Roma earned their first away clean sheet by edging Lecce 1-0 on Sunday afternoon, to keep the pressure on the early pace-setters.
After losing to Atalanta in midweek, Roma bounced back, with Edin Dzeko heading home his 92nd goal for the club. His former Manchester City teammate Aleksandar Kolarov missed a golden chance to double the advantage, when his penalty was saved.
It wasn’t as wide a margin as fans would have hoped for, but the important thing was to return to winning ways and continue Paulo Fonseca’s unbeaten run on the road.
Dzeko developing in the air
For a player with a 6’4″ frame, Edin Dzeko has never been as suited to an aerial game as many might expect. The striker has flourished with his feet at Roma, using his strength and positioning to reach the numbers he has achieved. While his height is an obvious threat, he hasn’t always been able to use it to his advantage.
Even at the age of 33, though, Dzeko is showing that a player can still improve. Recently, he has been brilliant in the air, with his last two goals being scored with his head – a last-gasp winner over Bologna, and another game-decider on Sunday. But it was not just in the box that Dzeko demonstrated his importance to the team. Particularly in the second half, he won a number of headers in the middle of the park from long balls forward, creating chances aplenty for the likes of Justin Kluivert and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to run on to. While he has not always been famed for this part of his game, Dzeko has shown a willingness to develop, and as a result, he dominated.
⚽ Edin Dzeko heads Roma into the lead!— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) September 29, 2019
🐺 The visitors had found it difficult to break down Lecce, but now they finally have the breakthrough pic.twitter.com/3F5LZes0bX
That said, Kluivert and Mkhitaryan did not necessarily make the most of the chances that came their way. They were among the prime culprits as Roma demonstrated more poor decision-making in the final third – perhaps epitomised when Nicolo Zaniolo failed to play an easy pass across to Kluivert towards the end of the game, which would almost definitely have led to a second goal.
Had Roma been as effective in the final third as they were in the middle of the park, the scoreline could have been three or four. However, Kluivert fell back to his old tricks of being indecisive and not backing himself with his pace – with which he created danger on the odd occasion that he trusted himself – whereas Mkhitaryan’s first touch was loose. Both players are capable of more and have shown their qualities on several occasions in the past, but were equally frustrating against Lecce.
Diawara dictates the play
One of the players who succeeded in having an impact on the game behind the attackers was Amadou Diawara. Making his first Serie A start for Roma (and only his third appearance overall), the summer signing from Napoli was always an option for his teammates in the centre of midfield.
Diawara offers a very different style to the man he replaced in the starting lineup, Bryan Cristante (who seemed to commit more fouls when he came on than he managed touches of the ball in a five-minute cameo). Whereas Cristante has earned his starting berths this season through graft and energy, also playing some decent long balls, Diawara performs better in the short game. He rarely misplaced a pass as he gave fluidity to Roma’s transition from defence to attack. He surely warrants more appearances in bigger games.
Language no barrier for leader Smalling
Another summer signing making his second start of the season was Chris Smalling, who kept his place in the side after a man of the match debut against Atalanta. This time around, he played just as well, and was able to gain the three points and clean sheet that his performance deserved.
His tackling was well-timed as ever, save for the foul that earned him his first yellow card in Serie A. But aside from his playing ability, the thing that impressed most was the way he held the backline together. With the relatively inexperienced Gianluca Mancini starting alongside him rather than Federico Fazio, Smalling assumed the senior role, and despite his grasp of the Italian language only being basic so far, he appeared to have no problems instructing his teammates where to go, or remonstrating with the referee if he disagreed with a decision. Just as he wants, the Englishman has the potential to grow into a leader during his time with the club.
Busy schedule catches up with Kolarov
Overall, it was an afternoon of mixed performances, despite the positive result. One of the players towards the lower end of the spectrum was Kolarov – who in general has been outstanding this season. However, against Lecce, the struggles of a 33-year-old being ever-present – in a system which requires him to cover a lot of ground – were evident.
❌ Kolarov has been in lethal goalscoring form for Roma this season, but he doesn't add to his tally this time from the spot!— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) September 29, 2019
🖐 Great save down low by Gabriel for Lecce! pic.twitter.com/Gdjs51MEcP
Consecutive weeks of Serie A following midweek action led to signs of fatigue from the usually dynamic full-back, whose crosses did not reach their usual level of accuracy. And while it would be unfair to over-analyse his penalty miss – he is generally excellent from 12 yards – there was something about his run up which did not look right, perhaps signalling tired legs. That said, he remains one of Roma’s strongest players, and will undoubtedly be relied on again from the spot. Jordan Veretout, who often assumed the responsibility for Fiorentina last season, was the only real alternative taker on the pitch, and one miss should not move Kolarov down the hierarchy. Fortunately, Leonardo Spinazzola has returned to fitness, meaning the Serbian should be able to get the rest and recuperation he needs and deserves after a blistering start to the season.
Player Ratings: Lopez 6; Florenzi 6; Mancini 5; Smalling 7; Kolarov 5; Diawara 7; Veretout 6; Kluivert 5; Pellegrini 7; Mkhitaryan 6; Dzeko 7
Subs: Zaniolo 6; Spinazzola 5; Cristante N/A
Coach: Fonseca 6
Man of the Match: Diawara