A Dries Mertens brace stole the show, but Roma were dominated by Napoli in a 2-0 defeat.
On the way to today’s Derby del Sole against Napoli, the focus was on fitness and calm. Many fans and experts were concerned that the Roma would not have the legs to run with Napoli. The planners took a little break when their game against Juventus, which had already been postponed, was postponed from midweek, much to Roma’s annoyance and protests.
But during the first 10 to 15 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico, none of this seemed to matter as both sides were struggling to really get into the flow of the game. The Roma came out somewhat surprisingly with a more passive approach, letting Napoli play the ball through midfield with very little resistance. When Gattuso’s men reached the last third, they mostly tried to find Dries Mertens or Lorenzo Insigne diving through cracks in Roma’s back line. They may have looked like saplings among redwoods, but those little runs seemed to pay dividends sooner rather than later.
The giallorossi were tough, however. No matter how much space Insigne or Mertens found in the area, Roma apparently always had one foot to the ball to avert disaster. Unfortunately, they couldn’t counter Napoli’s attacking moves and had to wait until the 16th minute to get a clean look at the goal – a twist and fire from Edin Dzeko who were just too slow and direct to fool David Ospina Target.
The attack got so bad for the Roma that their “best” (or certainly most exciting) attack of the first half came in the 21st minute, when Roger Ibañez staged a run from coast to coast on his own and finally Box fell in the US and got his hand stamped on my massive Nikola Maksimovic.
Despite the transfer of possession to Napoli, the Roma seemed at least to be able to maintain the level of play, especially since Napoli got the ball in the first 20 Didn’t use minutes effectively. But, as is so often the case, a small mental error can break the floodgates.
In the 27th minute, Roger Ibañez committed a foul on the edge of the box and gave Napoli a free kick on the goalscorer list. And well, you know where this is going …
Pretty normal stuff here. Since Roma’s wall was slightly shaded to the left of the field, Mertens simply went the other way and buried the ball past the outstretched hand of Pau Lopez, who read the flight of the ball correctly but was not fast enough to catch up with it. All in all, Napoli probably deserved a goal just because they looked like the more eager team, but up until that point they hadn’t created any real chances in the course of the game. Even so, that well-taken Napoli free kick drooped more than a couple of Roma heads.
Credit where it is due; This was a beautiful piece of Napoli that stretched Roma’s defenses in both directions. First, Insigne drops a cross on Matteo Politano from around 35 meters away and places it on a plate for the Roma-born winger. From there, Politano does an excellent job of quickly steering the ball back in the opposite direction, where he found Mertens wide open for the header. This was just a perfect sequence from Napoli – you couldn’t have worked it out better.
In the final moments of the first half, the Roma finally decided to push Napoli further up and tried (to no avail) to Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdorp more involved in the attack.
It was not too late for the first half, but would it be a sign of the future of the Roma in the second half?
In a word, yes. In a more nuanced word, yes. Roma had every reason to be deflated when they came out of the locker room to start the new half, but they took their best chance straight away when Spinazzola found Lorenzo Pellegrini with a precise cross in the center of the box. Pellegrini got up to hit the ball, had all the time and space in the world and had probably beaten Ospina, but his header went straight to the Napoli goalkeeper.
And believe me when I tell you this one Miss was quite forewarning for the Roma as they fought mightily in the second half to create a believable threat to Napoli. Roma’s next chance came in the 58th minute when Pedro detached himself in the penalty area and shot a shot so far over the bar that it might have landed on the Adriatic.
Despite the goal line and the two missed opportunities early on, the Roma looked livelier in the first 10 minutes than at any point in the first half. And as the match crossed the hour mark, luck almost smiled at the Roma when Kalidou Koulibaly made rare sales in Napoli’s area. Stephan El Shaarawy quickly found Pellegrini on the edge of the box and while the Roma captain managed to jump in and let Ospina hit, the ball hit the right post.
30 minutes from time, Roma’s appearance weakened in equal measure and desperate, Paulo Fonseca made a triple swap: Carles Pérez for Pedro, Borja Mayoral for Edin Dzeko and Gonzalo Villar for Amadou Diawara. It was the right move as none of Pedro, Dzeko, or Diawara were very effective up to this point.
Despite the fresh legs, the Roma were still unable to cope with Napoli, who dominated almost all facets of the game, especially through the transition areas and during the counterattack against the belated pushing of the Roma.
The Giallorossi managed in 81 .Minute an unintentional glimpse of goal when Rick Karsdorp played an awkward cross / shot from the right wing that almost took Ospina by surprise.
Fonseca would make one final change, swapping Pellegrini for Marash Kumbulla and pushing Cristante into midfield, but it had little to no impact on the game.
Things got a little bit choppy on the track when Gianluca Mancini and Victor Oshimen met for the second time after Mancini deliberately hit the striker’s legs at the beginning of the half Napoli had beaten. Mancini and Oshimen faced each other, as did Cristante and Mario Rui, but cooler minds prevailed.
The referee, who may or may not be a sadist, set about five more minutes for this game but the Roma failed to conjure up late miracles and fell on Napoli for the third year in a row, which hasn’t happened since 1976 is.
Welp, what else needs to be said? Roma’s struggles against Italy’s top clubs are well documented at this point, but that loss essentially puts Roma’s top 4 hopes to bed. Roma are now in sixth place, five points behind fourth place Juventus, who have a match in hand, and just one point ahead of seventh place Lazio, who also have a match in hand.
With 10 games remaining and five clubs jockeying between third and sixth, there is no question that the Roma will get hot and qualify for the Champions League via the league route, but three of those clubs (Juve , Napoli and Lazio) Have a game in hand over Roma so the odds don’t seem in the Giallorossi’s favor.
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