It is sometimes said, in a sporting context, that winning cures all ills. But not in Italy’s capital city. Roma beat Genoa 3-2 at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night, their first victory in six games across all competitions. They were jeered at the final whistle, all the same.
It had not been a compelling performance. Roma trailed twice to opponents who have not won a game themselves since September. Genoa appeared to have taken the lead for a third time at the start of the second half, but Darko Lazovic’s strike was ruled out after a VAR review. They ought to have had a penalty in the game’s dying moments, too.
But Roma’s supporters were not protesting about this performance in isolation. Their scornful whistles were only a continuation of what had come before. On Saturday, banners and posters appeared all over the city commanding the Roma president James Pallotta to “go home”.
An interesting choice of language, given that one oft-heard criticism of the American is that he spends too much time in his native Massachusetts. Pallotta has always contended that his physical presence is not what matters so much as the hours he devotes to the team. He will host the clubs’ directors in Boston this week to discuss plans for the January transfer window.
In reality, fans’ frustration has less to do with Pallotta’s location than a shared perception that promises have been broken. Ultras from the Olimpico’s Curva Sud released a statement on Saturday, announcing that they would be on strike for the start of the Genoa game – entering their section only at the 10-minute mark.
That plan was prefaced by 13 quotes from Pallotta and the directors who have worked under him. Many conveyed assurances that key players – from Mohamed Salah to Alisson, Miralem Pjanic and Mehdi Benatia – would not be sold. One, from Pallotta in 2012, pledged “the Scudetto within five years”.
Some of these remarks look a little different in their original context. Pallotta had been speaking at the time about his involvement in the group that took over the Boston Celtics, and how they won an NBA title within half a decade. He did not so much guarantee a repeat in Rome, as express a hope that he could recreate the same model.
Nevertheless, fan frustration about the club’s direction of travel is understandable. Roma played in a Champions League semi-final this April. Eight months later, this win over Genoa dragged them up to joint-sixth in Serie A. They already trail Juventus by 22 points. For contrast, the gap to the relegation zone is 13.
Roma are through to the Champions League knockout round – something no other Italian team besides Juve can say – and will face Porto in the last 16 . Even here, though, performances have been underwhelming. To finish above CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen was a minimum requirement. The Giallorossi lost home and away to a Real Madrid team who were thrashed 3-0 by Eibar in between.
All over the pitch, Roma have problems. They have conceded 22 goals already in Serie A: only six fewer than they did in the entire 2017-18 campaign. Up front, Edin Dzeko is injured, while €40m signing Patrik Schick has scored four times in 16 months (and that’s counting the Coppa Italia).
It is possible to feel some sympathy for Eusebio Di Francesco, the manager tasked with reshaping a team following the sales of Alisson, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman. Allowing the latter two to depart in the same summer was reckless, depriving the team of leadership and stability in the middle of the pitch. These were popular players, too. The Curva Sud’s statement described the Dutchman’s exit as “a punch in the stomach”.
Di Francesco has always taken his share of responsibility, saying that he was consulted by directors on all transfer moves. Yet his team selection against Genoa suggested a man who, almost halfway through this season, still does not know how to make the most of the resources available to him.
Roma lined up in an untested 3-4-3, with Nicolò Zaniolo as a false nine. The 19-year-old has impressed since joining as part of the deal that took Nainggolan to Inter, but always in midfield. His unfamiliarity with this new role was apparent, impatiently dropping to find possession and never affording his teammates a point of reference up front.
You could see a certain logic in the decision to add a centre-back: providing additional cover for Kostas Manolas. An extra defender, however, cannot protect you against goalkeeping calamity. Genoa’s first arrived when Robin Olsen allowed a shot from Oscar Hiljemark to slip through his arms and legs, before Krzysztof Piatek forced it home from close range. The keeper was at fault for the disallowed third, too, reacting late to Lazovic’s effort from the left.
Olsen was reprieved through a combination of VAR – with officials noting an offside in the buildup – and his teammates’ finishing at the other end. If there is one thing Roma can feel encouraged about it is that they have kept scoring goals even without a viable alternative to Dzeko up front.
Bryan Cristante notched the winner and later hit the woodwork, reminding us why Roma were so eager to acquire him from Atalanta in the summer. Roma’s opener belonged to Justin Kluivert: his first goal since joining from Ajax.
These, though, were isolated bright notes. If Marco Di Bello had awarded a spot-kick for Alessandro Florenzi’s shove on Goran Pandev in injury-time then the game would most likely have finished 3-3. Genoa were justifiably livid about the failure of VAR officials to intervene and suggest an on-field review.
Di Francesco agreed after that a penalty should have been given. He countered only that when Roma have been similarly unfortunate, his critics are quick to remind him that the result is the only thing that matters.
This one might have saved his job. It had been speculated that a defeat could put him in jeopardy, not least given the timing before the directors’ gathering in Boston. Then again, Roma’s next game is away to Juventus. Far from curing all ills, this was a win that offered only the briefest moment of pain relief.Talking points
• Torino were livid over the lack of an on-field VAR review for a pair of incidents in the Juventus area during the Turin derby. Alex Sandro pulling down Simone Zaza in the area looked a clear penalty to me, and the contact between Blaise Matuidi and Andrea Belotti at a corner certainly merited a second look. It is possible to understand why the booth would not interpret these as a “clear and evident” mistakes under the current VAR directives (in the case of Zaza: because he was grabbing back) but these were pivotal moments of a game that the champions won by a single goal.
• Arkadiusz Milik should take more free-kicks.
• Inter’s win over Udinese was OK. Their festive pun-based #InterPresents campaign on social media, however, is surreal and tremendous.Topics Serie A Sportblog Roma European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content