After Thursday's nailbiter against Vitesse in the Europa Conference League, Roma once again had a quick turnaround, flying straight to Udinese to prepare for today's round 29 fixture against the 14th place Zebras, a side they've handled rather easily over the past few years. Dating back to the spring of 2019, Roma has taken five of the past six contests, including a 1-0 win last fall; a trend Roma needed to continue today.
Gone are the days when a Roma-Udinese fixture featured one of the league's most exciting matchups, Francesco Totti vs. Antonio Di Natale, but today's match certainly wasn't lacking consequences. A victory today would keep Roma hot on Juve's tail for Serie A's fourth and final Champions League place, but in the opening moments of this match, Udinese looked like the side with something to fight for, as they keep Rui Patricio under heavy pressure in the opening five minutes, firing ball after ball into the Roma box.
Roma's first real forward move came thanks to a clever little combination play from Tammy Abraham and Nicolo Zaniolo, who traded passes as they plowed through the middle of the Udinese defense. With the final ball finding Abraham in the right channel, the English striker attempted a finesse shot towards the lower corner of the left post but couldn't manage to guide it home, watching as it skirted past the post and over the goal line.
Udinese would punch back moments later when Roberto Pereyra found Nahuela Molina down the right flank, and while the Argentine had a clean look at the goal, Rui Patricio had the near post smothered, denying the chance thanks to his quick reflexes and excellent positioning.
Unfortunately for Roma, Molina would atone for that miss in practically the next breath...
Nahuel Molina: 15th Minute (Udinese 1, Roma 0)
NAHUEL MOLINA, TAKE A BOW!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 13, 2022
Udinese strike first against Roma pic.twitter.com/266V3cqmCH
After intercepting Udine's initial corner, Roma thought they were safe when Lorenzo Pellegrini cleared the ball out of the penalty area, but thanks to his rather lackadaisical effort, Molina scooped up the ball immediately and pegged it into the back of Patricio's net, giving Udinese a much-deserved lead. They were the better side to this point in the match, and took advantage of some poor defensive play from the Giallorossi, scoring their first goal against Roma since July of 2020.
And they very nearly made it two straight goals in the 25th minute when the Udinese attack twisted and contorted Roma's backline out of shape with a series of quick one-twos in the penalty area, nearly creating a scoring chance with a backdoor pass only to be denied by a last-ditch clearance from Tammy Abraham. The play likely would have been whistled dead for offside, but it was further evidence that only one team truly came to play in the opening half an hour.
There was some faint light breaking through the clouds as the match moved past the 30-minute mark when Roger Ibañez's header produced a generous rebound off Marco Silvestri's gloves. While the ball fell to Zaniolo on the left edge of the box, the Udinese defense reacted quick enough to stop the follow-up effort, denying Roma a would-be equalizer.
Udinese continued to heap pressure on Roma's backline in the 38th minute when Jean-Victor Makengo struck a beautiful ball that seemed poised to settle in the upper right-hand corner only to be denied by Patricio, whose initial save rolled off his hands back towards the goal but struck the woodwork (twice in fact!), denying Makengo a golazo. Of course, it never would have happened if Roma could clear their lines as once again Udinese were stringing together a series of quick and decisive passes in the Giallorossi's six-yard box, teasing the Roma backline with their poise and precision.
With only one minute of stoppage time to close out the first half, Roma managed to stem the tide and headed into the break down one goal and seemingly fresh out of attacking ideas.
Down a goal and desperately seeking an equalizer (and more), Mourinho opted for an attacking change to start the new half, bringing Stephan El Shaarawy into the fray in place of Sérgio Oliveira. Despite that change, Roma started the second half the same way they concluded the first: pumping the ball through Zaniolo in the wide areas. And it nearly paid early dividends when Zaniolo drew a foul on the right edge of the 18. Pellegrini's ensuing free-kick looked good upon delivery but was quickly turned away by the Udinese defense, who deflected the ball back up the pitch and away from harm.
Udinese's first threat of the new half saw Makengo receive the ball at the edge of Roma's 18, and while he had plenty of time and space, his one-timed effort bounced harmlessly over the end line, never really troubling the Roma defense, but the ease with which Udinese was able to work the ball deep in Roma territory was very troubling.
The ensuing 10 minutes would see both sides attempting to control the midfield, and with no clear paths to goal, Mourinho reached deep into his bench in the 65th minute, bringing on Felix Afena-Gyan and Eldor Shomurodov for Nicola Zalewski and Tammy Abraham, respectively.
Felix would have a crack at goal in the 68th minute after Rick Karsdorp wheeled in from the right flank, picking Felix out at the point of the 18-yard-box. With the defense quick to reorganize, Felix one-timed a shot towards the right-hand corner of the goal, missing an equalizer by a matter of inches.
Mourinho would turn to the bench once more in the 73rd minute swapping out Rick Karsdorp for midfielder Jordan Veretout. Not long after that change, one of Mourinho's earlier subs, Stephan El Shaarawy, nearly brought the Giallorossi back into the match as flashed a ball across the face of goal. While it failed to reach its intended target—the ball was parried out by Silvestri before it reached the far post—Roma had multiple follow-up attempts blocked, saved, or otherwise denied by the Udinese defense, who did extraordinarily well to scramble back into shape, throwing their bodies in front of the ball to deny Roma an equalizer.
With the clocking winding down and his club in dire need of an offensive spark, Mourinho's final change of the match saw pacey winger Carles Pérez join the party in the 85th minute in place of Gianluca Mancini.
However, rather than packing it in and waiting for the final whistle, Udinese continued to press the issue in the final third, forcing Patricio into two key saves in the waning moments of regulation. And thanks to a rather lengthy Udinese medical issue earlier in the match, the officials tacked on an additional six minutes of stoppage time, giving either club plenty of time to find the back of the net.
And find it they did. Thanks to a Marvin Zeegelaar handball in the box, Roma were awarded a penalty kick in the 94th minute, one which Lorenzo Pellegrini blasted past a hapless Marco Silvestri, who guessed correctly but had no prayer of stopping given how well-struck it was.
With little more than two minutes remaining in the match, neither manager seemed willing to toss aside one precious point by hunting for a late match-winner, leaving us all to digest another disappointing draw.
While I wish I could offer up some new insights, this is the same well-worn script we've read all season long: lots of possession, plenty of shots, some nice off-the-ball runs but a critical lack of efficiency in the final third. Roma held nearly two-thirds of the ball and pumped 10 shots at Silvestri, but only managed to put two attempts on the frame of goal, giving the Udinese keeper a de facto day off.
Despite all that, Roma caught a lucky break in the end and took advantage, snatching one point from the jaws of defeat. It matters little in Roma's Champions League chase, which is now for all intents and purposes dead in the water, but that one measly little point should give them some breathing room as they tussle with Atalanta for a spot in the 2022-2023 Europa League.
Roma hosts Vitesse in the second leg of the Europa Conference League Round of 16 on March 17th.