Roma v Milan talking points: Solid spine sees Roma succeed

Roma secured their first home win in over a month on Sunday by beating AC Milan 2-1.

Edin Dzeko broke the deadlock with a header after drifting in at the backpost from a corner, giving the Giallorossi a half-time lead. Theo Hernandez levelled things up for Milan after the break, as his shot deflected off Chris Smalling, before Nicolo Zaniolo restored the advantage moments later with a well-executed curled strike.

The victory – Roma’s first over Milan since October 2017 – means Paulo Fonseca’s men keep pace with the top four, ahead of a week which will see them play Udinese and Napoli.

Precise Pau

In his 10 games as Roma goalkeeper before yesterday, Pau Lopez had yet to be truly tested. Aside from a strong display against Lazio, in which he made six saves, the summer signing was yet to fully convince the fanbase – not so much because of any errors, but because he hadn’t been forced into showing what he could do.

While the jury may still be out, he showed against Milan that he is a safe pair of hands. While many of the stops he made were routine for a goalkeeper of his quality, many of the efforts that came his way were struck with enough power to potentially cause problems. But Lopez dealt with everything that was thrown at him. The deflection that led to Milan’s goal gave him no chance, but elsewhere, he was alert and reacted to every threat posed by the visitors.

The man behind the mask

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If Roma had a fully fit squad, would Edin Dzeko have been playing? One has to wonder if the striker has had to rush back from his jaw injury to accommodate for the several absences in the squad, but he proved that even at 80% of his usual sharpness, he can be a leader from the front.

While an argument could be raised as to whether he should have remained on the pitch after an altercation with Milan defender Mateo Musacchio, there can be no debate about the quality he showed thereafter. He was the focal point in attack that fans have become used to seeing, challenging for headers, muscling off defenders and bringing his teammates into play. The masked assassin got the goal he deserved, and adorning the captain’s armband, showed what a good leader he is.

Keep calm, Kolarov

Another of the more experienced players in the squad, Dzeko’s former Manchester City teammate Aleksandar Kolarov, endured a mixed afternoon. Towards the end of the game, he showed his bravery in defence by challenging for loose balls with his head, when opponents had raised their studs high. It served as another reminder of the kind of professionalism and commitment that the Serbian exemplifies.

However, in attack, there was the sense that everything he was doing was a little rushed. Not for the first time recently, he failed to look up before firing in crosses that were too powerful for any of his teammates to connect to. For a player of his experience, it was uncharacteristic for Kolarov not to compose himself and wait for the attackers to move before making his deliveries. Given the quality he possesses from wide areas, it was a shame that he couldn’t pick the right moments to unleash his ability.

Veretout growing in authority

One player who has really had to step up recently amid Roma’s injury crisis is Jordan Veretout. The only fit natural central midfielder in the squad, the Frenchman has had to take on a great responsibility. And once again, versus a club he could have signed for instead of Roma in the summer, he showed that he is thriving in the role.

The former Aston Villa man was a driving force, helping Roma retain possession with his accurate passing and determination. With defender Gianluca Mancini deployed alongside him, he was given more of a licence to push on than he may have expected in the absence of Bryan Cristante and Amadou Diawara. Veretout also assumed the responsibility of taking set pieces, and it was from one of his corners that Roma took the lead. Mancini and Chris Smalling both missed great chances from two more of Veretout’s corners, blazing free headers wide after being picked out. Deliveries from corners have been an area of struggle for the club in recent seasons, but it finally looks like they have someone who can create chances from such fundamental passages of play.

Solid spine

Any team needs a strong structure down the middle of the park, and Roma haven’t always been able to meet that requirement. Particularly with the amount of absences from midfield, it could have been expected that things could look disjointed. However, Roma took up one of their most solid spines of the whole season.

Starting at the back, Federico Fazio and Smalling formed a formidable partnership in defence. Winning an impressive nine aerial duels between them, both read the play well and put their bodies on the line for the team. Further upfield, the positive showings from Veretout, Mancini and Dzeko have already been documented, while attacking midfielder Javier Pastore displayed a good work rate and caught the eye with a couple of nutmegs in the first half. With all six of the central players proving their strength, Roma could impose their dominance on the game.

Player Ratings: Lopez 7; Spinazzola 6; Smalling 7; Fazio 8; Kolarov 6; Mancini 6; Veretout 8; Zaniolo 8; Pastore 7; Perotti 6; Dzeko 8
Subs: Antonucci 4; Cetin N/A; Santon N/A
Coach: Fonseca 6

Man of the Match: Fazio

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