For the second straight weekend, the fixture gods smiled favorably on Roma, as fourth-place AC Milan and fifth-place Inter Milan dropped points on Saturday. While those matches didn't necessarily impact Roma's place on the table, they did present José Mourinho's men with a chance to consolidate third place, as a win today over Udinese today would put Roma three points ahead of Milan.
With his side down Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham (though he made a late substitute appearance), Mourinho had to tweak his normal starting eleven, giving rare starts to Edoardo Bove, Zeki Celik, Andrea Belotti, and Diego Llorente. It wasn't Roma's A-Team, but with Belotti, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Stephan El Shaarawy leading the charge, the Giallorossi had enough athleticism and grinta to win the day.
While the raucous Stadio Olimpico crowd buoyed Roma, the damp pitch took the sting out of the ball, requiring both clubs to be more measured in their passes, turning the would-be track meet into a sloppy mess with well-intended forward passes dying on the pitch. Given the state of the pitch, free kicks soon became worth their weight in gold, with both clubs first looks at goal coming via the setpiece.
Roma would turn to the setpiece again in the 13th minute, with Lorenzo Pellegrini whipping an in-swinger towards the far right post. While the ball drifted into no man's land, Edoardo Bove did well to retain possession, flicking the ball to Georginio Wijnaldum, who lofted a cross to Bryan Cristante at the far left post. While Cristante was unmarked, the ball glanced off the side of his head and out of harm's way, sparing Udinese for the moment.
With more whistles than shots through the opening 20 minutes, this match wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the league. Both clubs seemed uncertain about how to unlock the other, resulting in a somewhat syncopated start to this critical fixture.
The Giallorossi nearly broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute when Gianluca Mancini forced Udinese Marco Silvestri keeper into a harried save after the Roma defender flicked a header on goal. It was a well-struck ball from Mancini, who had the time and space to run at the ball, but Silvestri acted quickly to parry it away.
But the missed attempt came at a cost for Roma, as Bryan Cristante suffered a blow to the head, requiring several minutes of medical attention from the training staff. While Nemanja Matic was dutifully warming up on the sidelines, the trainers were hard at work wrapping Cristante's head in gauze. Despite the initial concern, Cristante was well enough to continue playing and took a touch almost immediately after play resumed.
Roma caught a break in the 35th minute when an Andrea Belotti header produced a handball in the box. While VAR needed a minute or so to verify it, the call against Roberto Pererya stood. The only question was who would take the kick for Roma. After missing a crucial spot-kick against Feyenoord on Thursday, Pellegrini wasn't the automatic choice, particularly not with Bryan Cristante holding the ball as the officials sorted everything out.
Different name, same result. Incredibly, despite asserting his dominance by grabbing the ball and essentially demanding the penalty, Cristante pulled a Pellegrini, firing a penalty attempt off the upright. Only this time, the rebound fell in Roma's favor as Edoardo Bove lashed the loose ball into the back of the net to put Roma up 1-0.
Edoardo Bove: 37th Minute (Roma 1, Udinese 0)
Udinese are unlucky.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 16, 2023
Edoardo Bove scores the rebound off Bryan Cristante's penalty miss for Roma. pic.twitter.com/zNtBYx7XYg
The first half concluded with five minutes of stoppage time, thanks to Cristante's lengthy injury and the VAR check on Pererya's penalty. Despite winning multiple set pieces, Roma couldn't increase their lead and went into the interval up one-nil.
Other than Bryan Cristante's now black head wrap/gauze, Roma made no changes to start the second half, though with a slim one-goal lead, one had to wonder how long Mourinho would sit on his subs. And much like the first half, it was slow going in the early moments here as both clubs cautiously approached the start of the second half, trading speculative long balls and half-hearted dives to win free kicks.
To the surprise of no one, the first clean look of the second half came via the setpiece as Pellegrini whipped in an out-swinger corner in the 54th minute. While the attempt generated a bit of a scrum in the Udinese area, the Zebras were able to clear the ball, denying Roma any clear-cut chances.
But Roma could only be denied for so long...
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 56th Minute (Roma 2, Udinese 0)
What a run and ball from Andrea Belotti to find Lorenzo Pellegrini for the goal.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 16, 2023
Roma are rolling at the Stadio Olimpico. pic.twitter.com/4hefVnPSHK
What a beautiful play from two increasingly maligned players. Andrea Belotti, of all people, played creator here, slicing through the Udinese defense in the left channel. With Pellegrini shadowing his run on the opposite flank, Belotti played a gorgeous diagonal through ball, catching his captain in stride, leaving Lorenzo with a gimme goal to put the capital club up 2-0 with little more than 30 minutes to play.
The Giallorossi would be forced into a substitution moments later when Wijnaldum made way for Matic, as the Dutchman left the pitch with lingering effects from a head-to-head collision he suffered several minutes earlier; he was icing the back of his skull/neck on the bench immediately after coming off.
After a bit of a lull, Roma was forced to defend their box in the 67th minute, with Udinese peppering Rui Patricio and the Giallorossi backline with multiple attempts, the last of which struck Gianluca Mancini's arm, giving Udinese a penalty kick in the process.
With Roberto Pererya weighing his options, the Udinese forward tried to beat Rui Patricio low and to the left. However, he left the shot a bit central, giving the Portuguese keeper the chance to deny the attempt, saving Roma's clean sheet in the process.
RUI PATRICIO COMES UP BIG FOR ROMA.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 16, 2023
Got José Mourinho right up out of his seat. pic.twitter.com/TGQ95owuxF
With approximately 15 minutes remaining, Mourinho went to the bench once more, swapping out Stephan El Shaarawy, Andrea Belotti, and Zeki Celk for Nicola Zalewski, Tammy Abraham, and Leonardo Spinazzola, respectively.
Thanks to their two-goal lead, Roma were able to waltz their way through stoppage time, seemingly content to collect their three points and go home, but Tammy Abraham finished the match with a flourish, scoring a lovely header off a Spinazzola assist.
Game. Set. Match.
After a slow start to the match this evening, Roma gradually found confidence as the first half wore on, looking crisper and more aggressive than Udinese for most of the evening. Despite the damp pitch, Roma managed to assert themselves in every facet this evening, outpassing, outrunning, and outshooting their visitors.
I'm not sure there are many tactical takeaways from Roma's 3-0 win, but you have to be impressed with how players like Edoardo Bove and Andrea Belotti stepped up when so many of the club's regulars were out and/or nursing injuries today. It certainly bodes well for the stretch run as Roma looks to hang onto third place with eight matches remaining.
Roma's Europa League life is on the line as they host Feyenoord on Thursday in the return leg of the EL quarterfinals.
Man of the match?
This poll is closed