Closing the curtain on Matchday 15 with an 8:45 PM local time kickoff, Roma had the luxury of watching the league standings shuffle in real time. Napoli, who were even with Roma on 24 points, and AC Milan, who were five points ahead of the Giallorossi, each dropped points this weekend, paving the way for Roma to solidify their grasp on fourth place. However, thanks to a spirited Bologna side defeating Salernitana earlier today, José Mourinho's men needed a win to remain in fourth place.
With the results elsewhere muddying the waters, Roma did what they always do: feed Romelu Lukaku. The big Belgian striker has been a godsend for the Giallorossi, and he continued to deliver manna from heaven for the capital club early in this match. In only the fifth minute, Lukau capped off a beautiful three-touch move that began with a clever give-and-go between Bryan Cristante and Paulo Dybala before crouching down to convert Dybala's low cross.
Romelu Lukaku: 5th Minute (Roma 1, Fiorentina 0)
BIG ROM!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 10, 2023
Romelu Lukaku gives Jose Mourinho's side an early lead with a header. pic.twitter.com/o0AQ7NHUpO
Fiorentina nearly repeated this feat several minutes later when M'Bala Nzola was played into the Roma box, pulling Rui Patricio off his line. While the Roma keeper did well to halt Nzola's run into the box, he flubbed on the save attempt, leaving the ball sitting maybe two feet from the goal line. Fortunately for Roma, Nzola appeared to give up on the play, giving Patricio time to scramble and smother the loose ball.
Roma's good fortunes took a hit in the 25th minute when Dybala appeared to tweak his hamstring while attempting to make a slide tackle. It was a bit of an awkward challenge, and Dybala's leg seemed to get stuck in the turf momentarily, so it could have been much worse, but Mourinho played it safe, swapping out Dybala for Sardar Azmoun.
Losing Dybala took a noticeable sting out of Roma's attack as the Giallorossi struggled to maintain possession in the final third, to say nothing of creating chances. Without Dybala pulling the strings, those tiny crevices and lanes that seemed to magically appear when he was on the ball vanished, leaving Roma little choice but to fling desperate ball after desperate ball into the box. Still, the Giallorossi nearly found a second goal when one of those ambitious long balls nearly found paydirt, courtesy of Bryan Cristante, who picked out Azmoun in the middle of the box, only to see the Iranian's header sail high and wide.
Sensing a chance to catch Roma napping, Fiorentina stitched together a sequence down Roma's left flank, picking out Jonathan Ikone in the box. While the Viola carved up Roma's backline with ease, Patricio had it covered perfectly, making an easy save at the near post.
Roma would punch back several minutes later when a Lorenzo Pellegrini corner kick swerved sharply towards Pietro Terracciano. The Viola keeper did well to prevent the ball from curling directly into the goal, but in his haste, he didn't realize the ball fell inches away from the goal line. And while Lukaku and Azmoun immediately sprang into action, the Fiorentina defense cleared the line a split second before either Roma forward could poke it home.
Azmoun would leave the pitch shortly after, pulling up in the 62nd minute, making way for Stephan El Shaarawy off the bench. Still, things got much worse for Roma two minutes later when Nicola Zalewski was sent off with accumulated yellow cards. But things would soon go from bad to worse.
Lucas Martinez: 66th Minute (Roma 1, Fiorentina 1)
Lucas Martínez Quarta equalizes for Fiorentina!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) December 10, 2023
A great header and I Viola are back in this one. pic.twitter.com/CgwnW2fc3z
The announcers immediately drew a line between this goal and Zalewski's dismissal, but that belies what really happened here: Kouame just played a killer, pin-point cross here, picking out Martinez among a crowd of Roma defenders to level the match. Maybe another body helps, but as it was, Martinez moved past multiple red shirts without so much as an awkward glance.
Down a man with approximately 25 minutes remaining, Roma closed up shop, putting nearly all ten players behind the ball. While this effectively sealed off the penalty area, Fiorentina continued to race down the flanks, using the combined speed of Martinez and Kuame to pull Roma off their moorings.
But Roma's misfortunes weren't done yet, as Romelu Lukaku was shown the door in the 87th minute after a dangerous challenge on Kouamé. Thanks to the rash of injuries, cards, and substitutions, the officials added seven minutes of stoppage time, which amounted to little more than a series of frenzied runs from Fiorentina with Roma desperately clutching, grabbing, and stalling their way to a 1-1 draw.
With Milan and Napoli dropping points earlier this weekend, Roma had a chance to build a two-point cushion in fourth place, staying just ahead of Thiago Motta's Bologna side. So, while Roma did well to stave off a complete collapse in the second half, given the steep drop in quality once Dybala left, not to mention the lack of discipline in front of the officials, it's hard not to come away disappointed.
Nevertheless, Roma will have a chance to claim fourth place for their own when they square off against Bologna next Sunday.
Roma's final Europa League group stage match against FC Sheriff on Thursday the 14th.