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Opinion: Four key Serie A performances this season

Contributor and Roma fan Wayne Girard picks out the four most important performances from the Giallorossi in Serie A this season...

In the end, thanks to an eight-game unbeaten run to end the domestic campaign, the Giallorossi finished fifth in Serie A in 2019-20 - securing qualification for next season's Europa League.

In Paulo Fonseca's first season in charge the side experienced some enjoyable highs along with some forgettable lows; the inevitable growing pains that come with a new coach and a new system.

From a pre-lockdown away win that seemed to help Fonseca's embryonic systems find a rhythm to the post lockdown successes that helped the side turn a corner, here are four of the key displays the team put in this term.

Udinese 0-4 Roma
30 October 2019

Having gained just 16 out of 27 possible points in Serie A by the end of October, Paulo Fonseca was met with criticism for being too attack-minded and lacking the experience necessary to outwit seasoned Italian football strategists.

It was a particularly difficult run heading into the away fixture at Udinese, as his squad had registered a win just once in their last five matches. Points were not adding up as quickly as hoped in the Europa League group stage, and the provincial Italian sides were taking advantage of Roma’s lack of chemistry.

In Udine, however, Roma took its first big steps towards building its resilient spirit. Nicolo Zaniolo scored his third goal on the trot, quieting those who had started to question his potential. The quick lead was then jeopardised when a surprising red card was dealt by referee Massimiliano Irrati, as Federico Fazio tangled with the arms of Stefano Okaka.

Rather than sulking in the alarming decision, Roma came out after the break and played even harder - scoring another three times and playing some sharp attacking football.

Smalling made up the ground lost by his counterpart by scoring his first for the club. For the first time in recent memory, Roma were ruthless - scoring another two goals while disadvantaged before the final whistle.

They counter attacked, pressed, out-shot, and out-dribbled the Bianconeri. Then-manager Igor Tudor’s side had been disassembled by a manager who was growing, a side that was gelling, and an identity that was manifesting.

The result spurred Roma on for success in the next match against Napoli, making for a trio of wins in just a week. Zaniolo re-confirmed himself as a dependably young leader in the side, as Smalling rose above his defensive duties to secure victory.

The form in early autumn was demonstrating that Roma’s ability to tackle adversity - it would just be a matter of finding consistency.

Cagliari 3-4 Roma
1 March 2020

In the last match before Serie A’s unexpected hiatus, the highs and lows of Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1 formation came to a head. A near seven months of play saw Roma progress in the Europa League, but those at the bottom of the Serie A table were still shaving off valuable points.

After Joao Pedro’s chip put the home side in front, Roma launched an immediate response with Nicola Kalinic scoring his first goal for the club, and then his second, and then the assist on the following goal.

In just his second start, the striker was finally displaying why management had relied on him to play the role of Dzeko's back-up.

After stop-and-go injury delays, Mkhitaryan had vented his frustration with a goal and assist in each of the preceding matches against Lecce and Gent - before ultimately scoring the match winning goal at the steaming Sardegna Arena.

The goal was a byproduct of the offensive orchestrator’s excellent form. His craftiness was the secret behind Kalinic’s second goal, while the faintest of touches led to the fourth - and match-winning - goal.

The Armenian continued his success following the restart, becoming the single most important forward in the roster. His ingenuity and dynamism would lead Roma to capturing automatic qualification to next year’s Europa League campaign. 

Roma 2-1 Sampdoria
24 June 2020

Roma’s first game back at the Stadio Olimpico following the league’s restart was an almost immediate call for damage control. A mistake from midfield led to an early goal by Manolo Gabbiadini, and Jordan Veretout’s long range effort was denied by VAR.

At the time, the 34-year-old Edin Dzeko had come under another wave of criticism for his fitness, even as he continued to score goals. The future club legend responded the only way he knew how - leading by example.

What was learned - or better yet, reminded of - was that Dzeko was still capable of the incredible. When his side were struggling to get back on their feet, his two goals carried them to a comeback win, with the second coming just before full time. 

It must be noted that Roma entered into one of its worst stretches of the season following this win. Dzeko's support would later drop too deep, leaving him isolated. Sampdoria was a reminder of the need to play him closer to his counterparts, later reflecting the change to Fonseca’s winning module.

Without this standout performance, a fleeting memory could have diverted to a different strategy that did not see him as a continued focal point. 

Roma 2-2 Inter
19 July 2020

At this point Roma were three wins on the trot following their post-restart purge. Fonseca had effectively reinvented his squad, adjusting tactics to the players at hand.

The 3-4-2-1 formation seemed to be making the most of the Giallorossi’s wing-backs and centre-midfielders, yet those nine points had been picked up against clubs fighting for the middle of the table - or worse.

Fonseca’s toughest test of the season came against Inter Milan, with manager Antonio Conte still eyeing his odds for the Scudetto. 

Simply put, Inter were on the backfoot for almost the entire match. As Leonardo Spinazzola and Bruno Peres dominated their respective opponents, Roger Ibanez limited Lautaro Martinez’s involvement at the back.

The incisive runs from the Italian international on the left were complimented by the width the Brazilian created, simultaneously exposing both of Inter’s flanks.

Mkhitaryan proved uncontainable once again, scoring the go-ahead-goal derived from a give-and-go on the edge of the box. Fonseca’s strategy was outwitting the most coveted manager in Serie A.

With only a piece of bad luck snatching away a draw for the visitors, the match proved that Roma were capable of handling - and even outplaying - a leading team in the league.

It marked a mini-renaissance within the squad, as Roma went on to win the remaining four matches of the season.

Most importantly, Roma had finally found its identity. 

 
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