While it's far too early for table watching, Roma received a bit of good news before kickoff after defending league champions AC Milan dropped points to Sassuolo, their second draw in four matches. Combine that with the recent acquisition of Andrea Belotti and the sixty-some-odd thousand fans packing the stands, and the Stadio Olimpico was brimming with anticipation for today's match against newly promoted Monza.
Despite some shrewd summer signings, Silvio Berlusconi's latest calcio venture hasn't exactly gotten off to a flying start, going winless through their first three Serie A matches while conceding eight goals along the way. In a sense, they were the perfect foil for Roma, who desperately needed a convincing win after three nailbiters to begin the new season.
With the fixture list already jam-packed, Mourinho tinkered with his lineup on this rare Tuesday fixture, replacing last week's starting full-backs, Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdorp, with Nicola Zalewski and Zeki Celik. Marash Kumbulla made his starting debut in place of Chris Smalling, who was given a much-needed breather today (more on that in a minute).
Despite having the decidedly superior squad, Roma struggled to establish much fluidity (or anything, really) in the opening stages, doing little more than winning a corner kick in the first 15 minutes. Roma was playing direct, winning 50/50s and flying all over the pitch, but they couldn't find any seams in the Monza defense.
It was practically a repeat of their first-half performance against Juve, with the club seemingly hitting a wall anytime the ball crossed the midfield stripe; little to no off-the-ball movement, no overlapping runs, no aggression, and no creativity whatsoever.
Things were so bleak that the sold-out crowd, who were rocking the very foundations of the stadium not more than 10 minutes earlier, were eerily silent, sitting on their hands, waiting for a moment of inspiration.
But they wouldn't have to wait much longer.
Paulo Dybala: 18th Minute (Roma 1, Monza 0)
Paulo Dybala!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 30, 2022
Tammy Abraham finds his strike partner and he scores his first Serie A goal for Roma. pic.twitter.com/g0QAB9jfvP
It may have taken Roma nearly 20 minutes for their first shot on goal, but they sure made it count. After Tammy Abraham sprung him down the left channel with a brilliant flicked header, Dybala put his head down and got to work, holding off the defense just long enough to slot the ball past Michele Di Gregorio with a lovely left-footed effort. And let's not undersell Abraham's assist either; that ball was hanging in the air for quite a while before he redirected it towards Dybala.
Dybala's first Roma goal stirred the Stadio Olimpico from its slumber, once again in full voice, urging the Giallorossi to put Monza out of their misery before the half-hour mark. Tammy Abraham nearly complied in the 25th minute after he got loose in the box, but with Di Gregorio off his line in a shot, Abraham had no choice but to attempt a finessed, outside-of-the-boot effort towards the far post, which didn't have enough english on it and trailed wide of the mark.
Roma caught a bad break in the 28th minute when Marash Kumbulla left the pitch with an apparent hamstring injury. And with no other defenders on the bench, Mourinho was forced to play Chris Smalling on short rest, unexpectedly making his 100th appearance for the club.
The Giallorossi soldiered on without their young defender, but thanks again to Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala, Kumbulla's absence soon became academic.
Paulo Dybala: 32nd Minute (Roma 2, Monza 0)
It is a brace for Paulo Dybala!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 30, 2022
With that finish he has his 100th Serie A goal! pic.twitter.com/tzCbdjDjTr
With Roma slow to build from the back, Nemanja Matic took matters into his own hand, hoofing the ball up half the pitch in one fell swoop. While Matic attempted to hit Abraham in stride down the left channel, the Monza defense intervened, altering the ball's path before Abraham could track and recover it.
With room to run, Abraham went straight for goal, but just as he did earlier, Di Gregorio came off his line to cut down the shooting angle, parrying Abraham's attempt to the right into a veritable no man's land. Fortunately for Roma, Dybala was on his horse and charged headlong towards the loose ball, tucking it in the back of the net with a brilliant sliding effort for his 100th Serie A goal.
The ensuing 10 minutes saw Roma continue to rush forward. At the same time, Monza, to their credit, did well not to break again and even had a legitimate gripe for a non-call on Gianluca Mancini, who tugged at Monza player's shirt as they attempted an overhead volley in the box.
Despite four minutes of added time, the score remained unchanged as the clubs headed into halftime.
Sensing a chance to truly put the game away, Roma wasted no time orchestrating their first attack of the half. With no more than 30 seconds off the clock, Matic lofted a ball over the defense towards Pellegrini, who was racing through the left channel in anticipation. With Dybala shadowing his run in the middle, Pellegrini squared the ball into the box, but Di Gregorio read it perfectly, smothering Dybala's shot without batting an eye.
Di Gregorio notwithstanding, Roma kept their foot on the gas as the second half began to breathe and nearly found goal number three. With Zeki Celik controlling possession down the right flank, with Abraham in the middle of the box and Pellegrini crashing the box on the opposite side, Celik wisely traced the ball back out to Pellegrini for the one-timer, but the defense managed a last-ditch block, denying Pellegrini what would have been a cracking goal.
Abraham continued to knock on the door, taking two stumbling touches in the box before lashing a turn-and-fire attempt at the right post, which was, once again, blocked by the scrambling Monza defense, who, by that point, was hanging by a thread.
To their merciful credit, Roma finally obliged, putting the match to bed just after the hour mark.
Roger Ibañez: 61st Minute (Roma 3, Monza 0)
Roger Ibañez makes it 3!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 30, 2022
Jose Mourinho's side are flying. pic.twitter.com/FrDeqDuBdT
Roma continued their setpiece sorcery here, with Pellegrini lofting an inswinger from the left corner flag. With the ball gently arching towards the middle of the area, Roger Ibañez rose up and headed it home to give the Giallorossi a three-goal lead with approximately 28 minutes to play.
With the match winding down, Mourinho went to the bench, bringing Stephan El Shaarawy in place of Dybala and Leonardo Spinazzola in favor of Nicola Zalewski. And El Shaarawy, as he so often does, threw himself right into the mix, darting all over the final third and nearly playing Celik into goal.
Andrea Belotti's Roma debut, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, came in the 81st minute when the Italian striker came on for Tammy Abraham. With a three-nil lead and nothing on the line, this was an ideal way to get Belotti up to speed, and he nearly scored on his debut, slightly misjudging a looping ball from Spinazzola, which appeared to alter Belotti's timing as he couldn't quite get a clean strike on the ball once it settled.
Roma managed to close out the match, including three additional minutes, but it came at a cost after El Shaarawy was forced off the pitch in the 92nd minute with an apparent groin injury.
Despite that dour note, the whistle blew on a resounding Roma victory.
Now that's more like it! Roma left nothing to chance for the first time in this young season. There were no miraculous game-saving goals from defenders, no jaw-dropping assists to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat, and no shots clanging off the woodwork. No, for the first time in four attempts, Roma ran their opponents off the pitch with an impressive display of attacking football.
While they were slow to start, Mourinho's men shook off the rust that plagued them in the opening 15 minutes before truly exerting their dominance over Monza. Fueled by Dybala's dazzling opening goal, Roma were in control and, despite ceding possession to Monza, were fast, fluid, and efficient, putting 50% of their shots on target while limiting Monza to only one on-target attempt.
Roma faces Udinese on the road this Sunday.
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