With a place in Serie A's top four and their Champions League hopes for next season hanging in the balance, Roma had everything to play for today when they traveled to the Artemio Franchi in Firenze to face 14th place Fiorentina. While Roma were left disappointed with the weekend's results—a 2-1 defeat to AC Milan—they otherwise entered this match in fine form, something the Viola couldn't claim. Losing three of their past six matches, Fiorentina seemed like the perfect foil for a Roma club in desperate need of a W.
Only no one told that to the men wearing the beautiful white shirts, who weren't exactly firing on all cylinders this evening. With Marash Kumbulla and Chris Smalling back in the matchday squad, Roma's defense was healthier than it had been in weeks. However, with another match looming on Sunday, Paulo Fonseca rotated a few key pieces in and out of his lineup, giving Gonzalo Villar and Rick Karsdorp some much-needed rest.
So, unlike the past few matches, Roma had no excuses to lean on (not that they needed them prior to this match) but the product on the pitch, particularly in the first half, was dreadful as Roma struggled to string together attacking movements, looking disjointed and frequently frustrated by the Viola defense.
With seven total shots and passing percentages in the mid-70s, neither Roma nor Fiorentina could find a breakthrough in the first half and barely managed to play passable football. Roma had early attempts through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Amadou Diawara, who shoots about as often cicadas emerge.
Still, despite the lack of fluidity in attack, Roma looked slightly better than Fiorentina, frequently bursting down the flanks and attempting to play one-twos, overlaps, and through balls into the box, but the timing and touch were frequently lacking.
As we crept towards the midway point in the first half, Fiorentina found a bit of life, winning two corners in quick succession and starting to pump the ball into Dusan Vlahovic while players like Igor and Erick Pulgar started to create havoc in Roma's backline.
I feel like I may be glossing over how boring the first half was, but try this on for size: we had to wait until the 27th minute for the first save of the match. With Vlahovic getting loose down the left edge, the young Serbian striker fired a left-footed shot low and away, attempting to beat Pau Lopez at the far post, but Roma’s keeper reacted quickly to snuff out the shot.
Fiorentina created arguably the prettiest play of the half in the 36th minute when Franck Ribery played a beautiful right-to-left diagonal through ball into the box, springing Gaetano Castrovilli into the area. With no one between him and the keeper, Castrovilli was a step too slow and couldn't run into Ribery's pass, but it was a splendid effort nonetheless.
Roma would create a half-chance of their own just before halftime when Lorenzo Pellegrini attempted to beat Dragaowski low and away from 25 yards out. It was a well-hit and perfectly placed shot, but Dragowski dropped to the ground and quickly removed all hope from the equation. Oh, and Mhkitaryan was offside anyway, so it wouldn't have counted.
And that was almost an exact microcosm for Roma's first half: good intentions plagued by poor execution.
No one was quite sure what to expect from Paulo Fonseca's side in the second half. With his side struggling to create chances, Fonseca would have been excused had he made wholesale, sweeping changes to either his lineup or Roma's style of play. But no matter what he decided, Roma needed to act fast. In a match like this, where everything was seemingly bogged down in the midfield and with genuine chances hard to come by, the outcome is frequently determined by a deflection, an errant pass, or, worse still, a referee's decision.
Fortunately for Fonseca, he wouldn't have to wait long for a Roman response...
Leonardo Spinazzola: 48th Minute (Fiorentina 0, Roma 1)
Golazo de aroma. Paciencia para mover la pelota y no desesperarse ante una cerrada Fiorentina, medio gol de Mancini (asistencia) y otro medio de Spinazzola (vio el hueco y definió muy bien). Daje! pic.twitter.com/k0UKjxvtE8— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) March 3, 2021
I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but throughout much of the first half Roma were frustrated by their inability to probe the middle of the park, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Roma focusing on quick lateral passing rather than deliberate and labored attempts to pick apart the Viola midfield.
After Spinazzola switched play to Pellegrini, you'll notice how he shadows the movement of the ball, first walking, then jogging, all the while tracking the movement of the ball and being careful to remain onside. He even did well to avoid colliding with the referee, but the second the ball swings back to Mancini, Spinazzola immediately bursts towards the right post, and rather than settling the ball, which would have allowed Dragowski that extra split second to get in position, he surprised the bearded keeper with a one-timed effort, burying the ball in the back of the net despite two defenders chasing him and a rather acute angle at the post.
Despite that moment of brilliance, this was still a tough watch, as both clubs continued to struggle to create consistent and effective attacking movements. If they weren't pumping long balls, wide players on each side were frequently trying to dribble through two or three defenders, while both strikers were trying desperately to get into the flow of the match.
There was one man, however, who seemed to sense an opportunity to play the hero: Franck Ribery. Fiorentina's 37-year-old midfielder didn't exactly turn back the clock to his Bayern Munich days, but anytime he had a moment on the ball or an inch of space, he looked like the most competent attacking player on the pitch. And at the hour mark, it paid dividends
With Ribery pushing the ball up the pitch, Jordan Veretout, who suffered an injury to his right leg, was writhing in pain on the pitch, but rather than playing the ball out of bounds, Ribery continued his march towards Roma's goal. After playing the ball forward to Vlahovic, who quickly whipped it out to Cristiano Biraghi, disaster struck for Roma as Leonardo Spinazzola, in an effort to intercept Biraghi's cross into the box, inadvertently tucked it into the back of the goal.
Like we said, in games where chances are few and far between, the difference between victory and defeat can often be chalked up to individual errors like these. The fair play purists among us will decry Ribery for continuing the play while his countryman Veretout was in obvious pain, but Fiorentina did well to stretch Roma's defense here, quickly moving up the pitch and exploiting cracks in Roma’s backline with their lateral passing.
The final 30 minutes of the game were rather unremarkable. Roma made a few changes, bringing on Pedro, Stephan El Shaarawy, Rick Karsdorp, and Chris Smalling down the stretch. El Shaarawy made the most of what little space he was given in the final third, ripping off a few close-quarter shots, but couldn't really manage a clean look at the goal.
Borja Mayoral was played into space in the 66th minute, surprising Dragowski with a rapid-developing one-v-one, but the Polish keeper's reflexes were faster than Mayoral's at that moment, dooming Roma to another missed opportunity.
With their spirits buoyed by Spinazzola's own-goal, Fiorentina pressed on and nearly had a match-winner in the 82nd minute when Vlahovic tested Pau Lopez with a well-struck ball towards the left post, but Lopez sprung into action, denying Vlahovic with a diving save.
With eight minutes plus stoppage remaining, Roma needed a miracle to keep pace with fourth-place Atalanta—who were busy waxing Crotone 5-1 at home—and that's precisely what they received, from an extremely unlikely source.
Amadou Diawara: 88th Minute (Fiorentina 1, Roma 2)
Diawara o DiawaVAR. No importa. Amadou abrió con Karsdorp y luego fue a meterla bien de 9. Premio para el guineo y, sobre todo, para Roma. pic.twitter.com/aDWCCdMxnt— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) March 3, 2021
This goal was remarkably similar to Spinazzola's earlier strike (the one he scored for the team that employs him), in that Diawara started the sequence with a lateral pass and cleverly tracked the movement of the ball, darting towards the near post to meet Rick Karsdorp's cross, barely slipping the ball past Dragowski at the near post.
There was a VAR check to see if Roma strayed offside when Diawara played the initial pass, but the goal (eventually) stood, giving Roma a sorely needed three points.
The two or three nanoseconds in which it took for Spinazzola and Diawara's goals to actually find the back of the net were spectacular, the other 99.999% of this match was dreadful. But that's exactly why you play all 90 minutes. Roma didn't win pretty today, but they won—and it may not be profound, but that's the only thing that matters.
With this victory, Roma remains rooted in fifth-place, two points back of fourth-place Atalanta, but it could have been much, much worse were it not for Diawara's goal—only his second in a Roma shirt.
Roma hosts the Genoa Cricket and Football Club in the capital on Sunday.
Man of the match?
This poll is closed