With three wins on the trot, Roma entered their midweek fixture against Bologna on a high note. While the club took a bit of a hit with Lorenzo Pellegrini's recent injury diagnosis, José Mourinho remained undeterred, throwing his support behind the rest of Roma's roster, including seldom-seen players like Carles Pérez and Amadou Diawara. Even at their diminished capacity, Roma had enough depth and talent to make life miserable for Bologna, but would Sinisa Mihajlovic comply?
In the earliest moments of this match, that proved a difficult question to answer. While Roma made an early foray in Bologna's defensive third, Nicolo Zaniolo's well-intended through ball to Tammy Abraham in the box was quickly intercepted—setting the tone for the opening 30 minutes at the Renato Dall’Ara. No matter which path they chose, the Bologna defense was quick to collapse at the point of attack, surrounding Abraham, Zaniolo, or Henrikh Mkhitaryan anytime they set up camp at the edge of the 18.
Roma's first attempt on goal came when Jordan Veretout fired a speculative attempt at Lukasz Skorupski's goal in only the sixth minute, but his shot simply lacked the precision to bother the former Roma keeper, who watched with amusement as Veretout's shot skipped harmlessly wide of the mark.
Bologna danger man Mussa Barrow had his name called moments later, firing his own haphazard attempt on goal; a listless shot through the middle that fell right into Rui Patricio's waiting arms. Amadou Diawara countered with a long ball to Abraham in the box, but, much like Zaniolo's earlier pass into the area, it was quickly met by a swarm of Bologna defenders, who were all too eager to swallow the ball like so many hungry hippos feasting on plastic marbles.
With their attack lacking any semblance of fluidity, Roma were forced to rely on setpieces for inspiration and were given a golden opportunity in the 13th minute when Mkhitaryan was taken down on the right edge of the box, giving Roma a potentially dangerous free-kick. And while Veretout seemed to have plenty of options for a low cross, he simply put too much power on the ball, curling it well past the post and out of reach for any of the men in the yellow kits.
Roma caught a bit of an indirect break moments later when Bologna striker Marko Arnautovic was subbed off in the 15th minute after sustaining an apparent leg injury. Sinisa Mihajlovic turned to Nicola Sansone in his absence while pushing Barrow a bit further up the pitch to accommodate for his club's lack of a genuine striker.
With chances hard to come by for either side, this match felt like a dull 0-0 affair in the making, but in the 19th minute, Rick Karsdorp nearly changed the complexion of the match, putting the ball on a platter for Abraham. With room to breathe and the ball played perfectly by Karsdorp, Roma's fate rested on Abraham's slim shoulders, but the English striker wasn't able to capitalize on the free header, watching in horror as his header rocketed wide of the mark. It's hard to understate how easy this header should have been; Roma had been weathering Bologna's scattered attempts to this point, but you couldn't shake the feeling that Roma would soon live to regret this miss (Spoiler Alert: They would).
While neither club was exactly rewriting the annals of attacking football, the tiny crevices of space in each side's backline soon became caverns, practically inviting either club to seize control of this match.
You know where this going...
Mattias Svanberg: 35th Minute (Bologna 1, Roma 0)
THE CURL ON THIS GOAL FROM MATTIAS SVANBERG pic.twitter.com/9B5D49agF7— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 1, 2021
Hey, sometimes you just have to tip your cap to your opponent; and this is definitely one of those moments. Just look at Svanberg's technique here! Bologna player or not, you have to admit this goal was pure class. Go to the 33-second mark of that clip and just watch how Svanberg deftly uses his right instep to not only impart spin on the ball but to ensure that it dropped right in front of Patricio, picking up additional force off the bounce, falling in the furthest reaches of the goal—just a brilliant strike.
And that was really the long and short of the first half. Roma had a series of quick corners down the stretch, one of which Abraham nearly poked home, denied only by Skoriupski literally reaching back over his head to pull the ball off the line with the very tips of his gloves.
As frustrating as the first half was for Roma, it actually got worse moments before the halftime whistle when Tammy Abraham was booked for hitting Svanberg in the face. It was probably a soft call—it seemed to be an inadvertent collision—but he'll now miss Saturday's match against Inter Milan due to suspension.
In a move that portended things to come for Roma, Mourinho was forced into a pair of early substitutions: swapping out an ineffective Diawara for Carles Pérez and then an injury-forced change that saw Stephan El Shaarawy make way for Eldor Shomurodov.
The circumstances behind those changes were far from ideal, but Shomurodov nearly made an immediate impact, firing a quick cross into the box for Abraham. However, as he did all night long, Skorpuski foiled Roma's plans, ripping the ball out of midair like vintage Dennis Rodman corralling a rebound. Not to be outdone, Shomorudov played the role of disruptor several minutes later, intercepting/clearing a ball at the edge of the box, likely denying Bologna a clear-cut chance.
With the club chasing a lead, Roma would have been forgiven if they neglected their defensive duties, but in addition to Shomurodov's chance-saving interception, Chris Smalling continued his fine return to the pitch, doing an exceptional job at removing Barrow from the match—only one shot attempt in 89 minutes—and throwing his body in front of a Nicola Sansone attempt in the 62nd minute.
Mourinho would go to the bench again in the 64th minute, bringing Bryan Cristante into the match in place of Veretout. And moments later, Roma were gifted a chance when Bologna coughed up the ball deep in their own territory. With Abraham recovering the ball in a flash and the Bologna defense scattered, an equalizer felt like a formality, but you could practically hear the whole of Rome groan when Gary Medel picked off Abraham's cross—quelling our hopes of a comeback in the process.
Still, Roma persisted. Henrikh Mkhitaryan managed to carve out a bit of space in the 68th minute, knifing through the Bologna defense before unfurling a 20-yard attempt only to see Skorupski crush his dreams once more.
With 15 minutes remaining, Roma's mission was clear: get forward at all costs and fire anything and everything they had at Skorupski in hopes of stealing a point at the death. But the former Roma keeper continued to confound his former club, stopping three more shots down the stretch, including another miraculous flying save against Mkhitaryan.
All of Roma's last-ditch efforts were nearly rendered moot in the 71st minute when Andreas Skov Olsen attempted to essentially recreate Svanberg's early goal but lacked the requisite spin on the ball, wasting a decent chance down the stretch.
The match wouldn't end without a bit of controversy, though. In the 72nd minute, Zaniolo was booked for simulation after it appeared he was taken down in the box by Nicolás Dominguez. Despite his pleas, the referees quickly dismissed his claims, as Dominguez effectively cleared the ball away without clipping Zaniolo's boot.
Mourinho would make one final change in the 73rd minute, bringing on Matías Viña in place of Gianluca Mancini. Zaniolo was then taken down by Dominguez a second time, giving Roma a dead-center free kick from 20 yards out. With their usual spot-kick takers out of the match, Tammy Abraham stepped up to the plate and promptly fired a shot wide of the mark.
In the 83rd minute, Dominguez, who apparently was never read The Boy Who Cried Wolf, tripped up Mkhitaryan at the edge of the area, potentially giving Roma a free point on the table. But it wasn't meant to be, as VAR quickly judged Mkhitaryan offside, nullifying what could have been a match-tying penalty kick.
Undaunted, Roma soldiered on, creating two decent chances down the stretch: a turn-and-fire attempt from Abraham that was unsurprisingly turned away by Skorupski and a beautifully placed long ball from Viña, who found Zaniolo streaking into the box, but the ball ran just a bit too far for Zaniolo, who whiffed on the attempt before Skorupski came flying off his line to secure the shot, the match, and three points for Bologna.
And yet, somehow, Roma weren't done shooting themselves in the foot, as both Mourinho and Karsdorp were booked in the game's final moments. Thanks to his stoppage-time yellow, Karsdorp will join Abraham from the stands on Saturday when Roma faces Inter Milan without their captain, their most expensive player ever, and their top right-back.
Given the circumstances in which Roma entered this match, I'm not sure we should mine the depths for lessons from today's disaster in Bologna, except to say that Roma's old demons—poor finishing and opposing keepers playing like a 28-year-old Buffon—are alive and well. Thanks to this defeat, their first on the road against Bologna since 2018, Roma's grasp on fifth place becomes even more tenuous as they now hold a slim one-point advantage over sixth-place Fiorentina.
With Inter Milan waiting in the wings on Saturday, Roma has precious little time to lick their wounds, but Mourinho will need every spare second he can find to figure out how to topple second-placed Inter without Pellegrini, Abraham, and Karsdorp.
Roma hosts Inter at the Olimpico on Saturday afternoon.