The winds of change are sweeping the red half of Rome. La Lupa have forged a reputation as the Peninsula’s great entertainers under Paulo Fonseca, but an aggressive approach has been detrimental on numerous occasions.
That has been especially true against the Serie A aristocracy, but strong performances against Genoa and Shakhtar Donetsk show the way forward for the capital club. Defensive solidity was on full display in both of those shutout successes.
Recent declarations from Fonseca and captain Lorenzo Pellegrini confirmed a newfound commitment to keeping things tight at the back. That has manifested itself mainly in an increased pragmatism when in possession.
The costly errors on the ball that doomed the Giallorossi against Milan a fortnight ago have
ushered in a stylistic shift, but a commitment to error-free football and a willingness to take risks are not mutually exclusive.
A striker-less setup was deployed against Shakhtar to target the visitors’ high line. Although La Lupa enjoyed few chances in a cagey opening period, there was a clear intent to try and get in behind at every opportunity.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pedro were both flagged offsides on numerous occasions, and Pellegrini’s willingness to play on the last man was a crucial factor in the opening goal.
Despite some early pressure in the second stanza from the Ukrainian champions, Roma’s management of that precious lead was highly encouraging.
As was the case against Il Grifone, they sat off their opponent and waited for opportunities to appear on the counter. Stephan El Shaarawy’s sumptuous strike was a direct result of that intelligent reconfiguration.
That was Il Faraone’s first goal since returning to the Eternal City in January, and spreading the scoring responsibility is especially important in place of a fully firing forward line.
Roma’s strikers are struggling in Serie A, with Pedro’s late curler against Udinese the lone contribution from that unit in the last seven domestic outings.
Midfielder Jordan Veretout was able to paper over those problems until recently, but his thigh injury picked up against Fiorentina has robbed La Lupa of their greatest goal threat. His late runs into the box were dearly missed in a drab 2-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Parma.
That surprise reverse at the Ennio Tardini is a hammer blow to Roma’s hopes of securing a top-four place, but it should not take away from their impressive Shakhtar triumph just days earlier.
The Miners extracted eight points from a possible 12 against Real Madrid and Inter in the fall, with dual draws against the current Serie A leaders, a significant reason why Antonio Conte’s men exited the continent’s premier club competition prematurely.
If Roma have proved incapable of beating the big boys, they have at least demonstrated a capacity to conquer a certified giant killer.
That should serve as a major confidence boost heading into the business end of the season, where crunch contests against fellow Champions League contenders Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio will decide the Giallorossi’s top four fate.
The Giallorossi have had many ups and downs this season, but their defeat at Parma was one of the few slips against the so-called ‘small teams’ this season.
Fonseca’s side won’t be able to snatch a Champions League spot without victories against the top sides, let alone if they start losing against the Serie A strugglers.
The Portuguese coach needs to find a balance we haven’t quite witnessed so far this season. A compromise between keeping the possession and sit deeper to avoid counter-attacks.
It’s accessible only on paper, but the challenges ahead for Roma – finish in the top four and win the Europa League - are not simple to achieve either and both the Giallorossi and their coach would need to go beyond the ordinary.