With 36 league matches in the books (plus over a dozen Conference League contests), we thought José Mourinho ran out of ways to surprise Roma fans, but we were wrong—so very wrong. With a spot in next season's Europa League still on the line, Mourinho decided not to play things safe, making a few key changes to his lineup, including one dramatic change: the return of Leonardo Spinazzola, who made his first start for the Giallorossi since Roma's Europa League semifinal defeat against Manchester United on April 29, 2021.
Lining up alongside Spinazzola, who made his first appearance of the season last week against Fiorentina after tearing his Achilles tendon at last summer's Euros, were fellow seldom-seen faces Carles Pérez and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The remainder of Mourinho's lineup was (nearly) business as usual: Marash Kumbulla, Chris Smalling, and Roger Ibañez at the back, Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout in midfield with Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini rounding out the attack—four changes in total from last weekend's disaster against Fiorentina.
Facing this quasi new-look Roma was everyone's favorite fashion-forward club, Venezia, who earlier in the day learned they were officially relegated back to Serie B after Salernitana drew Empoli 1-1 on the road. And greeting these two sides were tens of thousands of Giallorossi fans who were in full voice as the club took the pitch at the Olimpico for the final time this season.
Despite the raucous atmosphere and all that the club had at stake, Roma capitulated to their newly-relegated opponents after only 46 seconds as Ridgeciano Haps picked up the ball in midfield, and immediately made a man miss before laying the ball off to Mattia Aramu, who then set up David Okereke for an extremely early goal—his second against Roma this season.
Shocked and dismayed, Roma immediately got back to work, trying in vain to funnel the ball down the left flank through Spinazzola and Veretout, neither of whom could make a dent in the surprisingly spry Venezia backline.
The Giallorossi’s struggles continued as the match approached the quarter-hour mark, with the homeside mustering only two attempts on goal, both of which came off the foot of Cristante, neither of which troubled the keeper—if they were even on target. Roma would catch a small break in the 16th minute when Tammy Abraham won a corner kick after forcing a deflection, but Pellegrini's subsequent in-swinging attempt was turned away without really troubling the Venezia defense.
Carles Pérez would take matters into his own hands moments later when he cut in from the right flank, drawing a yellow card on Sofian Kiyine and earning a free-kick in the process. The crowd fell silent as Pellegrini stood over the ball, carefully considering his options as he attempted to bring his club back into this match. And considering how effective he's been from setpieces this season, it wasn't hard to get swept up in the moment, all of which made the horrific clang of the ball as it caromed off the crossbar harder to stomach.
Spinazzola would come excruciatingly close to leveling the match in the 25th minute, cutting in from the left and dragging a shot just wide of the left post, reminding us all of how crucial he is to a properly functioning Roma attack.
The Giallorossi caught a massive break in the 32nd minute when, for some reason, Sofian Kiyine decided to kick Pellegrini right in the...umm...digital bits, drawing a red in the process. Roma weren't able to capitalize on the ensuing free-kick, but given how much they'd struggled to unlock Venezia's defense to that point, they needed all the help they could get.
Roma would struggle to take immediate advantage of that red card, trying and failing to grab a late first-half equalizer but came awfully close when Carles Pérez tested Venezia keeper Niki Mäenpää off a free-kick at the right edge of the box. It was a well-struck left-footed effort from the Spaniard but Mäenpää simply had too much time to track the flight of the ball and had the near post smothered, making for a rather straightforward save.
Thanks to a series of knocks, VAR reviews, and the ball simply going over the touchline repeatedly, the referee tacked on four minutes to close out the first half, but much as they did for the preceding 45, Roma did sweet F.A. with their time on the ball.
Not one to leave things to chance, Mourinho kicked off the new half with a triple change: Rick Karsdorp on for Maitland-Niles, Nicola Zalewski on for Spinazzola, and Stephan El Sharaawy in place of Kumbulla. Not exactly like-for-like changes across the board, but it did give Roma a slightly more attacking bent—but would it work?
With a more aggressive look, Roma looked to immediately flex their attacking muscles when Tammy Abraham played Pellegrini into the box, but the late run from Roma's captain was snuffed out by Mäenpää, who seemed to diagnose the play before it unfolded, smothering the ball before Pellegrini could even get a boot on it.
Speaking of boots. In the 52nd minute, Bryan Cristante launched an absolute howitzer from 20-yards out, blasting the ball off the crossbar, missing an equalizer by maybe four inches. Despite the near-miss, Roma were playing with a greater sense of purpose and aggression than at any point in the first half and knocked on Venezia's door seconds later when Pellegrini forced another save from Mäenpää.
Undeterred, Roma would continue to hunt for an equalizer and watched in horror as Pellegrini hit the crossbar again, this time after a beautifully weighted free-kick from 30 yards out clipped the top of the bar, dipping maybe a half-second too late to find the back of the net.
With 30 minutes left on the clock, Mourinho went to the bench again, bringing Eldor Shomurodov on for Jordan Veretout, giving the Giallorossi still another attacking option as they desperately tried to chase down Venezia, who were, once again, officially relegated prior to kickoff and were playing with a man down since the 32nd minute—just in case you were wondering how shocking the results were to this point in the match.
Roma's frustrations continued to plague them as the match moved past the hour mark, with Tammy Abraham being shoved over from behind without so much as a curious glance from the referee, which was followed up by a loose ball falling right at Pérez's feet, but the speedy winger just couldn't get a shot off in time before the defense collapsed around him.
Pérez, Abraham, Pellegrini, and Zalewski each had cracks at Mäenpää's goal as we pushed towards the 75th-minute mark, and each time they came up wanting, either misplacing shots, hitting the crossbar, or being done-in by Mäenpää, who seemingly read every angle and play perfectly.
But Roma's luck was about to turn...
Eldor Shomurodov: 76th Minute (Roma 1, Venezia 1)
Eldor Shomurodov— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 14, 2022
Roma find the equalizer against 10 man Venezia pic.twitter.com/10Pz3nLjxL
But Roma would finally catch a break in the 76th minute when Pellegrini broke into the box, pulling Mäenpää off his line. While Pellegrini's toe-poke couldn't quite get over Mäenpää, it did produce a meaty rebound that fell right to Shomurodov, who buried it in the back of the net to level the match at one goal apiece with roughly 15 minutes remaining.
With the match winding down, Mourinho went to the bench one final time bringing on Christian Volpato in place of Carles Pérez, who wasn't able to match his efforts from the first half but nevertheless put in a lot of hard running for Roma on the night.
In keeping with the theme of the evening, Roma's best chances down the stretch came via the setpiece, particularly in the 88th minute when Zalewski floated a corner kick to Smalling at the far right post, only to see the Englishman's efforts go wide of the mark.
Zalewski would make his presence felt once more, cutting in from the left and rifling a shot at the near post, striking the very corner of the goal frame and watching the ball drop straight down on the goal line—the refs didn't give it a second look, ruling that it fell outside of the goal.
Roma would continue to press the issue deep in the match with Cristante and Shomurodov each coming excruciatingly close to grabbing a late match-winner, only to see their shots miss the mark. However, with four added minutes, Roma's hopes weren't completely dashed yet.
However, once again Mäenpää stood on his head, making two saves in quick succession, denying Abraham with a splayed-out kick save before barely getting back on his butt to deny El Shaarawy's follow-up attempt deep in stoppage time.
But the match still wasn't done. With the four minutes of added time already off the clock, Roma won a late corner that was punched away by Mäenpää, the deflection from which hit Tyronne Ebuehi's arm. Despite pleas otherwise, the match officials didn't immediately review the play, and with Roma at sixes and sevens, Venezia immediately charged down the pitch and almost stole a late match-winner when Dennis Johnsen got behind the defense, setting up a one-v-one against Rui Patricio, who had to come way off his line to thwart the chance and save a point for Roma.
The officials eventually checked the possible Ebuehi handball, deeming it incidental, leaving nothing left but the final whistle. And with four shots clanging off the woodwork and the club unable to capitalize on a one-man advantage for nearly two-thirds of the match, it just wasn't Roma's night.
Roma had an astounding 46 attempts on goal, putting 16 on target, a quarter of which struck the woodwork, so it’s not as if this match wasn’t there for the taking—they just couldn't get the job done tonight. With this draw, Roma are now two points behind fifth-place Lazio, who square off with Juventus on Monday evening at the Allianz Stadium in Torino. A Juve victory would keep Roma mathematically alive for fifth place next weekend when they wrap up the season against Torino, but for all intents and purposes, if Roma has any chance at European play next season, they have to win the Conference League finale against Feyenoord, the winner of which gains an automatic entry into the Europa League.
Roma finishes the season on the road against Torino next Sunday.