With nothing left to lose or prove, Paulo Fonseca continued his experimental ways today as Roma welcomed the already relegated Sharks of Crotone to the Olimpico. Sitting dead last on 18 points, the visitor's fate was sealed weeks ago and with nothing of real consequence at stake for Roma either, Fonseca made six changes from the club's last league match against Sampdoria.
Just as he did against Manchester United in the Europa League midweek, Fonseca reverted back to his preferred four-man backline, plugging Marash Kumbulla, Roger Ibañez, Bryan Reynolds, and Rick Karsdorp into the defense. In midfield, striker Borja Mayoral was supported by Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Pedro, Ebrima Darboe, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
For their part, Crotone made zero changes from their last match but it didn't matter through the early phases of this match, as both clubs seemed uncertain of how to proceed or perhaps just ready for the season to officially wrap up.
Crotone actually generated the first chance of the match when Adam Ounas got loose in the final third, bursting through the middle of the defense and racing past Ibañez in the 8th minute. Ibañez, who is no slouch himself, managed to close the gap behind Ounas and snuffed out the shot at the right post in the nick of time.
Roma's first chance of the match came in the 10th minute when Pedro was clipped heading into the box. It was a close call but the referee correctly awarded a free-kick rather than the penalty. In the end, Lorenzo Pellegrini's attempt was wide of the mark.
At this stage in the game, 10 minutes had passed and Roma, despite controlling possession, hadn't managed a shot in the run of play yet. That would change when Pedro was played into space in front of the Crotone goal, pulling keeper Alex Cordaz off his line. Rather than trying to chip the keeper or slot it past him, Pedro dribbled around Cordaz at the right edge of the box and fired a cross into the middle of the box but Cordaz swatted it out of mid-air, stifling the threat.
Roma would come close on the ensuing corner when Borja Mayoral's header clanged off the post. The Giallorossi would force another save from Cordaz in the 22nd minute when Mkhitaryan forced a kick save off the 38-year-old Italian keeper.
The ensuing 10 to 15 minutes were a little light on action, with Roma continuing to control the ball but struggling to find any effective space in the Crotone end. They were doing well to limit Crotone's chances at the other end—they had zero shots in the entire half—and were running the transition game effectively thanks in large part to Ebrima Darboe's dribbling, passing, and reading of the game.
The pace would pick up in the final five minutes of the half with Lorenzo Pellegrini firing a left-footed shot towards the right post, forcing Cordaz into yet another save, while Mkhitaryan immediately followed that up with a turn and fired attempt in the 40th minute, only to be denied by Cordaz...again.
Mkhitaryan floated a ball to Pedro just before the stroke of halftime but the Spanish winger couldn't convert what was arguably Roma's best—or at least it's cleanest—chance of the half.
Fonseca started the second half with an injury-forced substitution as Ibañez made way for Juan Jesus to start the new half—one that Roma would quickly turn on its head with a barrage of shots, a few of which actually nestled into the back of the goal.
Borja Mayoral got the goalscoring party started in no short order.
Borja Mayoral: 47th Minute (Roma 1, Crotone 0)
Starting with a pinpoint free-kick from some distance from Pedro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan did well to settle the ball and waited a beat before setting up Mayoral in the middle of the box for a sweet left-footed finish.
Crotone would awake from their slumber as the match crawled towards the hour mark, finally testing Daniel Fuzato as Messias Jr and Simy each flashed headers at Roma's young Brazilian keeper in the 52nd and 55th minutes, respectively. The Sharks would continue their hunt for an equalizer, firing two attempts from distance at Fuzato, one of which required a stretched effort from Fuzato to poke over the bar.
Ounas took his turn next, diving right through the middle of Roma's defense in the 67th minute, using his speed and change of pace to avoid Juan Jesus, Kumbulla, and the rest of Roma's backline. In the end, Ounas couldn't quite slow his momentum down and blasted the ball well over the crossbar.
Paulo Fonseca would make Roma's third change in the match when he swapped out Pedro for Javier Pastore, following up an earlier substitution that saw Bryan Reynolds make way for Davide Santon, who quickly made his presence felt.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 70th Minute (Roma 2, Crotone 0)
It's not often that you see a goal scored directly off a throw-in but thanks to Santon's high-arching toss, which was expertly settled by Pellegrini, Roma's skipper was able to convert immediately, beating Cordaz at the far post with a well-struck shot.
But the local boy wasn't done yet.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 73rd Minute (Roma 3, Crotone 0)
Pellegrini's second strike started with a bit of sneakily good defending from Kumbulla, who bodied up Simy to win an aerial battle off a Cordaz goal kick. Thanks to Kumbulla's well-placed effort, Cristante was able to immediately corral the ball, avoid Crotone's counter-press before finding Pellegrini some 25 yards away from the goal. Pellegrini then immediately centered the ball to Pastore, who quickly shuffled it off to Mkhitaryan, who then quickly pinged the ball back to the point of attack where Pellegrini slotted home another left-footed goal to triple Roma's lead.
After being somewhat restrained by Crotone in the first half, Roma finally let loose in the second half to dominate the visitors, pumping in an additional 12 shots on goal to push their match total beyond 20 attempts while Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Borja Mayoral netted down the stretch to push the final tally to a healthy 5-0 victory—Roma's first league win since April 11th against Bologna.
With nothing to play for, this is precisely the response you wanted to see from Paulo Fonseca and Roma. Not only did Fonseca manage to find significant minutes for several young players, the Giallorossi attack looked as lively as we've seen in months, pummeling Crotone to notch the club's first league win in nearly a month.
We'll have to wait and see if this pattern re-emerges in any of Roma's final three matches (Inter, Lazio, Spezia) because both Lazio and Spezia still have a lot to play for in the season's final three games: Lazio are fighting for fourth place while Spezia is only three points above the drop zone, so they're sure to play with midseason intensity while Inter will be running on champagne and fumes Wednesday.
Roma travels north to face Inter Milan on Wednesday.
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