With his side beset by injuries and suspensions, and with the Roman media trying their damnedest to foment an insurrection in the dressing room, José Mourinho was up against the proverbial it today as the Giallorossi trekked north to face 12th place Sassuolo. While the Neroverdi were in the midst of a rough patch, as Mourinho pointed out in his pre-match presser, Sassuolo are a gifted and technically adept squad; certainly one capable of upsetting Roma in their current state.
And in the opening moments of today's match, Sassuolo seemed primed for an upset as former Roma farmhand Davide Frattesi fired an opening salvo at Rui Patricio in only the second minute; one of three carefully crafted attempts the Neroverdi managed in the opening seven minutes or so.
Roma would eventually find a bit of space in the final third when Felix Afena-Gyan burst down the left flank in the 14th minute, setting up a one-v-one against Andrea Consigli, only to see the Sassuolo keeper win the battle of space, forcing Felix's shot to run high and wide.
Felix would hear his name called again in the 24th minute when the young Ghanian found space down the right channel, and with Tammy Abraham a step ahead of him and slightly peeling off to the left, Roma had a bang-bang play in the making. However, rather than playing Tammy into the box, Felix decided to carry on with his dribble, essentially playing himself out of shooting position and settling for a tight-angled, low-percentage shot from the right edge of the box.
After an eight to ten-minute lull, Roma finally found daylight deep in Sassuolo's end. After a scrum in the box, Chris Smalling, with defenders draped around him and losing his balance in the process, played a last-ditch ball across the face of the goal. And with one quick flick of his long lower extremities, Tammy Abraham seemed to give Roma an early lead, only to see the goal disallowed for an early offside call during the buildup; a call that was quickly confirmed by VAR.
With the match crawling towards the 40th minute, the first half seemed destined to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but Roma finally showed some initiative, drawing a penalty in stoppage time after a Matías Viña cross from the left flank struck Vlad Chiriches’ arm. While the referee deferred to VAR, the video assistant quickly confirmed the call and Tammy Abraham calmly converted, stroking the ball right down the middle with his instep, giving Roma an awkward but welcomed lead heading into halftime.
With a one-goal lead to protect, Mourinho likely directed his players to flood the final third and make life hell for the Sassuolo defense. It made sense, especially with such a precarious lead, but rather than compounding the pressure on Consigli's goal, Roma acquiesced in the worst possible way: conceding an equalizer in only the 47th minute.
Rui Patricio (OG): 47th Minute (Sassuolo 1, Roma 1)
SASSUOLO EQUALIZE JUST 90 SECONDS INTO THE SECOND HALF. pic.twitter.com/8xLZsjCiQ3— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 13, 2022
At first blush, this looked like a classic goalkeeper howler, one Patricio has been prone to throughout his career but had thus far avoided with Roma, but upon further viewing, the slight deflection the ball takes off Smalling's torso seemed to throw Patricio's timing off just enough to make this calamity possible. Having said that, Patricio dropped to the ground quickly, had his five-hole closed, and literally had his hands on the ball but couldn’t make the save, so we'll pin, say, 90% of this on Patricio.
After another brief lull in the match, Sassuolo very nearly put the match to bed in the 66th minute when Davide Frattesi had the match in his hands, running onto a ball in the box, only to see his shot drift wide of the mark. Mourinho would respond with Roma’s first set of changes in the 60th minute, bringing on Eldor Shomurodv for Felix and Bryan Cristante in place of Sérgio Oliveira.
But, as has been the case so often lately, all that planning and preparation was rendered moot as Sassuolo grabbed the lead thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Hamed Traore, who might as well have thrown Rick Karsdorp around like a rag doll on this play...
Hamed Traore: 73rd Minute (Sassuolo 2, Roma 1)
THE BALL FROM DOMENICO BERARDI. THE FINISH FROM HAMED TRAORE.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 13, 2022
SASSUOLO TAKE THE LEAD OVER ROMA. pic.twitter.com/QwsbeT7PyR
Great delivery, great shielding of the ball, and a fantastic finish from Traore, who got his first “official” goal of the day after receiving a bit of assistance from Smalling and Patricio earlier in the match.
With his side now chasing a lead, Mourinho dipped into his bench twice more, bringing on Jordan Veretout and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in exchange for Viña and Mancini, respectively. Roma were granted an immediate reprieve when Gian Marco Ferrari was sent off after picking up his second yellow card of the day, giving Roma a one-man advantage for the final 10 minutes of the match.
Mourinho dipped into his reserves once more in the 83rd, giving his side a more attacking bent by replacing the ineffective Karsdorp with Roma's last remaining Spanish sparkplug, Carles Pérez.
It wasn’t Pérez, but one of Mourinho’s second-half subs nearly drew Roma level in the 89th minute. With time and space on his side, Maitland-Niles whipped a ball into the near left post; one that was begging to be redirected past Consigli, but Lorenzo Pellegrini, the intended target, just couldn't beat the Sassuolo keeper to the ball and the would-be equalizer vanished as quickly as it appeared.
But hope wasn't lost...
Bryan Cristante: 93rd Minute (Sassuolo 2, Roma 2)
BRYAN CRISTANTE'S HEADER SAVES A POINT FOR ROMA IN STOPPAGE TIME. WHAT AN ENDING. pic.twitter.com/LZu9KUHrob— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 13, 2022
With six minutes of stoppage time, the Giallorossi still had a bit of life left in them, especially with one extra body on the pitch. And just when it seemed like Roma would squander this additional opportunity, fortune finally smiled on Roma, as Bryan Cristante delivered a 93rd-minute equalizer off a Jordan Veretout corner, barely heading the ball past Consigli and over the line, but the goal-line technology proved it's worth, verifying the goal almost in real-time.
This wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for Roma's Mourinho Makeover, especially not when it looked as if the 11 men in yellow just met up in the parking lot and decided to take on Sassuolo, but we have to credit Mourinho's men for playing to the final whistle. With six minutes of stoppage time and not much to show for it, Roma had every reason to just pack it in and wait for the final whistle. However, rather than accepting that fate. the Giallorossi dug deep, made the most of their one opportunity and converted...just barely.
It wasn’t pretty, but this one point at the very least keeps Roma above Fiorentina on the table.
Roma hosts Hellas Verona on Saturday the 19th.