimhen in the box early in the half. While the Roma defense was well-positioned at the edge of the area, Osimhen was able to worm his way through the defense and was only denied by a great read-and-react moment from Roger Ibañez, who came flying in from an acute angle to deny the effort.
After a brief halt in play after Anguissa tweaked his right leg on a floated ball into the box, Napoli nearly broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute on a bang-bang sequence that saw Osimhen run onto a ball at the left post only to see his shot (and Gianluca Mancini's neck) strike the woodwork. In the resulting scrum, the ball found its way to Mario Rui whose hasty attempt was turned away by Rick Karsdorp.
Roma would hit back at Napoli almost immediately, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan forcing a David Ospina save in the 64th minute, which was quickly followed up by an attempted flying volley from Pellegrini at the right post. He had enough space but this was always a difficult attempt from Roma's captain.
With the match burning daylight, José Mourinho dipped into his bench for the first time, swapping out Mkhitaryan for Stephan El Shaarawy in the 66th minute, but Pellegrini would once again hear his name called. In the 70th minute, with Roma charging down the pitch on a counter-attack, Zaniolo played Pellegrini into space down the right channel but Pellegrini's one-timed attempt found the side netting.
The Giallorossi’s next chance came in the 73rd minute when Pellegrini picked out Gianluca Mancini at the far left post with an out-swinging free-kick. While Mancini had all the time and space in the world, he watched in disbelief as his header sailed harmlessly wide of the mark.
With 15 minutes plus stoppage time remaining, the sense of urgency was palpable, with both sides desperate to find any semblance of space in the final third. Roma came excruciatingly close when Viña burst down the left flank, squaring a ball to Abraham in the box but the ball was just a tad too close to Ospina, who came flying off his line to intercept Viña's pass.
In the process, Ospina appeared to be clipped by Abraham's leg and required several minutes of medical attention, tacking on even more stoppage time in what was bound to be a tense finish.
With that tension mounting, both sides resorted to firing speculative attempts on goal, with Cristante pumping one Ospina's way from nearly 28 yards out, only to see the shot turned away by the Napoli defense.
Further escalating the animosities, Roger Ibañez once again put the wood to Osimhen, roughing up the Napoli striker on another contested header. And with the tension flooding the pitch and spilling over to the touchline, José Mourinho drew his second yellow card of the match for arguing with the match officials and was sent off in the 81st minute.
Tammy Abraham would ignite another counter-attack, darting through the middle of the pitch with multiple outlets on either side. With Roma holding a numerical advantage, this felt like the club's first genuine scoring chance, but once Abraham shuffled the ball off to Zaniolo on the right, Roma's number twenty-two hesitated, allowing the Napoli defense to reorganize and turn away the threat.
Roma would make one final change down the stretch, pulling off Abraham for Eldor Shomurodov, but Osimhen nearly put the match to bed in the final minute, finding space past Ibañez to head the ball past Patricio; too much space as it turned out—the goal was quickly ruled offside.
With five minutes of stoppage time to contest, this felt like a classic Roma match, where anything and everything could happen in the final 45 seconds. But apart from an El Shaarawy attempt and a flurry of yellow cards (Karsdorp, Veretout, Mertens and Mancini were all booked in quick succession), the match ended without issue—until the final whistle blew when Spalletti was also “sent off” after applauding the referee seconds after the final whistle.
This was your classic justified draw, as neither side really managed to put their stamp on the Stadio Olimpico this evening. With both clubs hitting the woodwork, wasting counter attacks and even seeing their managers sent off, a draw was probably the just result. While three points would have been great, Roma is the first and only team to take anything from Napoli this season, and while we're not huge proponents of moral victories, you have to feel good about Roma's response after such a humiliating defeat in Norway on Thursday.
This draw will temporarily keep Roma in fourth place, depending on the result of the Inter Milan-Juventus fixture set to kick off later today. Should the Old Lady win, they'll leapfrog Roma into fourth place, but as it stands right now, the Giallorossi's 16 points are good enough for the fourth spot on the table.
Another midweek match as Roma travels to Cagliari on Wednesday.
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