Roma's first trip to Venice in nearly two decades packed more than a few surprises for Roma fans, particularly those of us on the east coast. With a pre-dawn kickoff, this felt like the dark ages of foreign Serie A fandom, when we'd frequently have to roust ourselves out of bed to watch our digital heroes chase a ball on tiny 12-inch laptop screens in the wee hours of the morning. But that wasn't the only shock in store for Roma fans.
Apart from the early kick-off time, José Mourinho unveiled a surprise of his own: a new formation. Gone was the 4-2-3-1, chucked out in favor of the 3-4-1-2; a move that puts nearly all of Roma's attacking cards on the table at once. It's a change some fans and pundits have been calling on for several weeks now but still somehow registered as a surprise.
While that decision was all well and good, Venezia rendered Mourinho's tinkering moot almost immediately, seizing an early lead off a beautifully orchestrated setpiece that saw Mattia Caldara beat a hapless Rui Patrico from six yards out.
Fortune quickly swung back in Roma's favor when Tammy Abraham was taken down in the box by Ridgeciano Haps while chasing a loose ball. While Jordan Veretout immediately assumed his normal position at the penalty spot, a rather lengthy VAR check judged that Lorenzo Pellegrini was actually offside, nullifying the penalty call.
The two clubs would trade barbs over the ensuing 10 minutes, highlighted by a beautifully struck shot off the boot of Davide Okereke for the home club that sailed just wide. Eldor Shomurodov would respond moments later, trying to finesse a shot into the lower left hand corner of the goal, only to see it skirt just wide of the mark.
Roma's best chance of the half came in the 27th minute. With a loose ball bouncing around the Venezia area, Tammy Abraham lashed his long right leg onto the ball, sending a low screaming shot from the right edge of the box, only to see it strike the post—the fourth time Tammy has been foiled by the woodwork this season. Stephan El Shaaraway's immediate follow-up attempt was denied, as was Jordan Veretout’s, marking for a furious but frustrating moment for the Giallorossi, who were desperately hunting for an equalizer as we crept towards the half-hour mark.
The Giallorossi wouldn't get that equalizer straight away, but they showed increasing signs of life as the match pushed past the half-hour mark. In the 35th minute, Lorenzo Pellegrini was on the receiving end of a clever little layoff from Abraham at the edge of the box, but the captain couldn't quite get enough on the ball, making for an easy save from Sergio Romero.
Not to be outdone, Venezia kept their foot on the gas, doing their best to take advantage of an unexpected lead, and they almost saw that lead doubled a minute later when David Okereke completely muscled Marash Kumbulla off the ball, setting up a veritable one-v-one against Rui Patricio. While he had the space and time, Okereke's shot sailed wide of the mark, sparing Roma for the moment.
Venezia would continue their quest for a second goal moments later when a wonderfully orchestrated team movement at the edge of the box—multiple passes, layoffs, and even an overlapping run parallel to the goal line—produced a clean look for Sofian Kiyine, whose low attempt was smothered by Patricio.
Roma responded with the sharpest and quickest bit of calcio we've seen from them in weeks, pinging the ball around the edges of the area and/or bombarding the Venezia final third with a series of progressive passes from Pellegrini and Veretout. However, despite those signs of life, the Venezia defense remained unswayed by Mourinho's all-out attack.
But they could only hold out so long. In the 43rd minute, Roma would finally have their moment in the sun. After El Shaarawy fired a ball to Abraham in the box, the English striker quickly shuffled the ball over to Lorenzo Pellegrini, and in the process of doing so, Romero intervened, denying Pellegrini's attempt but inadvertently gifting Shomurodov with a gimme-goal, which Roma's number fourteen was more than happy to oblige by striking it in the back of the goal to level the match.
With only a few minutes plus stoppage time to play, it seemed like Roma would be content to enter the dressing room tied at one, but no one told that to Tammy Abraham, who gave Roma the advantage in stoppage time.
This time, Shomurodov played the creator, feeding Abraham in the middle of the box. After settling the ball with his chest, Abraham flashed his strength and poise, shielding the defender from the ball—who was completely draped over his back—and still getting enough on the shot to beat Romero, sending Roma into hysterics and into halftime up 2-1.
With a 2-1 lead in hand, it would have been perfectly reasonable for Roma to park the bus for 45 minutes and choke the life out of this match, but the Giallorossi started the second half off searching for a third goal, one that could potentially put this game out of reach for Venezia. In the earliest moments of the half, Roma saw attempts from Veretout, Ibañez, and Cristante all go askew, while Marash Kumbulla squandered a headed chance off a corner, which quickly followed by a blocked Pellegrini attempt in the 50th minute.
Still, despite their inability to pad the lead, Roma was playing with intent to start the new half. The mission: get a third goal and close up shop. Despite being thwarted in those early efforts, Roma continued to press the issue and nearly found that third goal when Shomurodov found El Shaarawy at the point of the 18. Thanks to the pace and precision of Shomurodov's pass, El Shaarawy had Romero leaning the wrong way and his side-footed shot almost tricked the Venezia keeper, who essentially just sat on the ball before his momentum completely toppled him over.
With the pitch tilting in Roma’s favor, Venezia began to scratch and claw their way back into the game, with Kiyine misfiring on a one-timed effort from the edge of the area. He likely had Patricio beat, so Roma was spared by the Belgian's poor technique in this instance.
But the Giallorossi's luck would soon run out when Bryan Cristante clipped Mattia Caldara during a leaping/high-booted challenge. After a quick VAR check, Mattia Aramu converted the penalty, drawing Venezia level in the process.
After roaring back with two quick goals to close out the first half, Roma suddenly found themselves chasing a match-winner with 25 minutes to play. Mourinho adjusted to this new game state by shifting the focus to attack, swapping out Kumbulla for Carles Pérez in the 66th minute.
Moments later, Roma created another genuine chance in the box when Pellegrini squared a ball to Abraham dead center in the box, but Sergio Romero read it perfectly, bolting off his line to intervene and break up the play. Abraham would get another clean look at goal a few minutes later, turning and firing in the box only to see his attempt sail wide and to the left.
With the clock ticking away, it felt like we were careening headlong into another 2-2 draw, but Venezia caught Roma napping in the 74th minute. After Ethan Ampadu dropped a long ball in his lap from well beyond midfield, Okereke was played directly into a one-v-one with Patricio, and with one clever stutter step, he turned the Portuguese keeper into a blubbery mess, beating the veteran with ease after injecting that slight moment of hesitation. There wasn’t much Patricio could do; the ball was just that perfect, catching Okereke in stride.
After surviving Venezia's third-minute goal and snatching the lead back at the buzzer in the first half, Roma, who were actually playing quite sharp in attack, now found themselves down 3-2 on the road to bottom-dwelling Venezia, a club that managed only eight goals prior to this morning's fixture.
Mourinho would go to the bench once more in the dying moments, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo, Nicola Zalewski, and Borja Mayoral down the stretch. And while Roma threatened Romero multiple times, they couldn't find a breakthrough. Venezia, meanwhile, very nearly found a fourth goal only to be denied by two remarkable Rui Patricio saves in quick succession: first, a leaping parry over the bar and then a stunning kick save at the near post on the ensuing corner.
With their keeper now standing on his head to provide hope for a draw, it was up to the attack to snatch a point at the death. But you know where this is going—you read the headline. Despite winning multiple corners down the stretch, despite Pellegrini nearly picking out Mayoral at the far post, and despite Pérez forcing a hasty block from Gianluca Busio, Roma couldn't conjure any last-minute miracles and fell for the fourth time in their past seven matches.
With 27 attempts on goal, including 10 on target shots, Roma seemed to correct many of the errors dragging them down over the past 10 days or so, but it simply wasn't enough. Mourinho's decision to shift formations to an attack-minded 3-4-1-2 definitely produced some crisper looks at goal, and definitely a greater volume of attempts, but it came at a cost: defensive cohesion.
Roma may have only conceded 13 shots at the other end, but 10 of those came within the 18-yard box, seven of which were deemed on-target. And were it not for Patricio’s heroics down the stretch and a late Thomas Henry breakaway shot that hit the crossbar, Venezia could have pumped five past the Giallorossi today.
With an international break coming up, Mourinho will have nearly two full weeks to find some sort of balance in his squad, both in terms of their approach and hopefully something approaching a consistent rotation pattern.
Thanks to today's defeat, Roma has temporarily slipped to fifth place but could fall to sixth if Lazio defeats Salernitana later today.
The international break, which feels sorely needed right now.