The Serie A top-four race this season has to be more open than any in recent memory. Between Juve’s point deduction, Milan’s regression to the mean, and Inter’s inconsistency, Roma is as well-positioned as ever to make a return to the Champions League next season, with today’s match against Napoli being a golden opportunity to solidify their hold on a top-four spot. Unfortunately, despite an impressive performance from the Giallorossi that saw Roma go toe-to-toe with the league leaders for nearly the entirety of the match, Roma ultimately fall 2-1 in a back-and-forth affair.
Roma went into the match as one of the hottest teams in the league since the restart, having taken 10 out of a possible 12 points while their top-four rivals have collapsed around them. And, of course, we all know Napoli is and has been the class of the league this season, so with those two elements at play, you certainly felt the stakes of the match to start.
The opening stages of the match made it clear both sides would go for it, but despite Roma looking well up for it, Napoli began to flex their offensive muscles as they continued to grow into the match, and in the 17th minute, Mario Rui found Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in space, who crossed the ball into Victor Osimhen, and as the league’s top scorer is wont to do, took the ball down on this chest, settled the ball with his knee to set up the volley, and rifled the ball past a helpless Rui Patricio to give the home side the lead on the night with his 14th goal of the season.
You can certainly blame Roger Ibañez for his inability to clear the ball, let alone give Osimhen enough time to get a shot off, but simultaneously this was just a pure moment of magic from the Nigerian striker.
Naturally, the goal forced Roma to open up a bit more than they otherwise would’ve, but even still, the Giallorossi did little to threaten the Napoli goal, evidenced by a 37th-minute attempt being Roma’s first shot on target since the 12th minute—their offensive ineptitude rearing its ugly head once again.
Roma nearly leveled the match right at the end of added time, with some nice combination play between Paulo Dybala and Lorenzo Pellegrini leading to a Leonardo Spinazzola shot that required Alex Meret to make a fine save. The action gave you just enough hope that Roma could find a way to get on the scoresheet in the second half.
In an attempt to give Roma an additional option in the attack, José Mourinho brought on Stephan El Shaarawy in place of Spinazzola to start the second half. A surprising substitution given the attacking threat Spinazzola displayed at the end of the first, but this likely was just an admission by Mourinho that SES should’ve been on to start, given his recent run of form.
Mourinho’s substitution nearly paid immediate dividends, as Nicola Zalewski found the winger practically unmarked in the box for a clear header on goal. Surprisingly, SES opted to head the ball back across the goal toward Tammy Abraham, who was unable to get on the ball.
As the team chasing the match, Roma naturally had the majority of the possession to start the second half, with Napoli seemingly content to wait for their opportunity to hit on the counter. And sure enough, they nearly made Roma pay at the first opportunity, with Chucky Lozano forcing Chris Smalling into an uncharacteristic mistake that led to the Mexican winger being in on goal. Fortunately, Lozano made the same mistake that SES made minutes earlier, electing to pass the ball to Kvara rather than take the shot, giving Roma just enough time to get numbers back and the ball cleared.
Roma’s best opportunity to equalize up to this point in the match occurred right at the hour mark, as the Giallorossi had the opportunity to flex their set-piece muscles and nearly scored from a corner kick as they’ve done so many times this season. Of course, Napoli once again nearly found a second goal on the subsequent counter-attack.
To make matters worse for the away side, Roma’s task became all the more difficult in the 73rd minute, as Tammy was forced off through injury, replaced by Andrea Belotti.
However, just minutes later, Roma finally got their equalizer. With time quickly running out, Roma began committing numbers forward, and eventually, Zalewski was able to cross the ball into the box and find SES, who got just enough of the ball to direct it toward goal, bouncing off Meret to go into the back of the net.
Having finally scored the equalizer and with Kvara and Osimhen subbed out of the match, the final 10 minutes gave Roma a golden opportunity to capitalize on their momentum and steal a win in Naples.
Unfortunately, the football gods had other plans for this one. With five minutes to go, Giovanni Simeone received the ball at the top of the box and, with a quick turn and Smalling too far away to catch up, fired the ball into the top corner to restore Napoli’s lead.
Cristian Volpato came on in place of Bryan Cristante as Roma desperately pushed for the equalizer, but it wasn't to be for Roma as they couldn’t find a second equalizer despite six minutes of added time, falling 2-1 to the league leaders on the night.
There’s certainly no shame in losing to the league leaders on the road, but given Roma’s position in the match with just five minutes to go, this defeat will sting. Roma has a relatively easy month ahead, and you trust the club to shake off defeat, but this certainly was a missed opportunity for the Giallorossi.
In case you missed any of the action, enjoy the highlights below. The official league highlights are available here.