The Paulo Fonseca era began with a 3-3 draw for Roma at home to Genoa in their first game of the new Serie A season.
Roma led three times, with Cengiz Under scoring a wonderful solo strike, Edin Dzeko making it 2-1 with virtually a mirror image of the opener, and Aleksandar Kolarov hitting a free kick that crossed the line by the barest of margins. However, after each goal, Roma were pegged back, with Andrea Pinamonti smashing home, Juan Jesus giving away a needless penalty, which was converted by Domenico Criscito, and Christian Kouame getting in between the defenders to head home the final equaliser.
It’s the first time Roma have not won their opening league game since 2015, when Alessandro Florenzi levelled things up against Hellas Verona for Rudi Garcia’s side. As for current coach Fonseca, it’s the first time he hasn’t been victorious on matchday one since his Pacos de Ferreira side were beaten by Benfica in 2014.
The game still felt like an extension of pre-season, and in reality, raised more questions than it answered. Here are the biggest talking points.
Contrast between attack and defence
In the first half in particular, Roma were linking up in attack with more fluidity than they have managed in years. Edin Dzeko was key to the process, as the striker acted not only as a focal point, but dropped deep to glue together the play. His goal was well deserved, and an important statement after the faith the club put in him by offering him a long-term contract.
Likewise, Cengiz Under – another player to renew recently – featured in several neat combinations with his teammates, while Lorenzo Pellegrini picked out some Totti-esque passes, including one that nearly set up Under for a second goal.
However, the mistakes made at the back cannot be ignored. Pinamonti was given far too much space for Genoa’s first goal, with the gap between Federico Fazio and Jesus unacceptable. In front of them, Bryan Cristante watched on while marking a midfielder, whereas he could have prioritised the danger and put pressure on the on-loan Inter striker.
The second goal, as mentioned above, came from Jesus’ poorly judged foul in the box, while the third goal again showed a lack of co-ordination at the back. Fazio and substitute Gianluca Mancini were too preoccupied with Pinamonti at the near post, while Florenzi was stretched too wide at the backpost. As a result, when Paolo Ghiglione played a perfect cross, Kouame was free to head home with ease. Mancini’s positioning was particularly bad, as he had no need to push towards where Fazio was. Instead, the summer signing was caught ball-watching, perhaps showing why Fonseca had been reluctant to start him.
Movement fades in second half
The energy Roma displayed in the opening 45 minutes took the game to their opponents, causing them problems by setting a fast tempo with smart link-up play. After the break, that intensity dropped off somewhat, and even when fresh faces were brought in to change the dynamics of the attack, with Javier Pastore taking the trequartista role, the sparks had gone.
The movement from the front four had all but disappeared, with limited numbers pushing to get in the box. That may be a sign that Roma’s fitness still needs to improve, having only just finished their pre-season workouts. It may also be a suggestion that more depth is needed in attack.
Midfield headache for Fonseca
Roma have worked on changing the complexion of their midfield this summer, with Steven Nzonzi and club legend Daniele De Rossi making way for Amadou Diawara and Jordan Veretout. But it was two of the retained faces who started in Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1, with Lorenzo Pellegrini partnered by compatriot Bryan Cristante.
Fonseca will surely have liked what he saw. Cristante’s passing was much improved on its usual standards, while he also displayed positive energy. Pellegrini was largely the same, threading through balls and creating chances, while also being tenacious in the defensive phase. They have made it hard for Fonseca to drop them now. Diawara and Veretout will undoubtedly be pushing to be involved in future games, but the Italians have made their mark on the midfield.
Cengiz Under the microscope
One of Pellegrini’s best moments was the aerial through ball he picked out Under with shortly after the Turk’s opening goal. To give Roma the lead, Under had skipped past Criscito and Cristian Zapata, before executing a powerful finish to Ionut Radu’s near post. It was a positive sign, continuing from pre-season, that Under can thrive in this system as a regular goalscorer.
When he received the pass from Pellegrini moments later, he found himself through on goal with only Radu to beat. Unfortunately, he pulled his shot agonisingly wide of the far post. It was a game-changing moment.
Had that gone in, Roma would have been 2-0 up with barely 10 minutes played, and could have gone on to dominate the match. It was a fine margin that helped decide the result, and something he will need to improve if he is to manage somewhere in the region of 20 goals this season. It’s a tally he can be capable of, but he needs to put away chances like that if he is to do so.
Some players thrive off instinct, scoring from opportunities like that where they haven’t had to think much. Cengiz is not quite that player yet – as shown by the goal he did score, he works best when he has time with the ball at his feet, and decisions to make. If he can become a more natural, instinctive scorer, though, Roma will win games like this, and he will reach double figures before the spring with ease.
Zappacosta’s late impact
The last change Fonseca made was to replace captain Florenzi with summer signing Davide Zappacosta. Florenzi had done OK, but no better, nearly catching out Radu with a sensational acrobatic volley from outside the box after Kolarov had perfectly set him up from a corner. Obviously, the defensive side of Florenzi’s game showed its usual frailties, while his crossing continued to flatter to deceive.
When Zappacosta came on for his late cameo, he put in a couple of deliveries that were well-judged. He showed he could clip in an aerial cross, or whip a ball low and hard into a dangerous area. While he wasn’t really tested in defence, if he can replicate that kind of impact – minus his air shot when the ball fell awkwardly to him on his weaker side in a golden chance for a winner – over a full 90 minutes when back up to full fitness, then he will be the starting right-back in no time.
Player Ratings: Lopez 6; Florenzi 6; Fazio 5; Jesus 4; Kolarov 7; Cristante 7; Pellegrini 8; Under 8; Zaniolo 6; Kluivert 6; Dzeko 7
Subs: Mancini 4; Pastore 3; Zappacosta 6
Coach: Fonseca 6
Man of the Match: Pellegrini