Too little, too late: A goal that summed up Nainggolan’s season

You could see it in his eyes. The way he shrugged his shoulders, how he just turned around and walked away. Radja Nainggolan knew it was too little, too late.

Roma were chasing the game against Liverpool, needing three goals in the last five minutes to take the game to extra time. The clock was running down, and an incredible comeback was looking less and less likely. But that didn’t stop Roma going forward.

After Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum tried to latch onto Ragnar Klavan’s clearance, the ball fell to Maxime Gonalons, who carried it a few yards before laying it off to Aleksandar Kolarov. Instead of whipping in another cross from the left, Kolarov spotted Nainggolan in acres of space, squaring the ball to him. And then it happened.

Bang. First time, Nainggolan struck the ball cleanly after letting it run across his body. The ball travelled like an arrow into the bottom corner of Loris Karius’ goal. There was nothing the Reds’ keeper could do, as it rocketed into the net. Karius’ body language said it all – he turned around, stared at the ball for about two seconds, then looked helplessly out at the rest of the pitch. He wasn’t angry with himself, for he knew he’d been beaten by a wonder goal.

But another man’s body language spoke even louder. The architect of the goal himself.

Radja Nainggolan had just scored the best goal of his season. He’d found the perfect space to place the ball, and powered it home, intent that it would end up nowhere else. But the Ninja’s celebration was muted. He was tired, yes, and probably frustrated, but he could barely muster a smile. Maybe it was because he knew that that goal, and its timing, summed up his entire campaign.

Roma, drained of energy, had just four minutes plus stoppage time to find two more goals, which would’ve sent the game beyond the regulation 90 minutes. In the end, it proved too much to ask. The team had played well in the second leg, but Nainggolan’s goal was too late to be the foundations for a comeback.

A great goal, too late. It represented the whole 2017-18 season for Radja Nainggolan. Last season, he was scoring goals for fun, shooting rockets from distance that left keepers stranded. The 11 goals he scored in Serie A were crucial to the team’s securing of second place. As much as it was Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah linking up and claiming the main plaudits, without Nainggolan’s help, the team wouldn’t have got to the position they did.

This season has been different. Roma haven’t scored as many goals, and whilst some of that can be attributed to Salah’s departure, Nainggolan’s ineffectiveness in front of goal has been a key factor. This season, it’s just been the four league goals for Radja. Yes, he’s been playing in a slightly deeper role, but he’s had more than enough chances to reach double figures.

Nainggolan has had 58 shots on goal over the Serie A season. However, only 30% of those have been on target. The rest, quite frankly, could have gone anywhere. He hasn’t been able to zone in on a target in the same way that he did in 2016-17. As a result, he has scored less than half the number of goals he did last time around.

Sadly, he hasn’t been able to replicate the wonder strikes he delivered so consistently last season. And, when he finally managed to do so, in May, it was nothing more than a consolation. Nainggolan’s goal fell too late to be the spark for anything, and showed what’s been missing from his game this year. Radja is a player who knows what he’s capable of, but knows he hasn’t done it enough this season.

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