While Roma's first official match of the season came last Thursday against Turkish club Trabzonspor in the Europa Conference League playoff round, that was merely the appetizer for today's Serie A opener against Fiorentina. With nearly 26,000 fans in attendance, the Stadio Olimpico was rocking in anticipation for the duel debuts of José Mourinho and near-record signing Tammy Abraham, who earned a surprising start after only having a few days of training under his belt.
Given that both sides had new managers on the touchline and several new faces on the pitch, the opening five to ten minutes weren’t exactly brimming with action. After bending a few blades of grass in the opening moments, Roma's first forward move came thanks to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who fired a classic “was it a shot or pass?” towards the right post, only to see the ball sail harmlessly wide of the mark.
Fiorentina would try a nearly identical move a few moments later when their new signee, Nico Gonzalez, played Jose Calleon down the flank only to see the chance go wasted as Callejon failed to catch up to the heavily weighted pass.
With both sides struggling to get into the flow of the match, the first genuine chance of the game happened in the 10th minute via a setpiece when Lorenzo Pellegrini whipped in a cross from the corner flag. Nicolo Zaniolo quickly rose to meet the ball and cleverly tried to flick the ball towards the back post only to find no one waiting to meet it; a smart play despite the lack of payoff.
While Pellegrini would pick up a yellow card in the 12th minute for a late challenge, the referee's pocketbook was about to change the entire tenor of this match.
Fiorentina's keeper is shown a red card less than 20 minutes into the match. They go down to 10. pic.twitter.com/o0VRrlhVKb— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
Tammy Abraham was a surprise inclusion in today's starting lineup, but that decision paid immediate dividends tonight, albeit a bit indirectly. With Abraham running off the last defenders in the middle of the pitch, Roger Ibañez found the young Englishman with a perfectly placed and weighted long ball. With a veritable one-v-one about to unfold, Fiorentina keeper Bart Dragowski came flying off his line and clipped Abraham's leg, sending Roma's €45 million man to the turf.
While VAR quickly checked to see if he was offside, the call stood and Dragowski was sent off with a straight red, as was Callejon, who came off to accommodate the keeper swap.
Abraham nearly made his presence felt again in the 25th minute. With Rick Karsdorp firing a cross into the middle of the area, Abraham slickly dummied the ball and let it run through to Pellegrini, but the captain's shot was wide of the mark. Despite the miss, you could sense Roma were waking up.
But the new kid wouldn't be denied...
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 26th Minute (Roma 1, Fiorentina 0)
Instant impact! ⚡— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
Tammy Abraham assists Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Roma's first goal of the season pic.twitter.com/OEk828lPvO
With the ball pinging around the neutral zone, Fiorentina committed a rather ghastly turnover deep in their own territory, one which Abraham pounced on, immediately turning upfield towards the Viola goal. With one defender on him, Abraham stalled and dragged the ball into the middle of the area, giving Mkhitaryan that little extra fraction of a second to get in position. And with one flick of his foot, Abraham played Mkhitaryan into space, where the Armenian maestro pulled off a clever little turn and fire to beat Pietro Terracciano.
The goal was checked...and we mean checked...but in the end, the goal stood and Roma found themselves up a goal and a man with 20 minutes to play. While there were a few mini chances to close out the half, the scoreline stood at one-nil as we wrapped up the first 45 minutes.
With a one-man and one goal-advantage to protect (and possibly pad), Mourinho stood pat to begin the new half while Vincenzo Italiano brought on Gaetano Castrovili to add a bit of attacking punch to the Viola.
There wasn't any immediate action to speak of from either club but that didn't stop Tammy Abraham from doing a bit of trickery early in the half, as he pulled out a nifty backheel-drag combo move in the opening moments of the half. It didn't result in anything but it was a visual reminder that there is an awful lot of skill in those long limbs of his.
Pellegrini finds a loose ball with two men around him, quickly passes it to Tammy, who pulled off a sort of dummy/nutmeg/drag and go move...very pretty— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) August 22, 2021
While I wish I could say that bit of video game trickery produced some beautiful moments for Roma, things quickly soured for the Giallorossi in the 52nd minute when Nicolo Zaniolo picked up his second yellow card of the match. With Nico Gonzalez dribbling past him, Zaniolo made the hasty decision to drag him down from behind, leaving the ref little choice but to pull the card.
Zaniolo is sent off after being shown his second yellow card.— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
SEVEN red cards so far in Serie A opening weekend. pic.twitter.com/9oTRnH6lBx
Sensing a shift in momentum, Fiorentina immediately tilted the now-even pitch in Roma's direction. Dusan Vlahovic was largely silent for most of this match, thanks in large part to the defensive work of Roger Ibañez and Gianluca Mancini, but he nearly leveled the match in the 55th minute. After receiving the ball in the box, Vlahovic used his massive frame to his advantage, brushing off Roma's defense on a classic turn and fire move, but Rui Patricio was up to snuff, quickly dropping to the ground to make a left-handed save, showcasing the same incredible strength he flashed to deny Paul Pogba at this summer's European Championships.
With the match creeping towards the hour mark and both sides down to 10 men, you didn't have to be an expert to realize this match wasn't going to end 1-0 to the good. So it came as little shock when Fiorentina struck back right at the hour mark.
Nikola Milenkovic: 60th Minute (Roma 1, Fiorentina 1)
The control. The finish. Nikola Milenković finds the equalizer for Fiorentina pic.twitter.com/O2e0cjOtRE— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
If you blame Mancini and Abraham for perhaps getting a bit overzealous in their attempts to prevent Vlahovic from getting a head on the ball, just make sure you credit Milenkovic for his effort, as he did remarkably well to settle the ball with his right foot and avoid Patricio before switching the ball to his left and tucking it home. Not great far-post defending from Roma, but full marks to Milenkovic for a classy goal.
Undaunted by that equalizer, Roma came immediately back and nearly stole the lead in the 62nd minute. With Lorenzo Pellegrini playing a right to left cross for Abraham at the far post, the stage seemed set for the Englishman's first Roma goal, but it wasn't meant to be as his header careened off the woodwork rather than tucking in the top left corner.
After trading barbs for the ensuing 15 minutes, Roma finally broke the deadlock, although they needed a helping hand from VAR once more.
Jordan Veretout: 64th Minute (Roma 2, Fiorentina 1)
VAR SAVES THE DAY AGAIN— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
Tammy Abraham with two assists in his Roma debut pic.twitter.com/YCd91tMEI0
Tammy Abraham was purchased to score goals, but he once again showed the ability to work in concert with Roma's attacking midfielders, biding his time while Mkhitaryan drove the ball up from midfield. With Micki approaching the edge of the area, Abraham timed his run off the last defender to perfection, slipping into the box practically unmarked. With the angle at the near post effectively sealed off, Abraham switched the ball across the face of the goal where he found Jordan Veretout at the far post for the go-ahead goal.
Roma would close out the final 20 minutes of the match with a series of changes but wouldn't be content with a 2-1 lead. Only this time, it was Roma's other new forward who provided a helping hand for Veretout.
Jordan Veretout: 79th Minute (Roma 3, Fiorentina 1)
VERETOUT. BRACE. pic.twitter.com/VxKyfv4WLk— Serie A on Paramount+ ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 22, 2021
While Pellegrini started this play off with a great burst down the right flank and Veretout finished it without issue, the real hero here was Shomurodov. Watch as he receives the ball from Pellegrini, cuts in, and manages to withstand a shoulder barge (while also watching said defender fall in his wake) and then proceeds to pull two Viola defenders away from the box before slipping a perfect ball through to Veretout, who runs onto the ball and beats the keeper without batting an eye. This was a perfect counterattack from start to finish but Shomurodov's effort here was sensational.
Roma very nearly added a fourth goal in the waning moments of this match, but thanks to the efforts of Abraham, Veretout, and Shomurodov, among others, Roma left the pitch to thunderous applause.
If Roma's 2-1 win over Trabzonspor last week was the appetizer, then this was the main course and a delectable one at that. This match had it all: effective possession, great link-up play through the middle, individual moments of brilliance, steady goalkeeping, suffocating defense, and even a few entertaining histrionics from Mourinho on the touchline.
The remaining 37 league matches won't go quite as smoothly, but you can already see the seeds Mourinho planted over the summer taking root. From the stout defense to the quick transitions to the strikers to the wide forwards stretching and pulling the defense at their pleasure, Roma looked sensational tonight.
Add in a few more weeks of seasoning (and perhaps a last-minute acquisition of a defensive midfielder) and Roma could become legitimate threats to return to the Champions League.
Roma welcomes Trabzonspor to the Olimpico on Thursday for the second leg of their Europa Conference League playoff.
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