Nothing unexpected. Both managers ran out the lineups we predicted.
AS Roma were perhaps slightly the better team throughout in terms of maintaining possession, but they didn’t generate any real chances. Fiorentina almost looked halfway decent on the break but not really. Things heated up just before halftime. First, Federico Chiesa hit a cutback for Christian Kouamé on a counter and the Ivorian struck it on frame, but Rachid Ghezzal somehow blocked it from three yards offside. A few minutes later, Pol Lirola hacked Bruno Peres after switching off on a ball over the top and Jordan Veretout duly slotted home the ensuing spot kick. Moments later, Germán Pezzella struck an Erick Pulgar free kick off the upright; the ball ricocheted away and led to a Giallorossi break the other way, ending with a foul from which Gianluca Mancini headed home, only to see it correctly disallowed for offsides.
The Viola had a few decent chances early on before Nikola Milenković took advantage of some really terrible marking at a corner to head home Pulgar’s cross. That woke the hosts back up, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan nearly rounded off a nice move down the left, but Pietro Terracciano got the slightest of touches to push it onto the post, but the Viola mostly steadied the ship from there until the last five minutes. In a crazy sequence, Aleksandr Kolarov smashed a shot off the upright, then Alfred Duncan made a crazy block off the rebound on Nicolò Zaniolo, then Terracciano saved the rebound from that, then “fouled” Edin Džeko on the subsequent rebound. Despite the availability of VAR, referee Daniele Chiffi declined to ask for a check to see if the foul had occurred; if he had, maybe he would have noticed that not only was there minimal contact, but that the ball actually hit him in the buildup, which should have stopped play. Veretout once again finished from the spot, and that was that.
Terracciano—7: Not at fault for the penalty because it wasn’t a foul. Didn’t have much else to do besides that outrageous touch on Mkhitaryan’s shot. Still a good and solid backup, although it sounds like Bart may be back for the midweek fixture. Heck of a run for our Pietro, though.
Milenković—7.5: The goal was a bit too easy but he was quite good otherwise as well. Mostly kept Mkhitaryan in check and did a good job of sweeping up behind Chiesa. Stood strong on the back foot and repelled everything that came near him. Remains too athletic for someone his size to be, and has really improved his reading of the game as well.
Pezzella—6.5: Had a couple of early wobbles and made a couple of dangerous fouls, but mostly kept Džeko under wraps, which isn’t easy. Did a good job as the last man and won everything in the air.
Cáceres—7: Quite good. Had a couple of highlight reel tackles and didn’t make any terrible mistakes, which was a nice departure from recent outings. Used his athleticism really well.
Chiesa—6: Rarely got the best of Spinazzola, who stuck very tight to him, and never got a chance to build up a head of steam going forward. Struggled a bit defending and was beaten too easily but really did put in a shift, leading the team in tackles and giving his all. Would’ve assisted Kouamé had Ghezzal not been a numpty.
Ghezzal—3: Yikes. Prevented a surefire goal, borked about five different attacks with clumsy or empty-headed touches, gave the ball away in dangerous areas, hit bad set pieces, and generally lost all the goodwill he’d built up since the restart. His decent effort in defense is all that saves him from being getting an even lower grade than this.
Pulgar—6.5: Battled away despite being overrun in the middle. Hit some nice passes to the wings and kept things ticking in possession as much as possible. Got the assist with a nice corner. In short, the only non-problem in midfield.
Duncan—3: Barely there. Only registered 35 touches. Never carried the ball forward. Overwhelmed by the physicality of Veretout and Diawara. Showed nothing defensively either.
Lirola—3: His very dumb foul handed Roma a cheap penalty, but he was deeply frustrating all day. Used his pace to get forward on the break but constantly made the wrong decision, usually opting to shoot poorly, rather than play in a teammate. Have never seen a player who tries to dummy a simple pass to him and lose possession so often.
Kouamé—5: Roundly beaten by Smalling in a physical battle. Unable to hold up play or provide any threat in behind. Showed a few heavy touches to lose the ball. Still would’ve scored if not for Ghezzal’s block on his shot.
Ribery—5: Produced a couple of brilliant dribbles but nothing else. Got vocally irritated with his teammates for not making the right runs and lost the ball a lot. Definitely needs a break.
Cutrone—5: Had a few sharp moments, especially early in the second half, but his lack of pace and physical presence meant that he didn’t offer much threat in a team that rarely provided him with service.
Vlahović—5: Did add a certain dynamism to the attack with his willingness to carry the ball forward, but his decision making remains shaky at best and his off-ball movement is still suspect. Did offer a very good defensive contribution from the front. Needs one more season before he’s ready for the big time.
Venuti—n/a: Brought on late to shut up the shop.
Three things we learned
1. Serie A’s standard of refereeing remains awful. As Hanlon’s Razor states, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” In no way is this the 1990s and early 2000s, when referees were actively trying to influence outcomes. The newest generation of match officials simply doesn’t know how to use the tools at its disposal; it’s less conspiracy than idiocy. Chiffi’s refusal to ask VAR for help on the second penalty would be disgraceful in a league where this didn’t happen every other game, but that’s not the case. The fact that the ball clearly hit him in the buildup to that penalty—and it hit him hard enough to alter the trajectory, so he must have felt it—makes it even worse. Per the rules, that’s a drop ball restart to Roma. The refs in Italy, however, make their own rules and change them every match. Until the laws receive uniform interpretation from week to week, the league will remain a laughingstock.
2. Iachini got completely out-generaled. Roma have been brilliant in their new 3-4-2-1 shape, but that doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable. Beppe hamstrung himself from the start, though, by playing Ghezzal and Chiesa next to each other and then keeping them there.By keeping Spinazzola high up the pitch and keeping Mkhitaryan in the half space near him, Fonseca new that Fiorentina would offer no threat down the right as Iachini would order Fede to stay deep and help defensively. Moving the slightly-more-defensively apt Duncan to that wing would’ve made a difference, as the ex-Sassuolo man could’ve stepped into that fullback spot a bit and let Chiesa push higher up into space, offering some threat on the break. Beppe didn’t change anything from his approach, though, and instead let Roma control both wings because he insisted his wingbacks sit so deep. The failure to adjust in any way, either through changing roles or making subs—a quick, direct wide threat was needed and Riccardo Sottil stayed on the bench—shows that our ballcap-wearing mister has a ceiling, and this is it.
3. The team relies on Ribery too much. Fiorentina created nothing from open play in the first half except for the Kouamé shot that Ghezzal blocked. A lot of that was the desire to slow things down and let Franck get on the ball so the old man could dictate play. At the start of the second half, the team instead broke forward with numbers and surprised Roma for the first 10 minutes by attacking at pace. If not for Ghezzal (again), that could’ve led to a goal. A good team simply can’t rely on a single player to supply all its creativity; ask Barcelona. The system needs to absorb a player and use his skills rather than contort itself to suit a single cog. To reiterate, this isn’t me criticizing Ribery, who’s been miles better than I could’ve expected and who plays the way he plays. This is a failure from the management to create an ecosystem that gets the most out of all eleven guys, rather than sacrificing seven or eight of them to emphasize one or two. It doesn’t work.