With another critical league fixture waiting for them this weekend, Roma's attention was divided as they welcomed Genoa to the Stadio Olimpico for a Round of 16 clash in the Coppa Italia, a tournament Roma has won nine times, the second-best mark in history, trailing only Juventus, who have 14 titles to their credit.
Considering that fact, José Mourinho rolled out a mix-and-match lineup, starting regulars like Tammy Abraham, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Lorenzo Pellegrini alongside the seldom-seen Edoardo Bove, Marash Kumbulla, and Stephan El Shaarawy. But it was by and large business as usual for The Special One, who returned to the bench after a two-match league suspension.
With the Olimpico at near capacity, the Giallorossi took the opening kickoff to the sounds of Roma, Roma, Roma bellowing from every angle of the club's home ground. Unfortunately, the early returns weren't quite as sweet as the Giallorossi took a bit of time finding their footing, battling for possession in the midfield and misfiring on their first attempt on goal, a screamer from El Shaarawy that sailed well wide of the mark.
And so it went for the first 10 to 15 minutes. Despite being propelled by a raucous crowd, Roma struggled to find rhythm in the attacking phases, frequently misplacing the final pass or simply running themselves into a corner down the flank. This is nothing new, of course, but given the level of the opponent, it was a bit disconcerting.
Despite those struggles, Roma was able to mount a passable threat, firing three attempts on goal in the opening 20 minutes—not exactly a barrage of shots, but much better than last weekend against Milan, where they didn't put a single shot on target until the waning moments of regular time.
Roma would snap into action shortly thereafter, hitting Genoa keeperJosep Martinez with a flurry of shots in the 21st-22nd minute, including a Kumbulla header that slipped helplessly over the crossbar before Abraham misfired moments later.
Nevertheless, as the match crept slowly towards the half-hour mark, Mourinho's men began to pummel Genoa with shots from left, right, and center, firing eight shots at Martinez through the 25th minute. Throw in the half dozen corner kicks they won, and Roma was doing their level best to break this match wide open.
The problem, as you may have guessed, was one of efficiency. Through 30 minutes, Roma racked up 12 shots but couldn't quite hit the mark, firing all but one of those attempts off-target. With Roma misfiring and Genoa effectively removing Abraham from the equation, the Giallorossi resorted to speculative long balls over the top or hasty attempts from outside the area—not exactly a recipe for success, even against a Serie B side.
The tide nearly turned in the 33rd minute following a Pellegrini free-kick. After the captain's attempt was turned away by Genoa, Nemanja Matic scooped up the loose ball on the right flank and centered it to Pellegrini, who, by that point, found a tiny crevice in the middle of the area only to see his one-timed effort clang off the uprights—a sound with which Roma fans are all too familiar.
With 14 attempts on goal and nine corner kicks in the first half, we can't accuse Roma of being bashful, but in keeping with this season's theme, there wasn't much significance to their sound and fury.
Considering his club's struggles, it was no surprise to see Mourinho turn to Paulo Dybala to start the second half. What was surprising, however, was the man he replaced: Lorenzo Pellegrini. Roma wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders in the first 45 minutes, but Pellegrini chipped in four key passes, four accurate crosses and nearly drew first blood late in the first half, only to be denied by the woodwork—not his best, but he was Roma's prime mover in the first half.
With Dybala in tow, Roma picked up right where they left off: winning corners and flinging shots at Martinez from every conceivable angle and distance. They nearly caught a break in the 50th minute when Tammy Abraham corraled a rebound practically on the goal line, missing the rebound attempt before being flagged offside—a perfect encapsulation of his season, if ever there was one.
Dybala took matters into his one hands moments later, cutting in from the right edge of the box before unfurling a left-footed attempt back towards the right post, missing by a matter of inches. Bove followed that up several minutes later with a stinging effort from 25 yards out, flashing just wide of the right post—Roma's 17th attempt of the night.
Through 60 minutes of play, Roma took the buy-in-bulk approach to attacking football, piling up an astounding 20 shots while also winning 15 corners. While the sheer volume was impressive, they only put four attempts on target, seldom threatening Martinez in goal.
Desperate to shake up his squad, Mourinho turned to the bench again in the 62nd minute, swapping out Bove for Bryan Cristante and El Shaarawy for Leonardo Spinazzola, but his first sub changed the match moments later.
Paulo Dybala: 64th Minute (Roma 1, Genoa 0)
PAULO DYBALA COMES OFF THE BENCH TO BREAK THE DEADLOCK.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 12, 2023
Roma have one foot into the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. pic.twitter.com/a3t8O3Ewkb
After receiving some 20 yards away from goal, Dybala quickly wheeled to his left, using some slight stutter steps and body faints to carve out a fraction of space before whipping the ball towards the near post. While his attempt was well-struck, it came from an incredibly acute angle, leaving him precious little room for error. Dybala received a helping hand (or arm, to be more precise) from Martinez, who deflected the ball into the net, but this was still a sensational effort from Dybala.
With the match winding down, Mourinho went to the bench again, bringing Zeki Celik into the fray in place of Nicola Zalewski, who had a solid evening against Genoa, chipping in four key passes while completing 92% of his total passes.
Thanks to Dybala's strike, Roma was free to park the bus for the final portions of this match, putting eight, nine, and even ten men behind the ball as they waited for the final whistle to sound.
And when it did, Roma walked off one-nil winners, booking their ticket to the quarterfinal.
This match was proof positive of Paulo Dybala's worth to Roma if it were even needed. With his club struggling in the run of play, Mourinho had the luxury of going to the bench and finding a former league MVP and World Cup winner waiting in the wings. And, just as he's done so many times during his first season with the club, Dybala pulled Roma's feet from the fire, single-handedly breaking a deadlock that threatened to tax their legs with 120 minutes of football before this weekend's fixture against Fiorentina.
In the here and now, this isn't a worry—this is why you buy players of this quality—but Roma can't live on Dybala alone; someone else has to step up and deliver. The good news is we won't have to wait long to find out if Pellegrini, Zaniolo, or Abraham can take some of the burden off Dybala since they're going to run it back against the Viola in a mere 72 hours.
Roma hosts Fiorentina on Sunday. Be there or be square.
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