In what is seemingly becoming a weekly occurrence, Roma and José Mourinho entered a critical domestic fixture with both hands tied behind their back. Under normal circumstances, a home match against 9th place Verona wouldn't kick up too much dust, but with Roma's roster (almost literally) decimated by injuries, illness, and suspension, this otherwise benign fixture quickly became a life or death affair for the Giallorossi's European hopes for next season.
Despite the Human Resources nightmare, Mourinho managed to cobble together a pretty solid starting lineup, featuring Rui Patricio in goal, Marash Kumbulla, Chris Smalling, Rick Karsdorp, and Matías Viña in defense, with Bryan Cristante, Sérgio Oliveira, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in midfield, leaving Lorenzo Pellegrini, Felix Afena-Gyan and Tammy Abraham to orchestrate the attack.
And with the Stadio Olimpico bursting at the seams as the half-capacity crowd belted out Roma, Roma, Roma, things were looking good for the Giallorossi at kick-off. And that energy translated to the pitch in the opening moments of the match as Chris Smalling intercepted a Verona forward pass, picking out Afena-Gyan in practically the next move. While the young Ghanian striker didn't come close to sniffing a goal, he chased the ball like a madman and nearly forced a turnover from Verona keeper Lorenzo Montipo.
But that promising start wouldn't last—in fact, it would completely vanish after only 300 seconds of action. In the 5th minute, Verona vanquished Rui Patricio and the Roma defense with a classic training ground goal, beating the Giallorossi with a well-orchestrated free-kick.
Antonin Barak: 5th Minute (Roma 0, Verona 1)
What a finish from Antonín Barák!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 19, 2022
5 minutes in and Verona are ahead with a set piece right from the training ground. pic.twitter.com/PiuWdTe27k
Verona got a bit lucky here thanks to Patricio's somewhat poor rebound control, but don't let that distract you from what was otherwise a cleverly orchestrated give-and-go move at the near post, though one has to wonder if that “fake out” at the very beginning was part of the plan. Either way, for the umpteenth time this season, Roma were victimized by a premeditated setpiece routine, once again falling behind an opponent before the match even had a chance to breathe.
Roma responded with a quick one-timed effort from Pellegrini that, while exceptionally well-struck, barely bothered Montipo, who literally just swatted the ball away with his feet firmly rooted to the pitch.
After at least looking respectable for the ensuing 10 minutes or so, Roma once again came undone in the 20th minute when Adrien Tameze finished off another beautifully constructed Verona team move.
Adrien Tameze: 20th Minute (Roma 0, Verona 2)
Adrien Tameze!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 19, 2022
Roma are down 2-0 to Verona 20 minutes in, Jose Mourinho has work to do. pic.twitter.com/j2FEq9E9WG
Fantastic work from Verona here, who manipulated Roma's defense by shifting the focal point with a series of quick and incisive passes, capping it off with an ingenious back-pass from Gianluca Caprari, who put the ball on a platter for Tameze. From there, Tameze buried the ball in the top shelf without batting an eye, leaving Patricio to flail his arms in a desperate attempt to stop a shot that nearly took his head off.
Verona would continue to hunt for a third goal and almost found one when Caprari flashed his playmaking skills again, only to be thwarted at the last second. The Mastiffs sniffed Patricio's goal moments later when Diego Simeone got loose down the right flank and flashed a ball past the far left post, only to see the shot skirt wide as Simeone lost his balance mid-attempt.
Simeone would find the back of the net in the 32nd minute when he received the ball at the edge of the box and cleverly pulled and dragged his way around Rick Karsdorp before beating Patricio; the goal was quickly disallowed for an offside infraction in the buildup, but this was further proof that only one team truly came to play today—and it damn sure wasn't the home team.
And that was really it—the remainder of the first half was insufferable. Verona were free to do as they pleased, where they pleased, and when they pleased; Roma had no answer for the Verona threat in any phase of the game during the first half.
After a first-half performance that could, at best, be described as apathetic (though you may want to remove that first a), Mourinho was quick to make a change, starting the second half off by inserting young Nicola Zalewski into the lineup in place of Matías Viña, while also giving Sérgio the quick hook, replacing him with Jordan Veretout.
Given how poorly Roma played in the first half, while looking completely bereft of imagination and motivation, starting the new frame with two fresh subs was the right call but it made little difference once the whistle blew—Verona picked up right where they left off: dominating Roma.
In a testament to how bleak things were for the men in maroon, Roma’s best chance of the match—to this point at least—saw Tammy Abraham chase down a loose ball on the right flank, just barely pulling the ball off the end line before flinging it across the face of goal. And while Pellegrini offered a leaping headed attempt, the pass simply sailed too high, though it did fall to Jordan Veretout on the left edge of the box. With time to compose himself and nary a defender in sight, Veretout promptly fired the ball into the side netting—this was shaping up to be one of those matches.
Mourinho would dip into his bench once more in the 62nd minute, swapping out teenaged attackers: Felix Afena-Gyan made way for Cristian Volpato, marking the young Australian's second senior appearance for Roma.
And, for once, something finally went Roma's way...
Cristian Volpato: 65th Minute (Roma 1, Verona 2)
18 year old Cristian Volpato pulls one back for Roma!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 19, 2022
Comeback on?! pic.twitter.com/ePRsDGidhL
Volpato got a bit lucky here as his one-timed attempt appeared to take a subtle deflection as it flew through the crowd, but the 18-year-old Aussie put more than enough on the ball to freeze Montipo, giving Roma a puncher's chance in the final quarter-hour.
Emboldened by their adolescent Australian's efforts, Roma found new life down the stretch and tempted fate in the 73rd minute when Abraham played Pellegrini into the box down the left channel. With Pellegrini barrelling down on Montipo's goal, the Roma captain was taken down in the box from behind, and despite some rather vociferous appeals for a penalty, the match officials saw nothing untoward and let the moment pass, which sent José Mourinho into a tizzy.
Mourinho continued to lean on the youth when he introduced Edoardo Bove in the 78th minute, with the young Italian taking Maitland-Niles’ spot in the lineup for the final 10 minutes plus stoppage time.
Moments after this change, Rick Karsdorp took matters into his own hands, playing an out-swinging ball towards the left post, but even with Volpato and Pellegrini rushing to meet the ball, the timing and pace were a split-second off and the chance went wasted.
But Roma would land one last punch...
Edoardo Bove: 84th Minute (Roma 2, Verona 2)
ROMA HAVE EQUALIZED!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 19, 2022
19 YEAR OLD EDOARDO BOVE SCORES HIS FIRST GOAL FROM AN ACUTE ANGLE. pic.twitter.com/gKjfN10zWm
Just like they did on Volpato's goal, Roma took advantage of a fortuitous deflection off a setpiece. With the ball winding its way back to Bove at the edge of the box, the 19 year old did incredibly well to settle the ball while simultaneously advancing closer to the near post. After taking multiple touches and cover a few yards of space, Bove seemed to transfix the Verona defense, who remained rooted to the ground as the 19-year-old Italian beat Montipo with a spectacularly well-placed shot at the near post. You simply cannot say enough about his composure here, especially when you consider he was still settling the ball as he made his move towards the near post before beating Montipo; brilliant stuff from the late sub.
With his emotions getting the better of him, Mourinho wouldn't be around for the conclusion of this match after he saw red in the 90th minute for arguing with the officials, leaving his young squad to their own devices for the final three minutes of stoppage time.
Despite the emotions of the moment and the tide seemingly swinging in Roma’s direction, the Giallorossi weren't able to complete their comeback and had to settle for another draw, their second straight and third in their past four matches in all competitions.
This is a tough one to surmise because Roma were dreadful in the first half, looking apathetic, clueless, and lacking any semblance of cohesion, but thanks to Mourinho's inspired substitutions, Roma were able to salvage a point from what would have otherwise been an unmitigated disaster. The energy and enthusiasm displayed by Volpato, Bove, and, to a lesser extent, Zalewski had a noticeable effect on the rest of the squad, who finally showed signs of life in the final 15 minutes.
In the end, however, it simply wasn't enough to paper over Roma's dreary start to the match and doomed the club to their fourth-straight non-victory; their worst stretch of the entire season. So, as much as they should be credited with clawing their way back and taking advantage of the only two genuine scoring chances they managed, Roma were, once again, the architects of their own destruction.
While we should be happy for the draw, make no mistake: this club has serious issues and unless Mourinho can sort them out in relatively short order, we may be looking at a 2022-2023 season with no European football, barring a Conference League title run this spring.
Roma closes out their horrible February with an away trip to Spezia next Sunday.