Roma began the weekend as Serie A's surprising leaders, and thanks to José Mourinho's perfect start as Roma manager, Giallorossi fans were starting to dream big. And ordinarily an away match against near-bottom of the table Hellas Verona wouldn't cause much concern for Roma fans, but with the Mastiffs making an unexpected coaching change late last week, replacing Eusebio Di Francesco with Igor Tudor, the home side had the advantage of unpredictability on their side.
For his part, Mourinho threw a couple of interesting wrinkles of his own into this match. While most of his starting lineup remained intact, The Special One rolled with Riccardo Calafiori at left-back for the second-straight match while also surprising many by opting for Eldor Shomurodov on the left, rather than riding Stephan El Shaarawy's hot hand in place of the fatigued Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
While both clubs were dealing with varying states of early-season continuity, the opening moments of this match, and really the entire first half an hour, was incredibly even. Though neither side generated and real chances in the early moments, it was clear as day: Verona would not be intimidated by Roma and their unblemished record.
The first real attempt of the match came in the opening 10 minutes when Giovanni Simeone found a bit of space at the edge of the box, but his turn and fire attempt went well wide of the mark. But throughout the entirety of the first half, Verona seemed to favor Simeone and Darko Lazovic, who combined for three of Verona’s four first-half attempts.
WIth Roma struggling in the run of play, their first decent look came via the setpiece, with Lorenzo Pellegrini once again picking out Bryan Cristante in the area, only this time Cristante's flicked header barely missed the upper right-hand corner of the goal, but those two have definitely struck up good chemistry early in the season.
The play would get bogged down as the match crept towards the half-hour mark, with the pitch becoming a literal bog thanks to the deluge of rain, while the match itself came to a grinding to a halt thanks to a rash of clutching and grabbing. And just when it seemed like we were destined to endure a dull, scoreless first half, Pellegrini continued his assault on Serie A.
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 36th Minute (Verona 0, Roma 1)
LORENZO PELLEGRINI JUST PRODUCED A SPECIAL FINISH pic.twitter.com/PFFo4xlNhT— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2021
Words can't really do this goal justice, but please allow me to try. What initially looked like a one-two between Rick Karsdorp and Nicolo Zaniolo was foiled when Zaniolo lost his footing, but even after Karsdorp adjusted and tried to meet Pellegrini's near-post run, the ball was deflected by the Verona defense, throwing the timing of this play completely off. But Pellegrini somehow (perhaps miraculously) managed to wrap the instep of his trailing foot on the ball, scoring a goal that would make Francesco Totti blush—simply sensational from Roma's captain, who is well on his way to a career season.
Roma very nearly backed this up with another strike when Zaniolo cut in from the right but his well-struck shot inadvertently hit Abraham in the back, erasing what looked like a clear-cut scoring chance.
In the end, the first half whistle blew with Roma up 1-0 thanks to Pellegrini’s brilliant strike, but the first 45 minutes were far more even than the scoreline suggested.
Could Roma put this match beyond all doubt in the second half, or would Verona’s slow-burn final pay off?
While Tudor made one change to start the second half, Mourinho was content to keep his lineup unaltered, preferring to pad his lead rather than go for a more defensive posture to start the new half.
But Verona would render that decision moot almost immediately...
Antonin Barak: 49th Minute (Verona 1, Roma 1)
Right place, right time— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2021
Antonin Barak levels it for Hellas Verona pic.twitter.com/PcMJDluJG2
Roma's luck didn't last long into the second half as Verona took advantage of a few fortuitous bounces to level the match. After countering down the left flank, Caprari's initial ball into the box was deflected by Gianluca Mancini. While Rui Patricio was able to react quickly to prevent Mancini’s deflection from becoming an own-goal, there was very little he could do to stop Barak's follow-up attempt.
One-one after 50 minutes. Roma had their work cut out for them now, but Pellegrini very nearly put the Giallorossi back ahead moments later, fomenting his own one-man counter-attack but he simply couldn't bust free from the swarm of Mastiffs in the box.
And just as quickly as Roma almost took the lead, Verona did what Roma couldn't in that instance: capitalize.
Gianluca Caprari: 54th Minute (Verona 2, Roma 1)
Nothing too fancy here, as Caprari receives the ball in stride from Ilic. From there, the former Roma academy player did well to patiently dribble forward, keeping Mancini back peddling the entire way, before picking out the far post, beating Patricio without batting an eye.
The frenetic pace continued as the match marched towards the hour mark, and while he didn't recreate his first-half genius, Pellegrini had a hand in Roma's 58th-minute equalizer, forcing Ilic into an own-goal when his pass intended for Tammy Abraham was redirected into the goal by the Verona central defender.
Roma did well not to hang their heads and claw back an equalizer, albeit an indirect one, but the action continued to come hot and heavy as Verona took the lead again a mere five minutes later.
Marco Faraoni: 58th Minute (Verona 3, Roma 2)
OUTSIDE BOX. OUTSIDE THE FOOT. WHAT A FINISH. MARCO FARAONI. pic.twitter.com/HjaahN8lWv— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 19, 2021
Another goal that doesn't need much explanation. After planting himself at the edge of the box, Faraoni received the ball from Simeone and, in one gentle motion, redirected the now looping ball into the upper right-hand corner past a helpless Rui Patricio. You can't do much about this goal other than tip your cap to Faraoni; that was a lovely bit of skill. Of course, it helps that he was unmarked the entire time—do with that what you will.
Mourinho would immediately respond by bringing on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Carles Pérez, and Stephan El Shaarawy, all of whom played in support of Abraham for the stretch run. Roma would make two more changes in the 78th minute, swapping out Calafiori and Karsdorp for Chris Smalling and Borja Mayoral. At this point in the match, Verona was content to sit deep and kick it long, so Mourinho was right to bring nearly every attacking option he had off the bench, shifting shape into a 3-4-1-2.
Try as they might through the waning stages of the match, plus the five added minutes of stoppage time, Roma couldn't find a late equalizer. Carles Pérez and El Shaarawy each had decent looks and Roma won more than a few corners and free-kicks down the stretch, but they just couldn't break Verona's increasingly compact defense.
And that was all she wrote. For the first time this season, José Mourinho and Roma must accept the bitter taste of defeat.
There were some encouraging signs and some troubling developments but at the end of the day, Roma was never going to finish the season 38-0-0, so, as upset as we may be, let's try and maintain some perspective. Roma remains in great shape with nine points from four matches—there is plenty of football left on the calendar.
However, for the first time this season, we'll have to wait and see how Mourinho responds to Roma's first negative result of the season. Can he succeed where so many others have failed before him? Can he continue to see the forest for the trees or will the weight of the Romaverse break his resolve?
Roma hosts Udinese on Thursday