Following their victory over Crotone on Saturday and Atalanta’s draw with Sassuolo earlier today, Inter Milan officially sewed up the 2020-2021 Scudetto this afternoon, sapping a bit of drama from the remainder of Serie A's Matchday 34 fixtures. Roma's title dreams died months ago and thanks to their April woes, their Champions League dreams for next season were dashed just the same, making today's clash against Sampdoria at the Luigi Ferraris a rather strange affair.
However, free from the strictures of table watching and cursed with more injuries than you can count, Paulo Fonseca had the luxury of getting a bit nutty with his starting lineup today, reinserting Max Kumbulla into the first eleven, giving rare starts to Davide Santon and Daniel Fuzato while also unleashing the two-striker look with Edin Dzeko and Borja Mayoral starting from the opening whistle.
Fonseca's new-look 3-4-1-2 looked lively early in the match, forcing Sampdoria into some hard-scrambled defending in only the third minute when Borja Mayoral got loose in the box only to be denied by a last-ditch sliding block from Lorenzo Tonelli—one of many he made in the first half.
While both sides still settling into the match, we got our first real look at Daniel Fuzato this season, who rose to the occasion in the eighth minute, plucking a Sampdoria freekick out of midair to end a set-piece threat before it began. It wasn't a terribly threatening ball but Fuzato was on it in an instant.
Sampdoria would threaten Fuzato's area again moments later when Morten Thorsby was played into the near post only to be denied by a Marash Kumbulla blocked shot. The Genoa-based club would find themselves at Roma's doorstep again in the 12th minute when Manolo Gabbiadini slipped behind Roma's backline, chasing down a beautifully struck ball over the top, but the Italian veteran couldn't settle it in time and the chance went wasted but he was finding ample room behind Smalling, Mancini, and Kumbulla.
Roma would jab back the very next minute when Santon played Borja Mayoral into the box with a whipped low-cross from the right flank. The timing, weight, and trajectory were perfect but, just as he did several minutes earlier, Tonelli threw his body in front of the ball to deny Roma a crack at goal. The Giallorossi would threaten again off the ensuing corner when Chris Smalling's towering header was saved by Emil Audero.
The opening quarter-hour of this match featured some pretty wide-open football with Roma probing the ball through the middle in an effort to get Mayoral and Dzeko working together while Sampdoria found some success down the left through Tommaso Augello and Jakub Jankto, who tested Fuzato in the 20th minute with a dipping cross towards the far right post, which Fuzato rose to claimed with aplomb.
The back and forth action continued in the 22nd minute when Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko led a two-vs-three counter-attack, with Mkhitaryan playing Dzeko through the middle but the Big Bosnian managed little more than dribbling the counter to death, getting snuffed out by three Sampdoria defenders.
Dzeko almost had his moment in the sun in the 28th minute when Mkhitaryan once again set him up through the middle with a picture-perfect through ball, catching Dzeko in stride from about 30 yards out. Dzeko dribbled on Audero and slotted the ball home low and away but was quickly judged offside.
While Samp tested Fuzato with a few dangerous crosses and direct free kicks, their first actual shot of the match didn't come until the 34th minute when Valerio Verre, a former Roma academy product, fired wide of the mark.
But that simple attempt precipitated a solid two to three-minute spell where Roma simply could not dispossess Sampdoria, who did well to recycle possession around the edge of the 18-yard box, forcing Fuzato into another save in the 35th minute.
The match had definitely opened up but neither side created anything resembling a clear-cut chance, so it seemed like we would head into halftime scoreless. But in the 43rd minute, Edin Dzeko got loose down the left, pulled Audero off his line, and dribbled around the splayed-out keeper before firing a left-footed shot into the side netting. Placing the ball on Dzeko's left is far from ideal, but this was arguably Roma's best chance of the half and was emblematic of their approach to that point—pull the defense up through the middle and pick out Dzeko or Mayoral as they made split-second runs off the final defender.
After 44 largely untested minutes, Daniel Fuzato committed a horrible gaffe just before the stroke of halftime, playing a listless ball to Kumbulla on the left-hand side of the pitch. The pass, which seemed to die on the grass, was quickly picked off and immediately converted into a goal by Adrien Silva, who beat Fuzato low and to the right. Fuzato wasn't helped by Kumbulla, who appeared to slip, but this was an ugly end to the half for Roma's young keeper, who looked otherwise solid.
As hard as it might be to believe, Roma started the second half by nearly repeating the very same error that gave Sampdoria the lead. With Smalling under pressure in Roma's defensive third, he played a slow, lilting ball back to Fuzato in the box. WIth Gabbidiani barreling towards the loose ball, Fuzato spring into action and barely managed to clear the ball away from harm.
This would be a harbinger of things to come for Roma, who completely came apart in the second half, though they would throw a few counter punches Sampdoria's way. After narrowly avoiding another goal, Roma set out to create a chance of their own in the 52nd minute when Cristante swung a cross into Mkhitaryan at the near post only to be denied by Audero again, who quickly covered up the near post—and good thing because Mkhitaryan would have had a gimme goal.
Despite the mounting frustration, Roma continued to poke and prod Samp's backline and nearly had an equalizer just shy of the hour mark when Edin Dzeko beat Audero low and away. Dzeko, who was played into space by Cristante and Mayoral, was again called offside. It was a veritable carbon copy of the first goal: he's played into space, dribbles his way into a one-v-one, beats the keeper, scores easily, but gets flagged offside.
Dzeko's frustrating would continue to boil over moments later when Santon whipped in a perfect cross to Dzeko at the doorstep of the penalty box. But, rather than fighting for position, Dzeko remained flat-footed, though he still found the energy to complain.
Fonseca would make his first change of the match in the 64th minute, bringing on Roger Ibañez for Kumbulla, who took multiple hits to the knee and hip throughout the match.
With little more than 25 minutes remaining, Roma was down but not out, but Sampdoria crushed Roma's remaining hopes in the blink of an eye in the 65th minute when Jakub Jankto capitalized on a Sampdoria counter-attack, bursting into space and breezing past Santon down the right before beating a hapless Fuzato in goal.
Roma came right back and had yet another goal disallowed via offside. Borja Mayoral scored off a quick counter from the Giallorossi but, unfortunately, Dzeko was offside during the buildup phase and the goal was quickly scrubbed out after a brief VAR appeal.
The Giallorossi's luck would change a few minutes later when Gianluca Mancini fired a cross in from the right edge of the area. Adrien Silva used picture-perfect technique while defending Mancini—head up, hands behind his back—but the moment he played the ball, Silva inexplicably put his hands up, striking the ball in the process and giving Roma a penalty.
So, it was all good, right?
Nope, Edin Dzeko jogged up to the ball, picked out the lower right corner only to be stoned by Audero.
And that was really that. The final 15 to 20 minutes of the match were excruciating.
Bare down, folks. We only have to make it through four more of these.
Roma welcomes Manchester United to the capital on Thursday for the second leg of the Europa League semifinals.