Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Despite a Valiant Effort, Roma Comes Up Short in 3-2 Derby Defeat

The 165th Derby della Capitale kicked off at 6 PM local time in the Eternal City, and for the first time in 55 years, neither starting lineup featured a Roman-born player. Despite the lack of local flavor on the pitch, the thirty-thousand fans in the stands made sure everyone at home knew what they were missing: this was a derby in every sense of the word. From the impressive tifo displays at kickoff to the contrasting reds and blues of the kits to the superstar managers prowling the sidelines, the atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico was electric.

Unfortunately, the product on the pitch failed to meet those standards in the earliest moments of this match. With both sides easing their way into the match, the opening 10 minutes or so was rather dull, but the early returns weren’t great for Roma. Lazio created the game’s first few chances, probing the Roma backline with well-placed long balls into the likes of Pedro, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Ciro Immobile, each of whom found effective space in Roma’s final third in the first 10 to 12 minutes this afternoon.

While Roma did well to contain the Lazio threat early on, they were soon exposed by the home club, who found some gaping seems in the Roma backline to draw first blood in the derby.

This sequence started off with a bit of patient play from the Lazio defense, who seemed like they were content to pass the ball idly but were secretly hatching a plan to tear Roma’s defense into pieces. After Luis Felipe played the ball forward, Lazio’s attackers did well to continually shift the point of focus between Ciro Immobile, Milinkovic-Savic, and Felipe Anderson. After the impressive buildup, which had Roma’s defense completely off-kilter, Felipe Anderson played a perfect right-to-left ball to Milinkovic-Savic, who found a completely empty channel on the left side of Roma’s defense.

SMS was so wide open, and the space completely unoccupied by any Roma defender, that you can literally see Rui Patricio screaming and pointing as Milinkovic-Savic made his run into the area. Considering that Patricio essentially diagnosed this play before it happen, it was a bit odd to see him stutter coming off the line, though he did manage to clothesline SMS in the process.

Ultimately, we have to credit Lazio more than we blame anyone in a Roma shirt; the buildup on this play worked to perfection. From the patient passing at the back to the shifting focus in the middle third to the wide-open finish, Lazio couldn’t have done this any better.

And the immediate aftermath of this goal wasn’t any better, as Lazio continued to work their Immobile/SMS/Felipe Anderson advantages in the final third.

Roma would try a few probing long balls of their own but were unable to find similar crevices at the Lazio backline. And just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse, they did…and how.

While I wouldn’t call this goal a carbon copy of the first, Lazio once again parted the Roma defense with ease, opening up a chasm in the Giallorossi backline for Pedro to waltz through. Despite the similar finishes, the seeds of this goal were actually planted by Roma, who seemed confused and/or relying on a penalty call as Nicolo Zaniolo was taken down in the Lazio box.

However, rather than waiting for the whistle that never came, Lazio reacted immediately. And in the blink of an eye, Lazio were on the counter, finding Ciro Immobile down the left flank, where Lazio’s goal-scorer supreme played the role of facilitator. After pulling three defenders with him, Immobile patiently waited for Pedro to breeze past Bryan Cristante, who looked like he was out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon jog at the park. With the former Roma winger virtually unmarked, Pedro beat Patricio low and away to double Lazio’s lead.

Roma were well and truly under the gun now, but they gradually grew into the match as the clock ticked closer to the half-hour mark. Roma produced a quick flurry of chances as Jordan Veretout finally brought Pepe Reina into the match, forcing the Lazio keeper to parry a ball over the crossbar. And in almost the very next minute, Nicolo Zaniolo was once again done in by the woodwork, as his headed attempt narrowly missed, as did his follow up toe-poke, which was just a tad out of his range and allowed Reina to pounce on it just in the nick of time.

Lazio were still holding serve but Roma finally looked up to the task and, as luck would have it, they pulled a goal back shortly before the stroke of halftime.

With Roma struggling in the run of play, it was fitting they made their mark via the setpiece. With Veretout whipping the ball towards the near post, Ibañez did a brilliant job to meet the ball and flick it towards the far post past an unsuspecting Reina. The goal seemed to immediately energize Roma, but would it people them to victory?

The new half began with no changes from either manager but Lazio picked up where they left off: using Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to frighten the Roma defense, as Lazio’s twin pillars both threatened to increase Lazio’s lead early in the second half.

Roma definitely looked better in this new half, but just as they did earlier in the match, Lazio struck first.

Just when it felt like Roma were closing the gap in this match, Lazio sunk the Giallorossi’s hopes (for the moment) thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Immobile. After receiving a perfectly placed long ball, Immobile immediately turned upfield, outracing Gianluca Mancini into the box but what came next was truly brilliant. Watch as Immobile quickly stops and changes direction, deftly switching the ball from his left foot to his right foot as Mancini’s momentum carried him forward, and with Patricio failing to smother the ball, Immobile calmly squared the ball to Anderson to give Lazio a two-goal lead for the second time this evening.

Mourinho would respond with an attacking substitution, changing El Shaarawy for Eldor Shomurodov in the 64th minute. With a two-goal lead to erase and time ticking away, Roma’s intensity ratcheted up in kind, with Nicolo Zaniolo beginning to assert himself with a series of impressive individual efforts in the final third, including a powerful striker that Pepe Reina barely…and I mean barely…managed to save.

But Zaniolo’s biggest contribution on the night came in the 69th minute. After cutting in from the flank and firing at goal, Zaniolo’s initial attempt deflected back to him, and, as he was in the process of attempting a follow-up shot, the back of his heel appeared to be clipped by Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro.

The referee immediately awarded Roma a penalty, and after a quick VAR check, Jordan Veretout converted from the spot to pull the Giallorossi within one goal with roughly 20 minutes remaining. It wasn’t all good news as Zaniolo was subbed off shortly thereafter, making way for Carles Pérez after suffering a cramp or strain of some sort.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan would threaten in the very next minute, firing an acute-angled shot into the side netting, but it signaled a tense finish to this match, with Roma desperately seeking a late equalizer. Mourinho would make a pair of late changes, swapping out Matía Viña for Chris Smalling and Rick Karsdorp out for Nicola Zalewski.

Roma would bring Reina into action again in the 82nd minute when Shomurodov forced another save from the Spaniard, but the Lazio keeper was up to the task, denying Shomu several minutes after barely pushing a Zaniolo attempt wide past the post.

Thanks to all the substitutions, the VAR check, and a late match dust-up between the two sides, the ref tacked on five added minutes to the match, which, unfortunately, didn’t give the Giallorossi enough time to steal a draw.

Let’s credit Roma with fighting back from multiple two-goal deficits but in the end, they just couldn’t close that final gap. Couple that with Pepe Reina making two crucial saves in the second half and, well, there’s your result. It was a dispiriting match for us far-flung fans, but Roma seldom looked defeated and genuinely came close to leveling this match multiple times down the stretch.

But, as it stands, Roma has now lost two of their last three matches after ripping off six straight to begin the season. And if you stuck around for the entire match, you no doubt saw Mourinho gather his side in the middle of the pitch, presumably imparting some immediate lessons while also buoying their spirits after a hard-fought match.

We may never know what he said, but he had the players’ complete attention, so we’ll have to wait until Thursday to see how they react.

Roma returns to Europa Conference League action on Thursday when they travel to Ukraine to face Zorya.
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