Feature Photo: © AS Roma
The fate of Serie A 2017-18 may very well have changed on Saturday night, as Roma took a shocking 4-2 away win against capolista Napoli, in what was arguably the most exciting match seen this season. A Lorenzo Insigne in berserk mode was not enough for the Azzurri to catch their 11th win in a row, Maurizio Sarri’s squad crashing into “one of those nights” for Edin Dzeko – who scored a double – and frustrated by the saves of Alisson Becker, who confirmed to be the best goalkeeper in the Italian top division.
Juventus’ thrilling victory over Lazio, with Paulo Dybala scoring a dramatic last second goal earlier in the afternoon, pushed the Bianconeri just one point behind Napoli, with one catch-up match to be played against Atalanta. With eleven rounds to go, winning the Scudetto will now become a matter of nerves, and depend much on how the top two contenders will react to last weekend’s emotion overkill.
In the space of two hours, Napoli passed from the joy of seeing their archrivals blocked on a goalless draw – thus having the possibility to increase their lead – to the despair of an unexpected setback at their home San Paolo Stadium, combined with Juventus closing the gap on the contrary. At full time, San Paolo fans – especially the hardcore ones from the B Stands – saluted their players with a long applause and a standing ovation despite the loss, showing full support to the club in the most sensitive moment of their season.
But next week, the Partenopei are due to pay visit to Inter in San Siro, and playing the Nerazzurri – even these Nerazzurri facing a crisis – is never an easy task. If Napoli really have what it takes to break the six-year Juve domination on Serie A, it is time to show that.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s Giallorossi, on the other hand, left Napoli in triumph. Roma pushed themselves forward into the third place of the standing, as they wait for Inter to play their city neighbors Milan in the Derby della Madonnina. In any case, the Wolves stroke a big hit in that swinging battle with Inter and Lazio that the run for the remaining Champions League slot is turning into, a challenge no less exciting than the fight for the title.
And yet, Saturday night’s match quickly seemed to be turning in favor of the home side, with Lorenzo Insigne finalizing with a perfectly-timed “pool shot” a pass from the left by Mario Rui after just six minutes. Napoli’s scugnizzo was left free to shot by Roma midfielders, and especially by his direct marker Alessandro Florenzi – something that will become a leit motiv of the match.
But while the Partenopei supporters were still celebrating on the stands, Roma had already rebalanced the game, as on the very next action the Giallorossi recovered a ball on the midfield line, and ignited a progression by Radja Nainggolan. The Belgian served Turkish winger Cengiz Under, whose attempt to shot was deflected by Mario Rui again – the ball taking an awkward trajectory that left goalkeeper Pepe Reina hopeless, and ending its run into Napoli’s net. 1-1 after just seven minutes. What a start.
The match pace was vertiginous, with Roma pressuring Napoli high in their defensive third, and Maurizio Sarri’s squad answering with furious counterattacks, in an attempt to quickly turn the tides in their favor again. One of those offences in the 16th minute produced what could very well be used as a manifesto of bel gioco: Napoli’s playmaker Jorginho crossed the ball into the opponents’ box, Jose’ Callejon sent it back in from the right, for Insigne to catch it with a powerful volley that exalted Alisson’s reflexes. Then Roma’s Kostas Manolas cleared the ball away with a perfect defensive slide, anticipating a tap in by Piotr Zielinski. Great football at San Paolo Stadium!
Insigne tried to surprise again the Giallorossi Brazilian goalkeeper from afar two minutes later, but Alisson easily blocked the ball this time. The answer from Eusebio Di Francesco’s side was devastating: Alessandro Florenzi crossed from the right side, Edin Dzeko stood over Raul Albiol and sent the ball in the farthest corner of Reina’s goal with a monumental header. The clock was striking minute 26, and the visitors unexpectedly put their head ahead!
Dries Mertens didn’t wait a single minute to show Napoli’s reaction, with a sharp low shot that missed Roma’s goal by inches. Then it was again Insigne to scare the visiting Giallorossi fans in the 40th minute, with Di Francesco’s defenders failing to catch him, and leaving him free to shot from the exact same position as in the 1-0 goal. But this time, Lorenzinho’s conclusion was central and easy to block.
Napoli’s pressure continued, relentless but fruitless, after the break. In the 57th minute, a new volley shot by Insigne, this time served by Zielinksi: Alisson denied him the joy of scoring again, conceding the sixth corner kick to the attacking side. The corner tally quickly moved up to 8-0 for Napoli, Jose’ Callejon directly hitting the post on the last one.
Roma made themselves dangerous with a counterattack that forced Raul Albiol to save on a right-side cross by Under, then the Azzurri monologue restarted when Lorenzo Insigne concluded a formidable acceleration with a bend shot that only narrowly missed the target. It must have been the 20th shooting attempt or so for the home side, which however suffered a knock-down blow only minutes later.
It was again “sleeping giant” Edin Dzeko – probably the most symbolic player in Roma’s schizophrenic championship run, 10 goals in the early part of the season, only to disappear from the radars since Winter… – to suddenly wake up, and score the 1-3 goal. The Bosnian giant received a pass by Aleksander Kolarov, moved to the center, and dropped a curl shot with his left foot (by the way, not his natural foot…) that left no chance to Reina.
Maurizio Sarri’s desperate move was then sending in Arkadiusz Milik, the Polish forward who had been missing from the pitch since his knee ligament injury suffered in September.
In the 75th minute, a new chapter in the personal battle between Insigne and Alisson ended once again in favor of the Brazilian, who stopped not one, but two shots in succession by Napoli’s home-grown striker. Insigne leaning his head on the stadium banners in despair was an iconic image of Roma’s goal being stregata (“cursed”) for him and his fellow Napoletani last night…
…and that nothing was going in the right direction for Napoli, it became even more evident a few minutes later, with Mario Rui attempting an absurd heel clearance on a not-so-dangerous cross from Roma’s left wing, that only ended up serving Diego Perotti in the middle of the box. Alone in front of Reina, the Argentinian winger could not but score the fourth goal for his side.
Substitute midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini still decided to give new hopes for the shocked Azzurri, with a high-risk retro-pass for Alisson that forced the Brazilian wall to use his hands in order to clear the ball away. On the consequent free kick in the box, with the whole Roma squad lined up on the goal line, Dries Mertens managed to hit Florenzi with his missile shot, failing to move the score from 1-4.
The Belgian did succeed however, two minutes into extra time, with a razor-sharp shot which finally ended past Alisson to make the Partenopei’s defeat a little less painful.
The goal fest at San Paolo Stadium ended with Roma supporters in awe, and Napoli fans calling their players under the stands to show them their support and appreciation. Everybody seemed happy in a way – especially those who were lucky enough to attend such a thrilling football game. That’s the calcio we would like to see every weekend.
March 3, 2018 – Serie A 2017-18 Round 27
SCORERS: 6′ Insigne (N), 7′ Under (R), 26′ Dzeko (R); 73′ Dzeko (R), 79′ Perotti (R), 92′ Mertens (N)
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho (75′ Milik), Zielinski (65′ Hamsik); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (Sepe, Rafael, Tonelli, Milic, Maggio, Diawara, Rog, Machach, Ounas) Coach: Sarri|
|ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi (88′ El Shaarawy), Strootman; Under (72′ Gerson), Dzeko, Perotti (80′ Pellegrini) (Skorupski, Lobont, Jesus, Capradossi, Peres, Silva, Gonalons, Schick, Defrel) Coach: Di Francesco|
REFEREE: Mr. Massa from Imperia
NOTES: Attendance: 40000; Yellow Cards: Mertens (N), Fazio, Dzeko (R); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 3′