Daniele De Rossi may have played it coy when asked what tactical approach he'd use ahead of his first match in charge of the Giallorossi, admitting that the team was purpose-built for José Mourinho's three-at-the-back approach, but Roma's former captain dispelled that notion an hour before kickoff this afternoon. Rather than opting for continuity, De Rossi shook things up today against Verona, trotting out a 4-3-2-1 formation, with Paulo Dybala, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Romelu Lukaku forming the peak of the Christmas Tree formation.
Despite the changes on the touchline and the pitch, the fans in the Stadio Olimpico didn't miss a beat, serenading the club as they took the pitch. In that sense, it was business as usual, but given how little time they had to prepare for this new modality, it was anyone's guess how De Rossi's four-man backline would fare against the lowly Mastiffs of Verona.
In the opening 5 to 10 minutes, it was clear which team had the new manager and which didn't. It's not that Verona was outplaying Roma, but the Giallorossi were exceedingly cautious to begin the match, playing carefully placed back passes and looking hesitant to move forward. However, once that initial trepidation passed, De Rossi's team slowly grew in confidence, feeding the ball through the middle and creating the game's first chance in the 8th minute when Lukaku fired a shot in traffic, which was summarily blocked by the Verona defense.
Despite that denial, little by little, Roma's blueprint became clear: move the ball quickly through the middle towards Lukaku and hope the trailing runners can create chances via layoffs or quick give-and-goes with the Belgian striker.
The two clubs traded chances as the clock moved toward the 20th minute, with El Shaarawy bursting down the left channel only to be denied by Lorenzo Montipo on a tight-angled attempt.
But De Rossi wouldn't have to wait much longer for his side to bust through...
Romelu Lukaku: 20th Minute (Roma 1, Verona 0)
The first goal of the Daniele de Rossi era at Roma is scored by Romelu Lukaku. pic.twitter.com/QqWfbgR3An— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 20, 2024
With Lorenzo Pellegrini fighting off a defender in midfield, the Roma captain narrowly avoided the press, finding El Shaarway down the left channel. From there, SES did well to shield the ball from the defense as he drove into the penalty area, dancing between defenders before laying it off to Lukaku, who converted the chance with a swift left-footed goal.
But the Giallorossi weren't content with one goal, doubling their lead six minutes later...
Lorenzo Pellegrini: 26th Minute (Roma 2, Verona 0)
Calm, cool, composed from Lorenzo Pellegrini.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 20, 2024
Roma are FIRING in Daniele De Rossi's first match as manager. pic.twitter.com/s6zlwNXLmB
Top marks to Pellegrini for the finish and El Shaarawy for the clever touch/turn/layoff, but this play was kicked off by the youngest player on the pitch, Dean Huijsen, who played a beautiful long ball to Lukaku to start the sequence. A bang-bang play that featured quick thinking and even quicker finishing gave Roma their first multi-goal first-half lead since October 8th against Cagliari.
But, as Dolly Parton once famously sang, if you want the rainbows, you gotta put up with the rain sometimes. Moments after Pellegrini's goal, Leonardo Spinazzola, who'd been playing like a man possessed through the first 20 minutes, was forced off the pitch with a knock and replaced by Rasmus Kristensen.
Roma would come close to padding their lead further, with El Shaarawy and Huijsen each narrowly missing a would-be third goal, but the second half closed with the Giallorossi up two-nil and playing some of the fastest football we've seen all season.
With a two-goal lead in his pocket, De Rossi made no changes to begin the second half, but the club picked up right where they left off, forcing the issue through the middle. Despite their good intentions, the Giallorossi couldn't knock the Verona defense off its moorings in the opening stages of the second half as they sought to kill off the match with a third goal.
Roma caught a massive break in the 57th minute after Michael Folorunsho held off the Roma defense and beat Rui Patricio at the near post. However, before Verona could even begin to celebrate, the goal was disallowed due to an attacking foul in the buildup, as Folorunsho was judged to have pushed off the defender before settling the ball.
With a two-goal lead and roughly 30 minutes to play, De Rossi decided not to tempt fate, removing Dybala in favor of Nicola Zalewski, who actually was deployed in attack and slotted to Lukaku's right.
Roma's luck nearly turned sour in the 64th minute when Diego Llorente committed a handball in the box, rising high to clear the ball only to see the ball deflect off Milan Djuric's head and into the Spaniard's elbow. Fortunately for the Giallorossi, Djuric's PK sailed well over the crossbar.
MILAN DJURIC SKIES IT FROM THE SPOT! pic.twitter.com/N6yOf6XRcq— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 20, 2024
The Giallorossi's next chance would see Lukaku sprung down the right flank from distance, giving the big Belgian striker plenty of space to run at the defense. After a series of surprisingly deft stepovers, Lukaku found El Shaarawy at the edge of the 18, but in his haste, the Italian winger sliced the shot well over the crossbar and into the stands.
Roma would soon rue that miss...
Michael Folorunsho: 76th Minute (Roma 2, Verona 1)
MICHAEL FOLORUNSHO. THAT WAS A ROCKET. pic.twitter.com/gjs1iPY1WO— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 20, 2024
Verona would pull a goal back in the 76th minute when Folorunsho scored from roughly 20 yards out, putting enough mustard on the ball to fool Patricio. While there may have been a foul in the buildup when Bove was essentially blindsided and knocked over, this nevertheless set up a nervy finish for De Rossi and Roma.
DDR responded by swapping out El Shaarawy for Andrea Belotti in the 81st minute, giving the Giallorossi two out-and-out strikers to close out the final 10 minutes plus stoppage time. While there were a few tense moments down the stretch, Roma held firm, winning loose balls when they mattered and turning away whatever minor threats Verona presented in the end.
While Roma required a bit of luck today, you have to be encouraged by their performance. With little more than three days under De Rossi's guidance, the Giallorossi looked reinvigorated this evening at the Olimpico, playing crisp and compelling football throughout the match, particularly in the first half when they nearly ran Verona off the pitch.
There will undoubtedly be many difficult moments over the next few months, but by gutting out a close win on their De Rossi debut, Roma's confidence should be high as they face Salernitana on the road next week.
Roma faces dead last Salernitana on January 29th.
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Stephan El Shaarawy