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Fiorentina 2, Roma 1: Mental Lapses Cost the Giallorossi Victory...Again

Roma rested most of their regulars, but all their normal failings were on display this afternoon against Fiorentina, who leveled and stole three points in a three-minute span.

ACF Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

One look at José Mourinho's starting lineup in today's penultimate Serie A fixture told you everything you needed to know about Roma's mindset entering today's match against Fiorentina: it didn't matter. With the domestic route to next season's Champions League slammed shut, Mourinho and the Giallorossi put all their eggs in the Europa League basket, where a victory would see Roma return to the Champions League for the first time in five years.

The Europa League finale is scheduled for next Wednesday in Budapest. Keeping the upcoming match against Sevilla in mind, the Special One decided not to take any chances and rested almost all of the starters against the Viola this afternoon. While this may have stripped some of the seriousness from today's match, it provided an opportunity for young players like Filippo Missori, Benjamin Tahirovic, and goalkeeper Mile Svilar to get extended looks on the pitch and possibly plant a seed in Mourinho's mind for next season.

Despite the lack of consequence this afternoon, the atmosphere at the Stadio Artemio Franchi was buzzing as the teams took the pitch, with plumes of white and purple smoke greeting the two clubs as they waited for the opening whistle.

Unfortunately, apart from a couple of half chances (quarter chances, to be more exact), the opening 10 minutes or so did very little to dispel the notion that both clubs were playing it safe, prioritizing their respective cup finals ahead of playing for an actual result today. In a word, it was a classic biscotto in the making.

Yeah, about that...

Stephan El Shaarawy: 12th Minute (Fiorentina 0, Roma 1)

Almost on cue, Roma rendered that previous paragraph moot. What initially looked like an innocuous passage of play—a long ball from Smalling that covered nearly two-thirds of the pitch—quickly turned into a lovely four-touch move featuring Smalling, Andrea Belotti, and Ola Solbakken, with SES knocking home the Norwegian's header to put the capital club on top, erasing a sluggish start in the process.

The match would return to the previously gentle pace over the ensuing 10-minute block, with both sides unable to find safe passage through the midfield. Roma would come close to increasing their lead in the 26th minute when El Shaarawy played Georgino Wijnaldum into the 18-yard box, only to be denied by Viola keeper Michele Cerofolini, who left a promising rebound for Solbakken, but the Norwegian winger's attempt was pulled off the line by a Fiorentina defender.

The Viola would catch a lucky break in the 32nd minute, drawing a free kick at the edge of Roma's 18-yard box. While Biraghi teed up a solid effort, Svilar read it perfectly and barely had to move his feet as Biraghi's swerving near-post effort went directly into his gloves.

Wijnaldum came close to scoring again in the 36th minute, making a darting diagonal run through the heart of the Fiorentina defense, only to see his low effort denied once again by Cerofolini, who was up to the task on Roma's ensuing corner kick, too.

El Shaarawy would come knocking again in the 44th minute, firing a stinging effort at the upper right-hand corner, producing an outrageous leaping save from Cerofolini, who needed every inch of his frame to keep the ball out of the goal—a feat he'd repeat moments later when Belotti tried to squeeze one in at the near post.

With neither club able to capitalize on four minutes of stoppage time, El Shaarawy's early goal remained the difference as the clubs headed into halftime.

Second Half

With a one-goal lead to protect, Mourinho went heavy on defense to start the second half, swapping out Smalling and El Shaarawy for Zeki Celik and Gianluca Mancini, respectively. With nothing to play for today, getting additional rest for Smalling and SES was the correct call. Similarly, getting 45 minutes under his feet should ensure that Mancini is primed and ready to go against Sevilla on Wednesday.

And Roma's defense would be put to the test in relatively short order as Luka Jovic nearly produced a miraculous goal from the seat of his pants in the 54th minute, only to come up short as the Giallorossi defense scrambled back into shape. With the Viola flailing on the subsequent corner kick, it looked like Roma was primed for her first league win since April 16th.

Winaldum saw his number called again in the 56th minute, only to come up short in another critical moment. With the Dutchman leading a counter-attack, Wijnaldum's final ball to Solbakken on the right was too short, too soft, and well off the mark. And, not surprisingly, he was subbed off for Bryan Cristante several minutes later.

Fiorentina would respond by bringing Riccardo Sottil and Dodo into the fray just shy of the hour mark, a substitution Mourinho would later match by beefing up the defense yet again when he swapped out Ola Solbakeen for Roger Ibañez in the 71st minute, giving the Giallorossi a flat back-four for the final 15 minutes and change.

Mourinho's final substitution would see Nicola Zalewski make way for Tammy Abraham for the final 10 minutes. Roma wasn't necessarily looking to pad their lead, but getting 10 to 15 minutes of action under Abraham's feet would ensure the English striker was crisp ahead of Wednesday's final against Sevilla.

Despite their best intentions, Roma nearly threw away three points in the 84th minute when Missori up-ended a Viola attacker in the area. While it was a pretty clear violation, the officials actually blew the whistle against Fiorentina, who committed a foul in the buildup phases.

The Viola would eventually get their goal when Mandragora played a square header to Luka Jovic at the right post, giving the Serbian playmaker a gimme goal to level the match at one a piece with approximately 10 minutes remaining.

But they weren't satisfied with sharing points, as a moment later, Jonathan Ikone blew the roof off the building when he got on the end of a surprising cross, a term we use lightly. With the ball slowly falling towards the pitch, Ibañez should have had an easy interception on his hands, but with the Brazilian defender somehow missing the ball, which was moving at a snail's pace, it fell right to Ikone, who tapped home perhaps the easiest goal of his career to put Fiorentina on top 2-1.

With five minutes of added time to close out the game, Roma had ample time to pull level but couldn't muster more than a few half-hearted chances at goal before the final whistle blew.

Final Thoughts

Even though nothing of consequence was at stake today, Roma's weaknesses were once again on full display. Down their principal playmakers, Paulo Dybala and Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roma looked punchless in attack, and while they did well to deny the Viola for most of the match, their trademarked lapses of concentration in the final third came back to haunt them as they conceded two goals in three minutes after the 85th minute.

Biscotto or not, this was hardly the tuneup Roma needed ahead of Wednesday's Europa League finale, a match that could very well determine the fate of the Friedkin ownership over the next several seasons.

Up Next

The big one. On Wednesday, Roma goes toe-to-toe with Sevilla for the Europa League title and a spot in next year's Champions League.