Milan Crisis Continues, Roma Chase Champions League Train

Milan’s psychodrama continued today at the Stadio Olimpico as the Rossoneri left three more points on the road losing 1-2 to Roma. Stefano Pioli’s side’s awful defending offered Giallorossi Edin Dzeko and Nicoló Zaniolo two easy chances to make it to the scorecard, frustrating Theo Hernandez’s temporary equalizer.

Roma thus lifted themselves up to the fifth place in the league table, just one point behind Napoli and the Champions League zone. Coach Paulo Fonseca managed to make the best out of a roster cut down by multiple injuries (he has at least eight elements currently reporting to the sick bay), and found support in his usual certainties: The old ones like his daily captain Edin Dzeko, still present despite wearing a mask to protect his battered nose, and the new ones exemplified by 20-year-old Azzurro Nicoló Zaniolo.

The injury-induced shortage forced the Portuguese manager to deploy defender Gianluca Mancini as a central midfielder, and give a chance from the start to Diego Perotti for the first time in this season. Javier Pastore gritted his teeth and was also present despite not being at 100%. Fonseca lined up Leonardo Spinazzola in place of Alessandro Florenzi on the defensive right side, thus wrapping the captain bend around Edin Dzeko’s arm.

Stefano Pioli, at his second match in charge of the Rossoneri, confirmed his same eleven as one week ago, resorting to Rafael Leao as central striker and leaving Krzysztof Piatek to warm the bench for the second time in a row. Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso were chosen to support him as wingers, despite the recent heavy criticism from the fan base especially towards the Spaniard. Andrea Conti maintained his place in the right back position to the detriment of Davide Calabria.

The Rossoneri started more aggressive and created their first clear chance after 11 minutes. It was Rafael Leao to wake the Stadio Olimpico up, but his tricky left-foot shot ended just a few inches out of target. Four minutes later, a linesman’s waved flag disallowed Lucas Paquetá’s goal, after the Brazilian midfielder had made the best out of a filtering pass by Frank Kessié.

In the 25th minute, Edin Dzeko risked much for a stupid reaction on Mateo Musacchio. Roma’s captain grabbed the Argentinian by his neck, only to see him theatrically collapsing to the ground. Referee Daniele Orsato wisely decided not to take any action.

Milan’s offensive efforts in the first half followed a common pattern as they mostly tried to free up space for Suso on the right flank. The Spanish winger however showed to have almost no ideas. Roma replied by following the lead of an inspired Javier Pastore, still didn’t create any good chance in the initial 30 minutes.

In such a stalemate, it took a random spark to unlock the game, and that took the form of a long-range shot by Nicoló Zaniolo which called Gianluigi Donnarumma to his first real save. From the subsequent corner kick, Gianluca Mancini prolonged with his head for Edin Dzeko creeping on the far post, and the Bosnian could send the ball in with a header to wrap his 5th seasonal marking. What were Milan’s defenders doing on the occasion is a mystery we will never solve.

Edin Dzeko’s header hit the post and bounced into Milan’s net to put the Giallorossi ahead

The unexpected lead shook Roma up and, in the 41st minute, Gianluigi Donnarumma had to save the day, keeping the Rossoneri afloat with a super stop on Javier Pastore, triggered by a defensive blunder by a confused Andrea Conti.  

After the break, the match restarted with the same 22 players, and saw Roma continuing to build up on their good momentum. From a new corner kick, a sumptuous header by center-back Chris Smalling furtherly scared Stefano Pioli’s Rossoneri, ending its run a few inches away from Donnarumma’s right post, and prompting the newly-appointed red-and-black coach to take some countermeasures.

The former Fiorentina manager sent in Davide Calabria for a tremulous Andrea Conti, and his move indeed bore quick fruits: In the 54th minute, Calabria’s cross from the right flank found Theo Hernandez in the middle of Roma’s box. The former Real Madrid controlled the ball and put it past goalkeeper Pau Lopez with a volley deflected by Chris Smalling.

The balance didn’t last long however, as four minutes later Nicoló Zaniolo took advantage of a failed pass by Davide Calabria himself to set the score at 2-1. The 20-year-old prospect skillfully drove the ball into the net after Mateo Musacchio’s attempted clearance had only resulted in delivering it right on his foot.

Zaniolo thus answered with facts to Fabio Capello, who earlier this week had quoted Roma’s jewel as a potential “bad example” for other youngsters like Inter’s ramping-up Sebastiano Esposito, prompting no less than his own mother to defend him via an Instagram post.   

Stefano Pioli eventually resorted to Krzysztof Piatek, pulling off Lucas Paquetá, but the Pole’s only scoring attempt was routine job for Pau Lopez. When Davide Calabria preferred to serve Hakan Calhanoglu rather than him, despite Piatek being all free in the middle of the box, the Devils’ current state of confusion when it comes to offensive options became evident.

Rafael Leao also progressively fell off the game’s radar, delivering a few interesting flicks, but keeping himself well afar from the opponent goal. Hakan Calhanoglu’s free-kicks, supposedly a specialty of his house, were irritatingly inconclusive, either ending out of target or comfortably in the hands of Roma’s goalie.

On the other hand, it was the home side to come closer to make it three, first with another header by Gianluca Mancni, and then with Gianluigi Donnarumma going above and beyond again to stop Nicoló Zaniolo after another gigantic defensive mistake had put Roma’s number 22 free to challenge him.

The Rossoneri wrapped their fifth defeat in nine games and are only three points above the relegation zone. Stefano Pioli is a specialist in reviving clubs after taking charge of them in the middle of a disappointing season, but this time he seems to have accepted a terribly daunting challenge.  


October 26, 2019 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 9

SCORERS: 38′ Dzeko (R), 54′ Hernandez (M), 58′ Zaniolo (R)

ROMA (4-1-4-1): Pau Lopez; Spinazzola (77′ Cetin), Smalling, Fazio, Kolarov; Mancini; Zaniolo (83′ Santon), Pastore, Veretout, Perotti (53′ Antonucci); Dzeko (Mirante, Fuzato, Calafiori, Darboe, Florenzi, Juan Jesus, Riccardi) Coach: Fonseca
MILAN (4-3-3): G. Donnarumma; Conti (52′ Calabria), Musacchio, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Paquetà (63′ Piatek), Biglia (74′ Bennacer), Kessiè; Suso; Rafael Leao, Calhanoglu (Reina, A. Donnarumma, Borini, Castillejo, Duarte, Gabbia, Krunic, Rebic) Coach: Pioli

REFEREE: Mr. Orsato from Schio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Mancini, Antonucci, Cetin, Kolarov (R), Musacchio, Biglia, Calhanoglu, Romagnoli (M); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 5′

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