If you wanted to sum up Roma’s 2018-19 season so far in just one match, Saturday night’s clash with Cagliari would be a perfect place to start.
The Giallorossi took a 2-0 lead in the first half, and looked to be easing the pressure on beleaguered Coach Eusebio Di Francesco. A win would have left the capital club just a point behind Milan in fourth place, pending the Rossoneri’s match with Torino on Sunday night.
As the match wore on though, the Lupi began to wilt under the pressure, and when Artur Ionita headed in at the back post with four minutes of normal time to play the tension was palpable.
Cagliari Coach Rolando Maran was sent to the stands, while Roma goalkeeper Robin Olsen bravely prevented an equaliser. When referee Paolo Mazzoleni later halted the match for a foul on the Swede tensions bubbled over.
Luca Ceppitelli was booked a second time for his protests, while Darijo Srna also saw red for his outraged reaction. That couldn’t turn the tide in the hosts’ favour though, and when Kostas Manolas failed to cut out a through ball, Marco Sau was the only man in the stadium with a cool head.
The striker calmly slotted past Olsen for an improbable, almost impossible equaliser in the 95th minute. In the space of a few minutes, the Giallorossi went from a result which may have saved Di Francesco to a chastening draw which may well seal his fate.
If the lesson from that match was to play to the final whistle, it was one which city rivals Lazio didn’t heed in the Saturday night match.
The Biancocelesti thought they had completed a comeback of their own, grabbing a 79th minute equaliser through Francesco Acerbi, before a controversial penalty was awarded by VAR deep into stoppage time.
Six minutes after the regulation 90, Ciro Immobile stepped up to surely win the game for his side. The Aquile defence though, couldn’t stay focused to see out the result. That VAR check had added on even more time, and just shy of the 100 minute mark Riccardo Saponara acrobatically volleyed in to win a point.
The late show continued into Sunday, with Sassuolo and Fiorentina serving up another thriller. The Neroverdi looked to have won it when they went 3-1 up with 10 minutes to play, but once again the Neroverdi failed to keep their heads.
Substitute Filip Djuricic received two bookings in a minute, and Marco Benassi reduced the arrears on 91 minutes. Nikola Milenkovic got a red card of his own, but with 96 minutes played Kevin Mirallas hit his first Serie A goal for a dramatic equaliser in the third successive match.
Indeed, it was the game which kicked-off the weekend which gave the lesson to those that followed. Juventus were under the cosh for an hour at home to Inter, but the Old Lady stuck doggedly to her task and went in front after 66 minutes. The Bianconeri kept their focus for the rest of the match, barely allowing the visitors, and above all captain Mauro Icardi a sniff. There would be no stoppage time collapse in Turin.
“Never give up and wait for the right moment”, wrote goalscorer Mario Mandzukic on Twitter after the match. It was a celebratory message, but it could also been viewed as a warning the competition would have done well to heed this weekend.