Facing a congested fixture list and the usual litany of sprains and strains that all clubs deal with by round 27, Paulo Fonseca once again had to channel his inner Claudio Ranieri, tinkering with his starting lineup ahead of today's matchup against 19th place Parma. With Chris Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Jordan Veretout each nursing injuries and players like Rick Karsdorp getting a much-needed break, the Giallorossi ran out a slightly different lineup than normal, including the return of Edin Dzeko to the starting lineup—his first league start since the derby in round 18.
And Roma's former captain nearly broke open the match in only the third minute. Taking a feed from Gianluca Mancini, Roma's giant striker unleashed a one-timed effort at Luigi Seppe's goal but couldn't manage a clean strike at the ball and the chance vanished in the wind.
It was an early signal of intent from Roma, who were passing and moving as they pleased in the opening minutes of the match. Shortly after Dzeko's whiffed attempt, Roma worked what can only be described as a basketball-style three-man weave on the left edge of Parma's box, passing and moving in one, tight succinct loop.
The final pass found Pellegrini right at the penalty spot, but what looked like a clear-cut chance was smothered by the Parma defense when Hernani quickly closed out Pellegrini, and while he appeared to clip the Roma captains ankles while making the tackle, the referee let it slide.
Roma would continue to press on, dominating possession and keeping Parma on the back heel, but the Crusaders would draw first blood thanks to a rather impressive counter attack.
Valentin Mihaila: 9th Minute (Parma 1, Roma 0)
Bine,ma!Man pasa,Mihaila gol.Parma-Roma https://t.co/ZOvVAdELLq speram ca nu si-o fura iar dupa ce au condus. pic.twitter.com/fzkDbyX9uN— K A R M A I S A B I T C H (@KARMAISAROUNDUS) March 14, 2021
Before we harangue Marash Kumbulla, Gianluca Mancini, or Bruno Peres, let's take a moment to appreciate (objectively speaking, of course) this sequence from Parma. Starting deep in their own territory, Parma moved up the entire length of the pitch in a four-pass move, stretching Roma's defense on both axes before quickly firing one past Pau Lopez.
Now, where do we lay the blame on this goal? Is it with Kumbulla who was beaten rather easily on the flank by Dennis Man? Was it Mancini for lollygagging as the ball ran right in front of him? Or was it Bruno Peres’ disappearing act at the left post?
Whatever it was, this goal was truly shocking. Roma were doing whatever they pleased to that point and seemed primed to pump multiple goals past Seppe before even reaching the half-hour mark but this goal gave Parma new-found confidence.
Undaunted by the goal, Roma would stick to their plan: start with the ball out wide, whipping it back and forth to keep Parma off-kilter before playing the ball to Dzeko in the middle of the area. But, apart from winning a string of corners around the 20th minute and a couple of audacious attempts by Stephan El Shaarawy, Roma struggled to create legitimate looks at goal during the remainder of the first half. Granted, they fired 11 shots at Seppe in the first half but seven of those came from beyond the 18-yard-box, so it's not as if they were constantly on the precipice of scoring.
And just broadly speaking, despite the gulf in class between the two sides, Parma seemed energized by their ninth-minute goal, which was the first Romanian-to-Romanian goal in Serie A in over 15 years according to Opta. While Parma only managed 41% possession, they never seemed bothered by Roma's pressing or dominance on the ball—they just went about their business cool and collected, which seemed to visibly frustrate Roma as the half wore on.
Fonseca needed to do something to inspire his squad, but could he do it?
In a word: no. No, he couldn't. With their top-four hopes potentially at stake, Roma had ample motivation to come out with guns blazing in the second half, stealing back a goal and eventually grabbing the lead. But, in a bitter twist of irony, Parma created the first chance of the new half, one that was arguably the cleanest look at goal in the second 45 minutes.
In the 48th minute, Parma nearly caught Roma napping with a sensational three-pass move between Graziano Pelle, Giuseppe Pezzella, and Dennis Man, who bent and twisted Roma's backline at their will before firing a shot at Pau Lopez from maybe two feet away. Lopez was in a prime position to make the save, sparing Roma further embarrassment for the moment.
The Giallorossi's first chance in the second half came in the 52nd minute when Edin Dzeko and Stephan El Shaarawy nearly turned back time to 2019. With Parma being somewhat lax in their buildup play, Dzeko seized upon a loose ball from roughly 40 yards out and charged headlong toward the 18-yard-box where he found El Shaarawy waiting to his left. SES then unfurled a patented curler towards the far right post, missing an equalizer by mere inches—it didn't work out, but it was the best chance Roma created all afternoon.
Roma were still down a goal but given Parma's deplorable defensive record (52 goals conceded, the second-worst mark in the league) it seemed like only a matter of time before Roma would knot the match at one apiece. But then disaster struck.
With Fonseca's men pushing high up the pitch in search of that elusive tying goal, Parma had the luxury of sitting back and countering Roma and found themselves with multiple breakaway attempts in the second half, none more promising than the 3-vs-0 counter they somehow conjured out of thin air in the 55th minute.
With Graziano Pelle leading the charge, Parma had three men rushing towards Lopez's goal with not a single Roma defender in sight. That was, until, Roger Ibañez came charging into the box like a bull in a china shop, taking down Pelle from behind, giving Parma a no-doubt penalty call, which Hernani converted with the now seemingly standard pause-hop-shoot method.
And so it went for the final 30 minutes of the match: Roma came at the Parma goal like waves crashing on a beach while the Crusaders were content to absorb the pressure and hit back on the counter.
Sensing a need for full-scale changes, Paulo Fonseca made a triple swap around the hour mark, bringing on Bryan Cristante for Kumbulla, Carles Pérez for Pedro, and giving a Roma debut to Bryan Reynolds, Roma's 19-year-old American full-back on loan from FC Dallas.
None of it mattered in the end as Parma were able to absorb all of Roma's desperate blows, notching only their third win of the season.
Yes, you read that correctly—this was only Parma's third victory of the season. Yikes.
Whether you chalk it up to fatigue, injuries, or some latent weaknesses in Fonseca Football®, none of it matters. Even with their C-Team, Roma had enough talent and firepower to overwhelm Parma, but they just didn't have “it” today—however one defines that nebulous concept. The neat and tidy passing triangles, the effortless progression up the pitch, and the stinging attempts on goal just weren't there today; Roma just looked deflated from the word go and increasingly frustrated as Parma refused to back down.
With this defeat, Roma are stuck in 5th place on 50 points but Napoli, who are just three points behind Roma, have two matches in hand over the Giallorossi. Meanwhile, their city rivals, Lazio, are four points behind with one game in hand on Roma.
By dropping points to Parma and Benevento in recent weeks, Roma are now under immense pressure and have precious room for error down the stretch. Matches that may have seemed like gimmes before are now equally as important as the marquee matches against Lazio, Napoli, Inter Milan, and Atalanta.
If you like nail-biting football, you're in luck—that's Roma's lot in life from here on out.
Roma travels to Kyiv on Thursday for the second leg of their Europa Leauge Round of 16 matchup against Shakhtar Donetsk.