There's no escaping it: watching a football match at 6:30 am on a Sunday is an unnatural thing to do. Making matters worse was the stark contrast between my surroundings and those in the Italian capital. Where my living room was pitch black and barely above freezing, the Stadio Olimpico was bathed in sunlight on what looked like a rather balmy mid-February afternoon in Rome. In an even stranger twist, Pau Lopez was decked out in a head to toe gray keeper kit that had more in common with pajamas than athletic apparel, which confused my sleep-addled brain even more.
Luckily for us North Americans, Roma woke us from our slumber rather quickly. After holding possession deep in Udinese territory early in this match, winning two corners within the game's first 90 seconds, Paulo Fonseca's men found paydirt rather quickly.
Jordan Veretout: 5th Minute (Roma 1, Udinese 0)
With nearly all the action occurring in Udinese's end to this point, Roma seemed destined for an early goal but I'm not sure anyone saw this combination coming. With Gianluca Mancini (of all people) carving out space on the right edge of the box with a subtle dip of his shoulder, Roma's center-back played a pinpoint cross into the box, one that Veretout was more than willing to head home to put the Giallorossi up after only 300 seconds. Not exactly the way they drew it up in the locker room but a beautiful goal nonetheless.
Veretout would get another crack at goal in the 13th minute but Juan Musso was up to the task this time, turning away the Frenchman's would-be brace but Roma were absolutely running the show at this point, encountering little resistance as they rushed forward again and again.
Goal number two nearly came in the 19th minute when Roger Ibañez had two looks in quick succession in the Udinese penalty area. With a low cross heading his way, Ibañez attempted a diving header, only to whiff on the ball, which somehow still fell right in Veretout's lap. Veretout's attempt then quickly bounced off an Udinese defender's hip and back out to Ibañez who then took a full swing at the ball but couldn't find a clear path and was deflected away.
Veretout would make his influence felt moments later when he set up Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a gimme goal only to see Micki's one-v-one effort thwarted rather easily by Juan Musso. And while Roma’s first-half MVP didn’t flail on the ground like a wounded animal, he nevertheless drew a deserved penalty, one Veretout converted with ease, blasting it past Musso who guessed completely wrong.
But Veretout still wasn't done influencing this match and nearly had a hand in a third goal just past the half-hour mark. After Gonzalo Villar sprung him into the box with a perfect long-ball from 25+ yards out, Veretout quickly cut the ball to his right, matching Lorenzo Pellegrini's late run into the box. Pellegrini beat Musso with ease, but this entire sequence seemed a bit too convenient.
And, after a quick VAR check, referee Piero Giacomelli confirmed our suspicions: this goal was too easy. Despite the beautiful through ball from Villar, the final pass from Veretout, and Pellegrini's finish, the goal was chalked off as Mkhitaryan fouled Jens Styger Larsen during the build-up.
Undeterred, Roma pressed on and had a golden opportunity seconds later when they forced a turnover in midfield. With Lorenzo Pellegrini running the break, and with options to his left and right, Roma's new captain seemingly wanted to atone for his erased goal and ignored both outlet options before wasting the moment. As he approached the edge of the box, Pellegrini seemed trapped between two minds: take the shot himself or wait that extra fraction of a second to spring a teammate into space. And, as it turned out, he did neither and his final ball/shot was deflected away from harm by the Udinese defense.
Roma would continue to soldier on through the remainder of the first half, thoroughly dominating their yellow-clad visitors. Through the first 45 minutes, Roma outshot Udinese 10-0 while holding nearly 60% possession.
With neither side making a change to start the second frame, the only question left to ask was whether or not Roma could find a third goal to put the match away. A two-nil lead at home is generally a pretty safe bet, but one slip up could have changed the entire tenor of this match; something Roma could ill afford given the rest of the weekend's results to that point.
And Roma very nearly gifted Udinese a goal in the 50th-minute following a Borja Mayoral turnover deep in Roma's end. Gerard Deulofeu immediately seized on the ball but managed little more than a shot right at Pau Lopez, which the Spaniard saved with ease.
While I wouldn't say that Udinese had flipped the script in the second half—Roma were still outshooting Udinese by a 3:1 ratio—the Zebras looked far more organized to start the second half and had another genuine scoring chance in the 58th minute when a Rodrigo De Paul free-kick sailed just over the bar. De Paul teed this one up from about 20-yards out and had the dip/trajectory measured perfectly but he put just a bit too much weight on it, watching it dip just past and over the bar rather than underneath it.
After Udinese made a series of changes, Paulo Fonseca went to the bench for the first time in the 69th minute, swapping out Mayoral for Edin Dzeko. And Roma's former captain jumped right into the fray, firing a shot low and away at Musso but the Udinese keeper smothered the shot without batting an eye.
Deulofeu would pounce on another turnover deep in Roma's end, seizing on a miss-hit from Bryan Cristante, and had a clean look at goal only to be denied by a stretched/diving save from Pau Lopez, who reacted to the turnover just as quickly as Deulofeu.
Roma were denied a seemingly obvious penalty moments later when Dzeko was taken down in the box by Nahuel Molina. It was almost too hard to believe; Molina was draped all over Dzeko's chest—not his back, his chest. Meaning that Molina effectively caught up to Dzeko, ran past him, and then bear-hugged him as he dragged him to the ground, but Giacomelli still didn't blow the whistle.
Fonseca would play out the string with a double swap late in the match, bringing on Amadou Diawara for Lorenzo Pellegrini—who slyly gave the captain's armband to Cristante rather than Dzeko—and Bruno Peres for Spinazzola.
With five added minutes, this match seemed destined for a slow, boring death but Roma found a third goal in the 94th minute when Mkhitaryan drove into the box and played a square ball to Dzeko at the edge of the box. Dzeko was quickly closed out but the loose ball sat up in the penalty area for a split second before Pedro ran right onto it, narrowly beating the defense to the ball and slotted it past Musso to give Roma a 3-0 victory.
Outside of the no-call on the would-be Dzeko penalty in the second half, this was about as straight forward and controversy-free as a Serie A match gets nowadays. While the scoreline could have easily been four or five to nil, Roma made quick and easy work of Udinese today, outshooting their opponents 13 to 6 while holding more than 50% possession.
There were a few nervy moments and some careless passing at the back that nearly gave Udinese a lifeline, but Roma were otherwise solid in all aspects this afternoon and got back to their winning ways following last week's loss to Juventus.
Roma resumes Europa League play when they face Braga on the road on Thursday the 18th.
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