Today’s match kicked off with results not going Roma’s way elsewhere, Antonio “Giant Killer” Sanabria in Torino’s starting lineup ready to score against his former club, and Torino motivated to beat the drop after Cagliari’s spectacular win over Parma yesterday. So a Roma lineup led by Pedro couldn’t afford to treat this as a walk in the Serie A park. But would they?
The opening exchanges saw Roma immediately on the front foot, as Villar drove the ball up to Torino’s 18-yard area. It took less than three minutes for Roma’s Spanish Unit to mark their mark on this game.
Borja Mayoral: 3rd Minute (Torino 1, Roma 0)
We can see it was fortunate in the build-up, but the ball eventually ping-ponged its way to the waiting feet of Borja Mayoral, via a Veretout pass and Pedro flick-on. Mayoral made no mistake in tucking the ball past Torino’s keeper and was just about played onside (though it took a VAR overrule to come to that conclusion) by Bremer and the rest of his Torino teammates showing their relegation form, loud and proud. That’s Mayoral’s 15th goal in his debut season, and Villar reminded Borja to unload his machine-gun celebration onto the cameras; because you never know when Roma might need to trademark some goal celebrations for backdoor-entrance into the new European Super League.
Just three more minutes went by before Roma’s Spanish Unit were at it again, with Villar once again driving the ball up to Torino’s box and stringing together slick passes with Mayoral, but the move came to nothing at the feet of Carles Perez. It took less than a minute for the ball to wind up at the other end of the pitch, and Torino’s talismanic striker Andrea Bellotti to flash a chance just wide of Mirante’s near post. It was a reminder that as long as Torino have Bellotti, they always have a chance of creating danger out of even the most innocuous circumstance.
Unfortunately, the third time was not the charm for Villar, just inside the opening quarter-hour mark, as Roma’s midfield maestro was now caught dead in possession by Torino, who tried to make the most of the attacking transition but ended up flashing a high shot at Mirante, who tipped it further over the bar for safety’s sake. Torino gained nothing from their resulting corner, but the Granata looked like they weren’t letting the scoreline get their heads down. And they would look even more threatening just a minute later.
Torino worked the ball up their left flank and took a low, hard shot at Mirante from the left half-space that Mirante only palmed right back into the middle of his penalty box. The ball was begging for Torino’s Sasa Lukic to slam it home, but he inexplicably blasted Torino’s wide-open chance well off target. Roma’s lead was saved, but Torino were suddenly going through a spell of play where they were looking more and more dangerous after Roma had enjoyed a comparatively easy-going opening 15 minutes of play.
All that said: This is still a Roma side ready to punish you on the counter at an instant.
That’s what nearly happened in the 20th minute when three Roma players broke away into a 3 vs 2 situation, where Pedro was eventually played through to Torino’s goal. The Spaniard pulled the trigger as fast as he could, but the chance was closed down by a heroic sliding tackle from the Torino defense at the very last moment. A minute later, at the other end, Bryan Cristante came up with his second key intervention in defense within five minutes of play, but Torino once again floated the ball into the box for Sanabria to take a flying effort on goal that went wide. This game was wide open for anyone on either side to score the next goal.
Torino floated yet another cross into the box barely a minute later, to prove my point. Belotti beat Ibanez in the air, but Bellotti’s powerful header nestled at the hands of Mirante on the ground. It was tough to tell whether Roma now sitting deeper in their own half was because Roma were happy to sniff out chances on the counter, or because Torino’s backline were simply better at creating width on the halfway line. Maybe the truth held space for both elements to be valid but, as a Roma fan, you wouldn’t fancy the Giallorossi sitting on a 1-0 lead with just 25 minutes of play gone.
To compound that sentiment, Bremer (who is Torino’s best player besides Bellotti in my book) dispossessed Pedro and Perez in quick succession, drove the ball up the pitch, and fed Bellotti for a chance that Mirante was equal to at the very last moment. But Torino were relentless, taking another shot on Mirante’s goal a minute later, that Mirante could only parry across the face of his goal.
The ball literally dribbled along the goal-line, but Mirante looked calmer than everyone as he just scooped it up after several seconds. Roma then tried to break up the other end but the final pass was poo, and then a minute later Torino carved out yet another chance in Roma’s box after Ansaldi crossed the ball in and Ibanez intercepted the threat. This was ridiculously wide open, end-to-end stuff where Torino looked like they carried more belief, despite being down on the scoreline.
To give everyone a moment’s rest, Andrea Bellotti decided to take a dive inside Roma’s box—feeling Fazio’s palm on his back at the time—in a passage of play that somehow ended up with a Torino free-kick near the touchline. But Pedro decided the heartrate needed to go right back up, as he dallied needlessly on the ball inside Roma’s box and turned over the ball for Lukic, whose close-range shot was saved at the feet of Mirante. Roma’s Italian keeper was earning his paycheque, and then some, in this first half.
Cristante tried to change the tone of the game in the 35th minute, floating a near-perfect long ball into the path of Mayoral, who was peeling off the shoulder of the last man right at the last moment, but Torino’s Milinkovic-Savic came rushing out to intercept before Mayoral could do anything. Then Torino replied to that danger by creating two more half-chances at the other end.
The 39th minute saw the same yoyo pattern: Torino doubled up on their goal-chances at one end, so Roma replied with a chance of their own at the other. First, there were two goal chances for Torino from a corner at Roma’s end, before Pedro worked his way into Torino’s box and ripped off a sidefooted shot that Milinkovic-Savic beat away for a Roma corner. In the 42nd minute, Bryan Reynolds finally found himself free from Ansaldi’s clutches but overhit a cross to Mayoral when the Texan had the time and space to do better.
Roma had another chance a couple of minutes later, as Mayoral and Villar combined deep inside their own half to release Pedro onto Torino’s backline. He was belated joined by Carles Perez, but the duo didn’t seem to understand what either man wanted from one another, as Pedro’s slide-rule pass didn’t quite click with Perez’s final run, and vice-versa. The half ended on some actual good build-up play from Roma, who played the ball around Torino and nearly punished the Granate for their over-eagerness to press, as Roma carved Torino wide-open all the way into the penalty box, but Bruno Peres’ final pass was intercepted.
And that was all she wrote for the first 45, where Torino might be ruing all the missed chances to find parity, but could also have easily been further down on the scoreline with the threat of the Roma counter looming in Torino’s faces throughout.
A quick check of WhoScored, at half-time, revealed that my eye test of Torino’s 2:1 goal-chance ratio was more optimistic than reality. Torino nearly outshot Roma 3-to-1 on chances in the opening half! The hosts ripped off 14 attempts on goal to Roma’s 5 at the other end, in a match where both teams were nearly even in possession.
The second-half warmup saw Pedro Fonseca having some final words with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who prepared to come on as a substitute for Pedro. Presumably, a half-time sub is the best way to get Pedro off the pitch without him insulting Fonseca for it in front of the cameras but, to be fair to the ex-Barca forward, he did leave this game with an assist and looked sharper than usual before being replaced at the half.
Torino took less than a minute of play to work their way down Ansaldi’s flank and win a corner, but the resulting play came to nothing. The second half was looking light it would struggle to keep up the pace of the opening 45, but a Jordan Veretout set-piece in the 50th minute revived the game, as the ball was met with an Ibanez header inside Torino’s box that just flashed wide.
Four minutes went by before Carles Perez just toe-poked a through ball past his marker Bremer, and ripped down Roma’s right-flank before passing it into the box. The skirmish in the middle saw the ball rebound back to Perez for a shot on goal, that VMS could only parry at the feet of Mkhitaryan, who lofted the ball into the net from point-blank range. But Miki was ruled well offside. Torino tried to reply up the other end, but Bryan Cristante put their final ball out for a corner before Belotti could do anything. Torino carved out a header at the far past from the resulting corner, but the chance went wide.
It took ten minutes of play, but the alchemy of this match was again melting into end-to-end stuff. Roma created two chances in quick succession that brought two last-minute intercepts from Torino. The hosts decided they’d had enough of being behind on the scoreline in this back-and-forth, however, in the 57th minute:
Tonny Sanabria: 57th Minute (Torino 1, Roma 1)
O empate demorou, mas chegou! Aos 12 minutos do segundo tempo, Sanabria deixa tudo igual entre #Torino e #Roma e ó, anota aí: o @datenaoficial disse que vai ter virada, hein?! Você também acredita?#ItalianoNaBand #ShowDoEsporte pic.twitter.com/eSrmAB0ziv— Show do Esporte (@showdoesporte) April 18, 2021
We talked about Torino’s wide-backs enjoying the supremacy of the midfield battle earlier, and their source of goals always looked like being Cristian Ansaldi. Here you can see veteran Ansaldi used the space afforded to him by Bryan Reynolds, to carve out a right-footed outswinger to Sanabria at the far post.
Sanabria was only missing Roma on his list on big Serie A clubs that he’s scored against this season, so Torino’s giant-killer was more than happy to celebrate adding the Giallorossi to his list. Game on.
Torino sensed the opportunity to ramp up the pressure past the hour-mark, bringing on their 20-year old talent Wilfried Singo as a substitute for Vojvoda. Paulo Fonseca replied to the threat by bringing on Amadou Diawara for Jordan Veretout. Meanwhile, on the pitch, Torino’s Simone Verde got himself booked for a professional foul on Bryan Reynolds, stopping the Texan from making the most of wide-open channels on the break.
The hope was that Torino would make the mistake of pressing Roma’s midfield duo of Villar-Diawara too hard and be punished for it (especially with Torino bringing on Rincon and Zaza as 71st-minute substitutes later) but that still left the wide-open question of the mismatch developing between Ansaldi-Verde vs. Reynolds-Perez down that flank. That being said, Torino’s second goal would come just moments later from the middle.
Simone Zaza: 71st Minute (Torino 2, Roma 1)
OLHA A VIRADA AÍ!— Show do Esporte (@showdoesporte) April 18, 2021
E não é que o @datenaoficial acertou de novo?! Aos 26 minutos do segundo tempo, o #Torino virou para cima da #Roma com Zaza e a partida está 2 a 1 no Olímpico de Turim. Será que vai ter mais gol?#ShowDoEsporte #ItalianoNaBand pic.twitter.com/OPeEgzRWKW
Instant impact from Torino’s substitute striker here, and not much to say about the buildup either. Mandragora dinks a ball down the middle of the pitch for Bellotti to get onto, who’s sharp enough to make use of the minimal time and space to get off a shot at Mirante. Mirante can only parry the ball back down the middle of the area, where Zaza was already ghosting in for the rebound. Torino were now ahead on the scoreline in a match that neither they nor Roma could afford not to win.
Moments later, Amadou Diawara came off worse in an aerial challenge with Rincon and Mandragora combined. Diawara clearly felt he was fouled, as he made no effort to conceal his vengeance when he barged into Rincon’s back in the next passage of play. The blatant foul meant Diawara was instantly booked, but it wasn’t the time for Roma to lose their heads. Paulo Fonseca used that moment to bring on the more experienced names of Rick Karsdorp and Edin Dzeko, replacing Bryan Reynolds and Borja Mayoral respectively, with less than 15 minutes of play left in the match.
Torino weren’t trying to hear any word of a Roma comeback, however, winning a corner at the Giallorosso end and letting Mandragora take a point-blank shot at Mirante, that the keeper pushed over the bar. Their second corner came to nothing, and the match began to settle into a final gauntlet thrown at Roma: The challenge of breaking down this Torino side that were now looking like settling into a 5-4-1 block off the ball, with the watchful eye of their president Urbano Cairo in the stands.
To aid Roma in that challenge, Fonseca brought on the playmaker-of-all-playmakers Javier Pastore to replace Gonzalo Villar. Torino replied by bringing on Daniele Baselli for Simone Verde to really shut up shop in midfield. But it turned out Roma’s can-opener would come from the creative feet of Fazio, who launched an inch-perfect lobbed pass into the feet of Edin Dzeko. Unfortunately, Dzeko could not turn fast enough to get off a clean shot on Torino’s goal as the ball went out for a corner.
From the resulting corner, Dzeko got a flick on the ball among a sea of Torino bodies, but the ball went just wide from his header. Less than 7 minutes of normal time to go, and the emphasis was all on Roma. Though not for long, as their momentum would soon be deflated at the other end.
Diawara’s rash booking earlier in the half would come back to haunt both him and Roma, as he was late to a challenge for the ball on the edge of Roma’s box. Simone Zaza went down clutching his leg to make sure the referee didn’t miss how late and high Diawara’s foot was in the challenge, and the inevitable double-booking and red card followed as Diawara was sent off and Roma were now behind on the scoreline AND down to ten men.
As if Torino hadn’t had enough, they tried to win a penalty inside Roma’s box as Rincon went down far too easily in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge, but the referee wasn’t buying it. Roma’s play was, in the meantime, reduced to long-balls as all belief faded from the away side. But that wouldn’t stop the ball from landing at Cristante’s feet in the final minute of normal time, right on the edge of Torino’s box. Unfortunately, Cristante over-powered his shot and sent it flying off target. Then Torino finally sunk the dagger into Roma in stoppage time.
Tomas Rincon: 92nd Minute (Torino 3, Roma 1)
This one is all Roma shooting themselves in the foot under pressure, caught out (once again!) in their own half. Ibanez slides what looks like an OK pass across to Fazio, who opens up his body to try and take it on his right foot when he really didn’t have the time for that luxury, with the relentless Belotti closing him down 92 minutes deep into this match.
Seriously, does Torino’s captain ever stop motoring? Not satisfied with a 2-1 win on the day, Belotti robs Fazio of the ball before running into the box and putting it on a plate for teammate Rincon to tap it home. Game, set, and match as Torino did their chances of surviving relegation a huge boost. It was just the reply Torino needed to Cagliari’s slobberknocker 4-3 win against Parma yesterday.
The better team won. Even though both sides maintained a near-constant threat at either end, throughout this game, it was Torino who looked the more hungry and enjoyed the supremacy of width and fluency in possession on the halfway line, where it really counted.
So who and what decisions to blame for this Roma loss? You could say Paulo Fonseca took it too easy with this starting lineup, but that might be too easy a narrative to spin. Roma are living through the setbacks of injuries to Leonardo Spinazzola and Riccardo Calafiori on the left, so Bruno Peres starting at left-back was a choice that made itself. And Bruno Peres struggled badly to make any sort of impact, often reduced to passing the ball backward instead of progressing it up the field.
It’s debatable whether Fonseca could have played Karsdorp instead of Reynolds on the right. The Texan youngster was definitely given a baptism of fire against the wiley Torino veteran Ansaldi, and sometimes Reynolds was even doubled-teamed with the help of Simone Verde. That speaks to the lack of support from Carles Perez, whose Roma career surely must be hanging by a thread in this summer’s transfer market.
Roma’s preferred route to goal has always been through the flanks, throughout this season. But Torino just reminded everyone how to deal with the Roma goal-threat and cause chaos inside of Roma’s own half so, unless Roma resurrects the form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Javier Pastore to re-jig the team’s ideas through the middle of the pitch, I really wouldn’t expect anything out of the Europa League semi-final encounter with a far, far stronger Manchester United side ready to give Roma an early summer holiday.
And besides: When was the last time a team won a European trophy by playing 3-at-the-back? It doesn’t happen.
Roma hosts Atalanta on Thursday.