Riding a three-match winning streak that was punctuated by a 4-1 upset over Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta attacking machine, José Mourinho left nothing to chance today against Sampdoria, trotting out the very same lineup that shocked the Goddesses last week. From Rui Patrico at the very back to the dynamic duo of Tammy Abraham and Nicolo Zaniolo up top, Mourinho's makeshift A-Team took the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico today looking to extend their winning streak while also ending the year on a high note.
And in the opening moments of the match, Mourinho's continuity nearly paid off. In literally the opening touch of the match, Nicolo Zaniolo charged after a loose ball in the Sampdoria box, barreling down on Wladamiro Falcone as he attempted to clear the danger. While Zaniolo's efforts ultimately bore no fruit, it was a tremendous signal of early intent: Roma wanted to put this match away before it had a chance to breathe.
But that exuberance nearly got the better of Roma seconds later when Francesco Caputo was floored in the box, but fortune favored the Giallorossi at that moment as Caputo was deemed offside, sparing Roma a disastrous early penalty.
Zaniolo continued his impressive first half when he found the slightest of openings in the Sampdoria backline, tearing through their ranks like a child ripping open presents on Christmas morning, but The Kid's touch was a bit too heavy and he was ultimately dispossessed. But Zaniolo's aggression and vision were on full display early in the first half. He had no trouble picking out his spots but he just couldn't seem to get that extra little bit of space in the box to create any genuine chances.
Tammy Abraham was up next, as he broke down the right flank after taking the feed from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. While he had all the space in the world, Abraham just wasn't able to properly wrap his foot around the ball and his shot sailed wide of the mark, spinning well past the left post.
Matías Viña, one of our pre-match Picks to Click, had an early look at goal—carving out a bit of space in the middle channel, roughly 25 yards out—but his attempt, much like Abraham's, had just a bit too much air under it and flew over the bar.
The match would settle down from these dizzying heights as we crept towards the 20-minute mark, with neither side having issues moving the ball through midfield but running fresh out of ideas once they reached the final third.
Zaniolo continued his impressive first half, once again slicing through the Sampdoria ranks, and rather than looking for his own attempt, he played a beautiful square ball into the box. However, like nearly everything Roma tried to this point, the timing was a fraction off and the chance went wasted. Mkhitaryan and Abraham were left equally frustrated moments later when the Armenian floated a cross to Abraham at the far post, but Tammy's poorly timed jump resulted in an exceedingly difficult headed attempt.
With Roma struggling to create any clear-cut chances in the run of play, Jordan Veretout nearly settled matters with a brilliantly struck free-kick from the wide left area, flashing a ball to the near post. Roger Ibañez rushed to the spot and attempted to flick the ball back to Abraham at the opposite post, but the English striker couldn't get a clean look at it and the ball was quickly turned away by the defense, as was Rick Karsdorp's follow-up attempt.
As the match marched past the half-hour mark, Sampdoria started to find space in the attacking third, firing a series of speculative attempts at Rui Patricio. Undaunted by this Sampdoria resurgence, Roma continued to wait patiently for counter-attacking opportunities and nearly broke the match open when Karsdorp sprang forth from the backline, leading a three-man counter with Abraham and Zaniolo on either side of him, only to be foiled by a last-ditch intervention from Antonio Candreva.
Incredibly, despite all the action we just recounted, neither keeper was forced to make an actual save until well past the 40-minute mark, with Patricio calmly collecting a long-distance attempt from Gabbiadini while Falcone denied Mkhitaryan before the stroke of halftime.
There were some encouraging signs from Roma but no breakthroughs. Could they find that elusive chance in the second half?
Locked in a stalemate with Sampdoria and desperately clinging to the memories of their 4-1 upset over Atalanta, Roma needed an inspired performance to start the second half. That hope was dealt a swift blow in the 46th minute when Abraham pulled up lame after tweaking his right ankle again, forcing Roma into an early change when Mourinho replaced the ailing Englishman with Felix Afena-Gyan.
After a brief settling-in period, Roma got back to work when Gianluca Mancini sprung Veretout down the right flank. However, as was the case all evening long, Veretout's well-intentioned ball into the box was easily diagnosed and turned away by the Sampdoria defense, who continued to stymy Roma's attempts in the deepest reaches of the final third.
With both sides lacking fluidity, this match had the feel of a classic Roma Happened affair, where the outcome is decided by a random deflection or a superhuman effort from a decidedly subpar player. And while he's definitely not a subpar player, Antonio Candreva nearly won the day thanks to an incredibly strange sequence where his turn and fire attempt struck the post and slowly rolled parallel to the goalline, threatening to tumble gently into the back of the net. Yet, somehow, the immutable law of physics prevented a Roman catastrophe, but it was a foreboding moment for the Giallorossi.
Undaunted by that near-disaster, Roma continued to probe the fringes of the Sampdoria defense, with Bryan Cristante lofting a ball to Zaniolo down the right flank. With time on his side, Zaniolo fired a shot at the near post only to see Falcone rush off his line to punch the ball away from harm, denying Roma yet again.
Roma would continue to lean on Zaniolo's broad shoulders for creative inspiration, and their faith was nearly rewarded just past the hour mark. With Zaniolo cutting in from the right, Roma's number twenty-two unfurled a left-footed attempt towards the opposite post only to see Falcone rise to the occasion once more. Only this time, Falcone left a juicy rebound on the doorstep, and while Felix was quick to react, he was maybe half a meter too far away and couldn't truly get his foot behind the ball before Falcone recovered to make a double save.
Felix would have his number called again when Jordan Veretout played a corner kick to the fan-favorite at the near post. While the ball was well placed and Felix's run well-timed, the angle was simply too acute for the Ghanian to tuck it past Falcone.
Sensing a tight finish to the match, Mourinho went heavy on the attacking, bringing on Eldor Shomurodov and Stephan El Shaarawy in the 67th minute for Viña and Veretout, respectively. And it paid almost immediate dividends.
Eldor Shomurodov: 72nd Minute (Roma 1, Sampdoria 0)
Third times a charm— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 22, 2021
Eldor Shomurodov gives Roma the lead pic.twitter.com/XQgn1bTaoi
Talk about sticking with a play! After seeing his shot blocked, a possible handball ignored and another shot denied, Shomurodov kept his wits about him, weaving his way out of traffic, peeling back away from the goal to create enough space to beat Falcone to give Roma the lead. Just an incredible display of close control, strength, and concentration from Shomurodov, but let's not discount the seeds of this play: Chris Smalling's impeccably timed slide tackle that kick-started the entire sequence, to begin with.
Roma then had a chance to double their lead when Zaniolo charged into the box for the umpteenth time, only to be upended by Falcone. El Shaarawy had a decent look at a follow-up goal but his hasty attempt wasn't even close to the goal frame.
Down a goal and with nothing to lose, Sampdoria began to hunt for an equalizer and nearly found one in the 79th minute when Kristoffer Askildsen's shot was blocked by Gianluca Mancini. And then, on the ensuing corner, Samp came even closer to scoring when Omar Colley Daniel's attempt hit the woodwork.
Roma's luck would soon run out, though.
Manolo Gabbiadini: 80th Minute (Roma 1, Sampdoria 1)
I mean, what can we really say? Not only did Sampdoria score off a corner, they scored off a corner using four touches: Caputo's flicked header in the middle of the box, Fabio Quagliarella's square ball back into the middle, Daniels’ would-be goal, and Gabbiadini's tap-in. It wasn't a stunningly fast sequence either, and Shomurodov did a poor job marking Quagliarella, but top marks to Samp for pulling his off under such heavy duress.
And that was really all she wrote. Despite five minutes of stoppage time, neither club really threatened to take all three points tonight. Roma had a few half-chances down the stretch, with Mkhitaryan coming close on a left-footed curler off a late corner, but the whistle blew and Mourinho and his men left the pitch bitterly disappointed.
While a draw is obviously better than a loss, it's hard not to be deflated after this performance. The very same club that put four past Atalanta, and limited their high flying offense to zero goals in the run of play (their lone tally was a Cristante deflected own goal), struggled to create and convert chances, putting only four of fourteen attempts on target.
Thanks to this result, and Juve's win yesterday over Cagliari, Roma are mired in sixth place on 32 points as we wrap up 2021.
Nothing. Enjoy the holiday season and we'll see you back here on January 6th when Roma faces AC Milan. Be on the lookout for our midseason reviews and winter transfer preview over the coming days.