Today's Sassuolo vs. Roma fixture was a lesson in the perils of international breaks set in the middle of a global pandemic. Where Roma were dealt a late-week blow after Marash Kumbulla tore his meniscus while on international duty with Albania, Sassuolo lost a host of players due to COVID precautions, with the Neroverdi erring on the side of caution with their recently returned Italian internationals.
As a result, both sides ran out ramshackle lineups, with Sassuolo missing regulars like Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo while Roma was down Kumbulla, Roger Ibañez, and Chris Smalling, among others. With so many key members of his defense missing, Paulo Fonseca's back three consisted of only one actual center-back: Gianluca Mancini, with Rick Karsdorp and Bryan Cristante pressed into service as defenders.
And, as luck would have it, Karsdorp was tested immediately. With Sassuolo taking the first possession of the match straight at Roma's defense, Karsdorp was forced to make a sprinting clearance on the ball—a sign of things to come.
In the very next minute, Bryan Cristante, when trying to clear the Sassuolo pressure, inadvertently passed the ball right to Sassuolo, gifting Giacomo Raspadori a clean look at goal. Pau Lopez was up to the task, however, making an early save off his line to bail out Cristante.
The first three minutes of this match more or less set the tone for the ensuing half an hour, with Sassuolo looking more energetic and purposeful in their possession and pressing, leaving Roma no choice but to play catch-up. Jeremie Boga, Filip Djuricic, and Raspadori looked particularly effective, bending and twisting Roma's back three at their will, frequently creating and/or finding cracks in Roma's back three with their synchronous passing a moving.
Roma's first real look at goal came just shy of the 10th-minute mark when Stephan El Shaarawy found Carles Pérez in the box, whose shot was ultimately blocked by the Sassuolo defense, but it halted the Neroverdi's hot start to the match.
Despite that sign of intent, Roma remained very much on the back heel as Sassuolo continued to harry the Giallrossi in possession while passing circles around the Roma defense at the other end of the pitch. And in the 12th minute, Sassuolo almost found paydirt when Maxime Lopez darted through Roma's backline and fired a shot off the post. In a move emblematic of Sassuolo's first-half approach, Lopez was sprung into space via a line-splitting through ball—Roma were incredibly fortunate Lopez didn't score because Sassuolo were repeating this move nearly every time they ventured forward; two attackers in close proximity to one another, delicately and subtle pulling Roma's defense off its moorings before playing the ball right down the middle.
Pérez would continue to be Roma's guiding light early in the first half, forcing Consigli into another save in the 12th minute off a left-footed volley, but it paled in comparison to the work done at the other end by Lopez, Boga, Duricic, and Raspadori.
But Pérez would get the last laugh approximately 12 minutes later. With Roma finally enjoying a bit of possession deep in Sassuolo territory, Pérez teamed up with Burno Peres and Rick Karsdorp to create Roma's first goal.
With the three Roma attackers engaged in a passing triangle on the right edge of the area, Pérez took the initiative, engaging in a darting run into the box, drawing a penalty after Marlon Santos’ tackle upended the young Spaniard. Lorenzo Pellegrini converted the penalty with ease, giving Roma a surprising 1-0 advantage.
The final 15 minutes of the half were more balanced, with both sides making multiple runs forward, but Roma's best chance of the half came in the 30th minute when Bryan Cristante dropped the ball into Borja Mayoral's lap from deep in Roma's defensive third. Mayoral settled the ball with a satin-like touch but Consigli came off his line in a shot, doing just enough to interrupt Mayoral, who would have otherwise had a wide-open goal.
And that was the story of the first half: Sassuolo did 90% of the job perfectly but just couldn't capitalize when and where it mattered most while Roma did well to weather the storm early before creating a bit of havoc in Sassuolo's end.
With neither club making any changes to start the half, the match picked up where it left off: with Sassuolo coming forward in waves to challenge Roma's patchwork backline. And just as he did throughout the first half, Raspadori was the protagonist for Sassuolo, forcing Pau Lopez into another save in the 49th minute. And, just as he did in the first half, Carles Pérez responded in kind the very next minute, forcing Consigli into a save with a left-footed shot from outside of the box.
The action didn't let up as we crept towards the hour mark either. Sassuolo created arguably their best chance of the match in the 54th minute when Raspadori, Hamed Traore, and Jeremie Boga teamed up on a lightning-quick three-touch move. After Raspadori found Traore in the box, the Sassuolo midfielder quickly picked out Boga on the left side of the box with a whipped cross only to see Boga completely waste a chance to level the match at one apiece.
Raspadori would continue to flex his muscles in the 57th minute, dribbling right through the heart of Roma's defense before hitting the brakes in the area, shaking loose from Bryan Cristante. Raspadori would cut back slightly and fire a shot towards the far left post, forcing Lopez into a stretched fingertip save.
Lopez's fantastic save didn't reap fantastic rewards for Roma, though. Off the ensuing corner, Filip Djuricic flicked the outswing cross towards Traore at the far post, who chested the bouncing ball past Lopez to tie the match at one goal apiece.
Roma would strike back immediately when Amadou Diawara played a sensational long-ball over the top, picking out Stephan El Shaarawy in the middle of the pitch. SES had a clear one-v-one against Consigli. With Consigli coming off his line to close down the angle, El Shaarawy tried to bait him, waiting a tick before shooting the ball, presumably in an attempt to lure Consigli a little further away from the goal, giving SES a better look at the far post. But El Shaarawy's chicanery didn't work, nor did his curled attempt towards the right post.
Consigli did well to come off his line immediately, so El Shaarawy probably thought his delay/drag attempt would provide that extra inch of space, but one can't help but wonder what would have happened if he just fired straight at goal or even tried to chip and run past the keeper.
Despite that miss, Roma kept coming at Sassuolo, frequently exploiting their high attacking line. Lorenzo Pellegrini earned a corner in the 66th minute and found El Shaarawy at the edge of the area but his volley was quickly turned away by Consigli—a pattern that repeated itself two minutes later.
Roma's persistence paid off moments later...
Bruno Peres: 69th Minute (Sassuolo 1, Roma 2)
Vamo Roma! Daje!— Maxi Friggieri (@MaxiFriggieri) April 3, 2021
Parece que necesitamos que nos empaten para ir por otro gol. Buena reacción del equipo en un partido que no manejaba ni dominaba. Erramos tres, metimos dos. Acá el 2-1 de Bruno Peres. pic.twitter.com/AmgTcZNVnw
Leonardo Spinazzola, as he’s done so often this season, created this chance thanks to some patient and intuitive dribbling on the edge of the box. After carving out enough space to whip the ball across the face of goal, Spinazzola's ball drifted high and to the right, where Carles Pérez wisely let it run past him to Peres, who took a touch and fired it home to restore Roma's lead.
Fonseca would make his first swap of the game in the 75th minute, removing El Shaarawy in favor of Jordan Veretout. With a 2-1 lead to protect, it was a wise move as Veretout's energy alone would give the Giallorossi a boost.
For the next 10 minutes, it seemed like Roma's lead was safe but Sassuolo wouldn't be denied a late equalizer. In the 86th minute, after terrorizing Roma all afternoon with his dribbling, movement, and passing, Giacomo Raspadori put his name on the scorer's sheet with an impressive display of patience and precision.
With Lukas Haraslin and Brian Oddei working a two-man weave at the right edge of the box, Oddei centered the ball to Raspadori right on Pau Lopez's doorstep. And with Karsdorp and Cristante draped all over him, Raspadori did well to keep his wits about him before slotting it past Lopez to tie the match again.
Haraslin threatened a match-winner in the 90th minute but, by and large, the three minutes of stoppage time passed without issue—until literally the final second. With the three minutes expired, the referee tacked on a few additional seconds to account for an earlier yellow card given to the Sassuolo bench, but the final passage of play should have been a Jordan Veretout free-kick. However, just as Roma's leading scorer was about to tee up the ball, the final whistle blew.
It was a bit of an ignominious ending, but all things considered, a 2-2 draw was a fair result.
Welp. This pretty much seals it—Roma's only chance at next season's Champions League will have to come via a Europa League title. By dropping points today, Roma now finds themselves mired in 7th place, one pint behind city rivals Lazio, who defeated Spezia earlier today and still have a match in hand over Roma, as do the next two teams above the Giallorossi: Juventus and Napoli.
Roma's Europa League adventure continues this week against Ajax. And for Paulo Fonseca, it's trophy or bust.
Roma travels to Amsterdam on Thursday to face Ajax in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals before hosting Bologna on Sunday.